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Joy Ann Ribar on Communal Writing

Joy Ann Ribar is the author of the Deep Lakes Cozy Mystery series. You can find out more about her on her website www.joyribar.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and find her books here.

In 2020, my commuter husband John started working remotely, which turned into a permanent situation, since his job as a software engineer could be accomplished via home and a lot of Zoom meetings. Sound familiar?

Shared office space

We loved the savings in time and money because my hubby cut his commute from over an hour to just a dozen steps upward to the office: My writing space.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in sharing, and John and I are close friends as well as spouses. There’s something fun about the ability to share a thought or piece of news in real time during the day. And it’s sweet when John brings me an extra cup of coffee or tasty nibbles on his break. The music he listens to while he writes program code isn’t necessarily my favorite, nor is it beneficial to my day to eavesdrop on his three-hour video chat meetings from my perch four feet away… 

It only took a few weeks before I moved my computer and other writing paraphernalia downstairs to the dining room. This move prompted me to muse upon why writing is such an isolating profession.  

When I was a teacher, a group of us attended a workshop about cooperative learning in the classroom. As an icebreaker, we answered questions on a website called Kingdomality. The end result produced a label for each person, representing a suitable role each would play in a medieval kingdom, based on our individual answers to personality questions.

Joy Ann Ribar with copies of her latest book Deep Dire Harvest
Joy Ribar with latest book: Deep Dire Harvest

Collectively, we were white knights, black knights, shepherds, prime ministers, merchants, scientists, builders, minstrels, etc. My role was The Discoverer, with a goal of going where no one else has ever gone before (kind of like Star Trek, I guess). My favorite part of the description is this: Regardless of the number of available natural problems to be solved, it is not unusual for you to continually challenge yourself with new situations or obstacles that you have created. 

Yes, I’ve often said I’m my own worst enemy. Creating obstacles and new situations is a defining characteristic of an author, right? The applicable point here is, however, that I’m not convinced writing has to be done in isolation. My memories of Kingdomality, that cooperative learning workshop, and leading students in clustered projects and discussions reminded me that there is a time and place for joining forces, sharing ideas and skills, and creating something that one individual could not create alone. 

I’m not going to wring my hands and discuss the cloistered side of our profession, because all writers know we must spend a certain amount of time in solitude to produce our art. Instead, I want to offer a few suggestions to make writing a little less lonely:

  1. Join a writing group of any kind. Whether you meet in person or online, formally or informally, read or critique each other’s pieces, it’s all good. Misery loves company and so does victory. We need people to lean on and celebrate with.
  2. Consider writing in a public space, maybe a library, but I’m thinking of places where there is hubbub. Why? Writers need fodder, and public conversations and activities provide it. When I sit and listen and observe others, I’m soaking in appearances, modes of movement and poses, speech patterns and anecdotes. I become a creative thief.  Sometimes, this is just what we need to refresh our craft.
  3. Take a class or workshop. Writers learn from each other, so a writing class can help us fine tune our work or remind us of the reason we’re doing this. Or, take a class that isn’t about writing at all, and see how it can refuel your imagination. I’m going to take a course on oenology.
  4. Less can often be more. To be a good writer, you don’t have to spend every waking moment in your writing cave, surrounded by quiet. Spending time away from writing is often exactly what I need to find my passion and artistry again and restore some balance to my world.  

What ideas can you offer to make writing a less lonely occupation?

Joy Ribar

Joy Ann Ribar writes the Deep Lakes Cozy Mystery series, inspired by Wisconsin’s four seasons and friendly quirks. You can find out more about her on her website joyribar.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter, or follow her on Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Amazing that you gave it weeks before moving your workspace! I think of myself as a hermit who prefers to be at my keyboard with few interruptions and, sometimes, music that I choose. I don’t find it lonely at all, and breathe a sigh of relief when company (even much-loved company) heads out the door.

    1. joyribar
      joyribar

      Oh the life of a writer, right? I enjoy solitude at times too, but it’s requirement when I find myself in the flow.

