Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart.

15.18: Finding a Community, with Shauna Hoffman

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, and Lari¹, with special guest Shauna Hoffman

Many Writing Excuses listeners (especially WXR alumni) already know Shauna Hoffman. She joins us to talk about how to deal with the fact that we, as authors, often feel isolated.

The listener question that sparked this episode: “How do you keep the pressure off when you feel alone?”

How indeed? If this feels timely, well, some of that is coincidence. And some, of course, is not².

Credits: This episode was recorded remotely³, using a variety of VOIP tools, and was mastered by Alex Jackson. 

¹ Larissa Helena is joining us as a guest host. She has worked as a literary agent, a translator, and a rights manager, and we look forward to hearing more from her this season.
² Yes, the irony of this being the first of our recorded-during-sparkling-isolation episodes is something we’re leaning into.
³ This is the first airing of a Writing Excuses episode in which the participants not physically present in the same room. We suspect it won’t be the last, and that we’ll get better at it. 

Homework: Make a list of people you can reach out to this week—people who might inspire you, help you feel like part of a community.

Thing of the week: Guy Free Working on Me, by Shauna Hoffman.

Powered by RedCircle


As transcribed by Mike Barker

Key Points: Isolation? No one can hear you scream? The situation makes us feel as if we are out of control, and fight-or-flight syndrome, along with fear, anxiety, and depression, may kick in. Self-isolation as a choice is one thing, having it forced on us is something else. So — make it your choice! Take back control. Find ways to reach out. Writing groups online. Nextdoor. You are not alone. Writers are not solitary recluses, geniuses who work by themselves in seclusion. Go to a writing conference! Nanowrimo’s forum. 4thewords. Writing dates, or co-working dates. It’s okay to not want to write! Give yourself a lump day! Try online role-playing groups. You have the control, the choice, to reach out.

[Mary Robinette] Season 15, Episode 18.
[Mary Robinette] This is Writing Excuses, Finding a Community.
[Mary Robinette] 15 minutes long.
[Dan] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Lari] And we’re not that smart.
[Mary Robinette] I’m Mary Robinette.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Lari] I’m Lari.
[Mary Robinette] And we are joined by our special guest, Shawna Hoffman.
[Shawna] Hello, everyone.
[Mary Robinette] Shawna, do you want to tell everyone a little bit about yourself?
[Shawna] Absolutely. Many of you who have been on the cruises before know me. I own a large corporation that takes people on cruises, but I’m also a psychotherapist. I am a speaker, I am a writer, I’m a podcaster, I’m a lover of the human spirit. There’s nothing in my heart that helps me more than helping others. That’s me.
[Dan] This is also the very first week that Lari is on the show. Larissa Helena is one of our guest hosts. She’s going to be on a bunch of episodes throughout the rest of the year. So, this is your first episode, Lari. Can you introduce yourself as well?
[Lari] Sure. I am kind of… I learned recently that if you’re saying you’re like a Jane of all trades, then it keeps going like, but master of none, so I don’t say that anymore.
[Lari] But, let’s just say, I’m a Jane of all trades in publishing, because I’ve done a little bit of everything. So I’m an editor, a translator, a rights manager, I’ve been an agent. Right now, I’m a rights manager and translator for most of my time. But I’ve just kind of explored all different parts of the business.
[Dan] Awesome. Thank you very much.

