Writing as a career isn’t for the fainthearted. Even with its privileges it can be a lonely, at times disheartening, way to spend your time.
The flip side of the pleasure of making sense of the world and finding readers, as you deliver comfort, insight, challenge and joy, is uncertainty. Economic anxiety most obviously, but also artistic: how do you do what you want to do? How do you do it better?
The question of how you make a living is the one that most exercises non-writers. What underlies it is an unspoken envy: that you have chosen something inherently unpredictable (even if you have a day job), that requires courage to persist with. The independence in found in writing is simultaneously freeing and frightening.
Which is why it’s no surprise that so many of us gravitate towards the company and fellowship of other writers. Despite the impression that you might get from many literary biographies that authors are forever sniping at each other – behind backs and to their faces – the truth is that, however much your creativity and progress might be a solo effort, there is also support to be found.
Poetry is where you can often most see this. I’m fortunate to be a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a collective founded by Malika Booker and Roger Robinson in London in 2001. For 20 years it has been a space where poets of colour like Warsan Shire, Inua Ellams and Dean Atta, have grown and developed, in a spirit of collaboration and desire to both improve our craft, and break down the barriers of a sometimes hostile literary establishment.
Individual mentoring is another route to pursue, working with a more established writer on a well-defined goal. It could be something short term and tightly focused, such as solving a problem in your manuscript. Or it could be much bigger in scope, where your mentor helps you reflect on your aesthetic approach, and how to deepen it to achieve your creative goals.
Beware confusing mentoring with friendship: it might develop into one, but fundamentally it is a working relationship, with someone who has been where you are now, able to both ask the right questions of your writing, and show you how and where you might find the answers.
Where can you find a mentor, or indeed a collective to join? In the UK there is a network of literature development organisations (LDOs), whose role is to help nurture writers at all stages of their careers. I’m chair of Spread The Word, London’s organisation, but right across the country, each is adept at spotting talent, and also at putting writers in the best position to succeed, by connecting them to networks, people and opportunities that help them grow as artists.
You can find a full list of the UK’s literature development organisations at: https://nationalcentreforwriting.org.uk/literature-organisations/
Best of all, the existence of LDOs is a reminder that writing as a way of life can be liberating, and not a lonely one.
Rishi Dastidar’s second collection of poetry, Saffron Jack, is published in the UK by Nine Arches Press. He is also editor of The Craft: A Guide to Making Poetry Happen in the 21st Century (Nine Arches Press), and co-editor of Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different: Poems from Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (Corsair).