  2. Avatar
    David de Felice

    Joy Ann: I actually prefer the solitary pursuit. I pine for a writer’s shack like Thoreau, Woolf, et al. As it is, I and my partner, Sula, both work in the same general space of a spacious multi-level house in the woods — she, blogging about cooking (SulaandSpice.com), fittingly in the kitchen, and me in the lower-level living room — separated and out of view. We communicate verbally or by text, which, I must confess we use frequently so as not to disturb one another. BTW, nice meeting you and John this weekend at Kismet in Verona. Interesting conversation with John about your upcoming new life on the road. I’m ready to dig into Deep Dark Secrets!

    1. joyribar
      joyribar

      Thanks for leaving a comment, David. It’s great to hear how you and Sula work out the shared writing spaces in your home. I’m every bit as guilty of interrupting John when he’s programming, so my post shouldn’t sound one-sided. We will learn new ways to work even closer together in the RV! It was good to meet you and Sula.

  3. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    This is great, Joy! I know so many people who get a lot out of writing groups! I love going out to coffee shops or libraries to write, but haven’t in a long time. So thanks for the reminder! So much fodder for the creative brain.

    1. joyribar
      joyribar

      I do love the opportunity for innocent public eavesdropping. Also, the change of atmosphere colors our worlds.

  4. Avatar
    saralynrichard

    Smiling at the shared office in your home, which matches the one in mine. My husband and I sit back-to-back in our office for two. He likes noise; I like quiet. But somehow we make it work. In addition to being my office mate, he is my alpha reader, and we discuss plot points and characterization with the same energy as the most important household decisions. I’m thankful to have him behind me!

    1. Avatar
      David de Felice

      Same for me with Sula. She’s my plot consultant. She’s has a reader’s eye. So fortunate!

    2. joyribar
      joyribar

      Saralyn, I love how you and your husband have made sharing a workspace a sweet success. You inspire me.

  5. Avatar

    I’ve found that running story ideas by my husband and talking them through really helps. He has a keen eye for story and often brings up points I’d miss working on my own.

    1. joyribar
      joyribar

      Great idea, Jackie. I’ve had my hubby work with me on smaller pieces and he’s got a great mind for flow and detail. I’ll have to see how he feels about reading full-length features.

  6. Galit
    Galit

    My hubby wrote several books and a PhD dissertation at coffee shops, but I prefer sitting alone in my study or at the kitchen counter. If anyone is around, I long for conversation!

    1. joyribar
      joyribar

      It’s hard to turn off the conversation brain. I find myself blurting things out loud when I probably shouldn’t, like when my hubby is programming. Something turns my levers, and I just have to share.

  7. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    All good ideas, Joy! I have writing friends that make a point of going out to lunch three or four times a year, and that’s terrific for our creativity and problem-solving. It’s so energizing meeting in person. Sure, Zoom is great, but we are social animals and the in-person meet-ups and the laughter amid other humans around us stir something in the brain. My own office is fantastic for me, roomy and I don’t share. A lot of work gets done for my clients and for my own writing.

    1. joyribar
      joyribar

      You have such great energy dividing up your time for yourself and others. I admire your determination, Christine.

  8. Margaret Mizushima
    Margaret Mizushima

    Great ideas, Joy! I do need quiet in order to write, so I’m often in my writing cave with the door closed. It took a while for my husband to realize he couldn’t pop in to chat. It wasn’t until I explained that anything can interrupt the movie that plays in my head and I might not get it to start again on that day. Now I’m left alone when I’m working on a novel.

    1. joyribar
      joyribar

      It’s good that your husband understands this and doesn’t take it personally. Being married/partnered with an author just isn’t easy.

  9. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Thanks, Joy, for sharing. I need complete quiet to write. I can’t even listen to music without being distracted. I relish my solitude and long for a writing garret in an attic with a window on the world. I do give myself permission to go out to lunch with friends once or twice a month to “reconnect with humanity,” which, like you, I find necessary and healthy.

  10. Avatar
    Laurie Buchanan

    Joy — I enjoyed reading your post! I have a TINY writing studio that is glass on two sides with a beautiful view. I LOVE my space (emphasis on “my” – I’m quite territorial) and thrive in it. I tried writing in a coffee shop a few times, and it always turned into a people-watching session instead. So nope, when it comes to writing, I fly solo.

  11. Avatar
    Laurie Stevens

    Loved the post! I had to laugh when you politely moved your location away from the shared space. Thanks for the tips on writing classes. Often I think I don’t need them- dangerous attitude!

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