Monday, April 30, 2012

Reflections in the Well

Alexander Slagg
On Writing Craft, Creativity & Inspiration

by Alexander Slagg

Finding Your Niche

“We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and most important to us.” 
 Rainer Maria Rilke

“Do you know any other writers?” A younger writer at my bimonthly workshop group recently posed the question. Amid the clang of dishes and din of conversations going on throughout the coffee shop, where our group meets, I struggled to understand what he was getting at. Sure I do, I replied. I know writers through my work as an editor; I’ve participated in other writing groups.

Only later, when we picked up our conversation while walking in the chilled night air, did I understand what he was really getting at. Do I know any other writers? Do you have anyone else in your life that you talk about writing with? That you can share this intimate experience with?


Writers often live solitary lives. To do what we do requires space and quietude and a removal from the rattle and hum of life. But we’re also human beings. We crave communion and intimacy with others. One of a writer’s primary struggles is how to balance these opposing urges—solitude and connection.

Many of us carry on this struggle in isolation, sleepwalking through day jobs and carrying on relationships with friends and family that neither understand nor relate to our unique pursuit. We exist in an uncaring world that isn’t desperately awaiting our first novel or poetry chapbook. Why would anyone continue on such a quixotic task without support of some sort?

For me, this is where the writing group has become my life preserver. Here is a community I can turn to, a place where I can unload my artistic burdens and people will relate to what I’m talking about. Nothing about TPS reports, mortgage payments, or shopping lists. I can talk about plot ideas, argue over what makes successful characterization, and take in other opinions on what makes good dialogue. I can talk about the craft.

More importantly, this is where I can relate experiences with others who are struggling with the same day-to-day thoughts and anxieties that I am. The difficultly of finding the time and will to sit down and write consistently. The suckiness of having to sit in a little gray cubicle every day so that my family has health benefits and a steady paycheck. The creeping sense that no one sees the value in what I do.


Later that evening as I weaved in and out of the crimson taillights on the expressway, I realized what I should have told this young writer.

Pick up a copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. You’re at the beginning of your journey. Recognize the artist’s struggle for what it is—and carry on. You will be lonely at times. There won’t be many in your life that can relate to what you do as a writer. There won’t be many who feel life as deeply as you do and are scorched by a desire to express this feeling. But by following the artist’s path, you will realize a sense of fulfillment that eludes most people. You will be living life true to yourself.

Touching on various aspects of the writing process, Reflections from the Well is more than a rote column, it’s a literary lounge where writers and other creators are invited to share their own experiences. Share your comments with Alex for possible inclusion on the LWN blog or in his next reflection at