[Mary Robinette] So, this episode came out of questions that you all have asked us. But it also felt fairly timely. Given that we are recording this while we are all still in quarantine or safer at home or ensconced in situ or sparkling isolation, whichever choice you want to call it. Dan, do you want to read the question that we got from our listeners?
[Dan] Yeah. So the question says, “I often feel isolated as a writer, a feeling social media is probably exacerbating. But sometimes it feels like a no one can hear you scream situation. Not everyone may be alone, but some writers are. What are some ways you go about keeping the pressure off pre-post agent and pre-post pub, even when it feels like you’re in it alone?”
[Mary Robinette] So, I think that this is a thing that affects every writer at some point or another in their career. But I also think that right now it’s hitting a lot of people very hard. Because so many of us get our communities by traveling or just even going to the coffee shop to hang out in some place that is not your home. It is difficult when you’ve got something that’s normally a solitary occupation, and then you add any form of isolation on top of that. Since not even… Even without the sparkling isolation, a lot of people don’t have access to a larger community. So, Shawna, do you have any immediate thoughts about ways that people can build a community or build a kind of safe emotional space for them during these times?
[Shawna] What’s interesting about the time that we are in… It’s actually a little bit of what I call fight-or-flight syndrome right now. Because it’s a situation that we are out of control in. When you are choosing to stay at home and you know your writing or you know you’re being creative, it’s actually a choice. Right now, it tends to be more stressful, because fear, anxiety, depression, and the basic fight-or-flight syndrome, because it’s actually been taken out of our control. We been told what we are supposed to do. Before, people who isolated in order to be creative made a choice to do it. It was… Can also always be lonely. But, in this point in time, it tends to be more lonely because it feels like it’s out of our control. It’s not our choice. So the first thing that I try to help people with is to make it your choice. Right now, we have to stay safe. So if you make it a choice to stay safe, in your mind, your changing your perception, your giving back your control, you’re taking back your control. You’re choosing not to be at the effect of something else. That is a very’s first step to not feeling any anxiety or depression, as we’re going through this. I think you made a really good point, going out socializing, even, like you said, being in a coffee shop, gives us a sense of community. The funny thing is that right now everybody is in the exact same place. So what you… I offer people to do is to find ways to reach out. Whether it’s writing groups online. Whether it’s… You know, there is a great app, meetups. Meetups, now, are people who wouldn’t normally go to a meeting, go to a group or join a group, because maybe they’re on the more shy side, can find something in meetups where they can all of a sudden engage with other people in different ways. It’s one of my favorite places to send people to. You’ve moved to a new community and you don’t know who to meet or how to meet other people. But right now, on Meetup, there’s tons of meetings going on that you can do from your home. I’m also finding apps like Nextdoor. Things like that. There are people that want to reach out. I think a really big piece of it is to (a) not feel like you’re the only one going through this. When you do that, when you put that mentality, or you feel like that is what you’re going through, you tend to go deeper into a [possible] depression or more anxiety. You are not alone. That’s the most important piece to feel right now, is that you are actually part of what so many people are going through. Everybody is going through.
[Mary Robinette] Yeah. Lari?
[Lari] I think what would also be interesting to talk about is this image that a lot of us still have of what writers tend to be like, the romantic idea that writers are solitary, a recluse, or just the geniuses who work by themselves in a little secluded room, and how sometimes we need to [object] to that image, like, make it a little harder for people to realize that it’s really hard to be home alone by yourself, so just really bringing up this idea it’s very normal to want community and to find it hard when that’s all you do all the time.
[Dan] Yeah. I… One of the things that I usually recommend for people to find a community is to go to a writing conference. It’s so easy for me up on a panel, when we’re talking about writing and finding a community, I can say, “Hey. Everyone in this room who is interested in possibly joining a writing group, stand up.” Then half the room stands up. They look around and say, “Oh, hey. A) I’m not alone, and B) I can talk to these other 50 people right after the panel is over and maybe put something together.” That’s not necessarily something you have access to right now, but there are online resources as well. Another one that I love to point people to is nanowrimo’s website, National Novel Writing Month. They have an incredibly expansive forum that breaks things down, not just by genre of what you’re writing, but also by region of where you are writing, down to the city and often even the neighborhood level. So if you… Even if you’re not interested in doing nanowrimo, you can get on there, sign up, and then see who all the other writers are in your area. You can talk to them over the forum, contact them and maybe put together a writing group, or even just a Slack, or some kind of little support group online. These kinds of things are really, really valuable to have. And totally viable during quarantine.

[Mary Robinette] Yeah. We’ll talk some more about some additional resources after we come back from talking about our book of the week. Shawna, I think you had something you wanted to recommend to our… People.
[Shawna] Right. Thank you. Yes. I’ve written a book called Guy Free Working on Me. It’s a woman’s journey to self-awareness. It’s also my podcast. It’s for women who are in a relationship, not in a relationship, it’s about really searching for yourself, finding time, and doing the work to become the most healthy and genuine person you can be. So, thank you.
[Dan] Cool.
[Mary Robinette] So, that’s Guy Free Working on Me, by Shawna Hoffman.

[Mary Robinette] So, one of the… Let’s toss out a couple more resources for people. Two of the other things that I want to recommend, much along the lines of what Dan recommended. 4thewords. The number four the words, is a… So it is a game. You’ve heard me… Anyone who’s on… Has listened, longtime listeners, have heard me evangelize about this. But it’s a game in which the way monsters is by the number of words you write in the time in which you write them. But their forums are this incredibly vibrant and caring community. It’s a great place to meet other writers and just… Sometimes to just go in there and say, “Has anyone else ever had the thing where you know the next scene that’s supposed to happen, but you just don’t want to write it?” And have a bajillion people chime in and go, “Oh. All the time.”
[Mary Robinette] It’s… Also, hi, yes, me too.
[Mary Robinette] The other thing that I find very helpful in general, and the pandemic and my sparkling isolation has given me additional tools, is writing dates or co-working dates. So, I’ve done these sporadically for years, but because of this, I’ve actually set up a regular date. So, on Wednesday mornings, I meet up from 9 to 11 with some other folks. We have two hours that are dedicated time to work in the company of others. The way that we do it is that we chime in… No, we come in, we chat for 15 minutes, and then we work for 45, and then we have a 15 minute break where we stretch, we refresh our beverage, we chat. Then we work for another 45 minutes. It’s the most productive time that I have. If you’re thinking, “But I don’t know anyone,” one of the things I want to draw attention to is that not everyone in this group is a writer. But we are all working together. So it’s true that you may not be able to find a writing community, but you may be able to have a community who understands what it’s like to be working on a project that you’re frustrated by. There are other tangible kinds of links that you may be able to touch base in. Then, the, sort of the last one, is that if there’s a writer that you like a lot, and they have a Patreon, some of them have co-working sessions. That’s another way to start meeting a community. Like, mine has co-working sessions, I’ve got a Slack. Dan, also, I think you do, too, don’t you?
[Dan] I do an online writing group that has formed more than a couple of off-line groups of people who have been through it.
[Mary Robinette] Yeah. So, this is a… These are some possible ways that you can go about it. What are some other things that you might, Shawna, suggest?
[Shawna] Actually, this might go against everything that this podcast is all about, but, I, in this time, it’s okay to not want to write. It’s actually okay. It’s very difficult to become creative when you’re in fear or when you have anxiety. What we’re finding is that… You’re seeing it all over social media. “I’m not doing anything. I’m not getting anything done.” I want to take the onus off of that, I want to give you permission to have the gift of time right now, and maybe not try to feel like you have to be creative. Maybe you want to do self reflection right now. Maybe you want to just join with family on phones and podcast… And Zooms and things like that. It’s okay to not be creative at this time.
[Dan] I have started doing, and this surprised me, because I work from home anyway. So it was very surprising to me that I was starting to feel the quarantine burnout. Because I rarely ever leave my home under normal circumstances. But a few weeks ago, I hit a point, on a Wednesday, where I was just an absolute useless lump of a person, and I could get nothing done, and was whining about it to the friends on my Slack that I keep for sanity. They all said, “You know what, we all feel the same way. It’s okay to have a lump day.” So I’ve started giving myself Wednesdays as my kind of creative cheat day. You don’t… It’s important, like Shawna said, you don’t have to constantly be writing. But you don’t have to give it up entirely, either. I have found that kind of just giving myself one day of the week to kind of try to regenerate emotionally has allowed me to keep writing on the rest of the days. Once I came to terms with that and accepted it, then it’s been pretty productive on all of the other days. But I give myself a lump day.
[Mary Robinette] I have structured so that I have… That I don’t do work on the weekends, even though I’m self-employed and… Like even without this, we can was… That was the day that I was at a conference. But otherwise, indistinguishable from the rest of the week. So, I’m also making sure to give myself time to not work. Shawna’s absolutely right. It is… I think everything that this podcast does stand for actually, that you have to be gentle and kind with yourself in order to… For there to be any work possible at any point. But sometimes you just don’t write.
[Dan] I know that we’re going long, but I want to recommend one more thing. This is a little self-serving, because I do run role-playing groups for people online. But I have had… I have seen online role-playing games become an incredibly valuable tool for people to find friend, for people to find like-minded individuals, whether it’s creatively or just socially. There’s a lot of resources to go through to find that as well. I got a friend right now who was in quarantine, like absolute strict no human contact quarantine, for three weeks.
[Shawna] Cool.
[Dan] I’ve got another one who is just a single guy, living in San Francisco, again, virtually no in person contact with anyone. For both of them, the ability to get on once a week and just play Dungeons & Dragons or something, without the need to be in a video meeting, without the need to feel like they had to be productive, was super valuable. So you can visit websites like Roll20, which has an incredible forum, called Looking for Group, where you can just go on and find like-minded people who want to play a game. Astral’s another good one. So while you’re looking for your community, even if you’re a writer, you can find a lot of other writing friends or just good social friends that you can interact with through other means as well.
[Shawna] Just one last thought. That is that you actually have the control to reach out. If you don’t do it, you’re going to find yourself feeling more lonely and more lonely. So, even if you choose one or two places a day to try to reach out to, make your list and do it. Because you actually have the control.

[Mary Robinette] Well, on that note, why don’t we wrap up with a writing prompt or exercise? Shawna, did you have something for us?
[Shawna] Yes. I think I just did it. How about…
[Mary Robinette] Oh, perfect.
[Shawna] How about… How about you make a wonderful list of people that you could reach out to in the next week that could inspire you, that could make you feel part of a community? And think outside the box. Think outside the box, don’t go to the ones that you would normally go to. Go back to your high school or junior high school or reading group or church group or any other group, Mom’s group, anything. But make a list. And go for it.
[Mary Robinette] That sounds fantastic. So. You are out of excuses. Now go write, or be a lump.