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You don't need to do it alone
I’m part of a writing group.
We are a collective of misfits that fit well together. We call ourselves The Cantina.
We talk about how to prioritize writing and insulate it from the pressures of “you sure you want to do that?” and bank account balances that nose dive like ospreys. We talk about how to build cabins in the woods and how infuriating toddlers can be. We daydream out loud about our books we are writing and want to write, ideal podcast guests, and manifestations of our maximum creative expressions.
If I time traveled to the past and informed younger Camilo that I was in a writing group and I enjoyed it, he would not only question whether I really came from the future, but whether I was from an alternate universe all together.
I used to think that creativity was a singular endeavor. Originality emerged from individual genius. Sure, you could create stuff by working with others–I never had qualms with collaborative work–but I believed that truly exceptional art could not exist through collective efforts. Too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many visions to align and egos to please.
This belief was fueled by the emphasis on individuality when talking about great creative works and artists. Most people know Picasso and regard him as a trail blazing genius–we owe Cubism to him. Yet, less people know about other Cubist painters like George Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger. Cubism was a thing because of a collective of people more so than Picasso’s work. Stories of genius are simplified so that we focus on a protagonist rather than an ensemble. In the nuance we lose the power of collective creation.
The first fissures to the notion that great creative work was individual emerged when I was writing The Compass. I locked myself in my room for weeks to write it–just me, myself, and I. Once the draft was finished I was confronted with the obvious reality; I needed people other than me to give me feedback on whether it was any good. The Compass would not have existed if it hadn’t been for all the friends who took their time to help me polish it.
*knocks at screen* Hey, you there, want to subscribe?
The myth finally broke when I enrolled in Write of Passage, an online writing course. I was excited by the idea of learning to write on the Internet and becoming a better writer. But I was highly skeptical about the course’s focus on community, “writing from conversation,” and using the wisdom of the crowd to refine our ideas. Class by class, group discussion by group discussion, and essay by essay, I was confronted with the obvious reality: My writing improved through my communion with others. Our joint pursuit of mastery, the energy that fueled our curiosity, and candid feedback became oxygen canisters in my long ascent to consistently creating work I can be proud of. Spoiler alert: The air is thin and the climb is infinite, so you’ll always need oxygen.
You may be like Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, who has described himself as a “loner.” Or you may be the type that can see the benefits of collective creativity, but shine brighter in those moments of solitude.
But I truly believe that most people would benefit from having a group of people to lean on in their creative journeys. Our current world is hostile to creativity–we are all salmon swimming upstream. Originality comes not from within, but from our openness to all that’s around us. And part of that openness includes interacting and collaborating with others. Creative magic happens in the moments of contemplation and serendipity. Contemplation is our creative antennae noticing things. Serendipity are the unexpected situations that bring upon epiphanies and revelations. Both of these happen in groups, in conversations, in joint experiences.
Seek your creative troupe. You may not find it overnight. You may think you found one, and then experienced bitter disappointment. If you are serious about any creative endeavor, if it is a cause worthy of multiple years of toil, then surrounding yourself with others on the same ascent is a must.
Genius loves company.
Humans of New York interview with Parviz Zafari: This is one of the best stories I’ve read all year. It is an interview with Parviz, a man who was a politician during the times of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. His story shows the incredible depth of Iranian culture, the tragic story of the revolution, and the hope that in this uprising spurred by the killing of Mahsa Amini, Iranians can finally win the “battle with fear.”
A Portrait of Bode by Elizabeth Edwards: I’m not a big animal person. It’s probably one of my least “attractive” traits. Yet, reading stories like Elizabeth’s beautiful homage to her dog Bode made me wish for just one second that I had a floppy eared companion leaning its head against me as I write this.
The Learning Game by Ana Lorena Fabrega: Write of Passage alum Ana Fabrega just released her first book. It diagnoses the ways our education system is failing children and provides useful techniques and strategies to nurture a love of learning without the constraints of our current system. This is a must read for any parent.
Photo of the Week
A couple of weeks back I had the opportunity to meet my friend Steven Foster in person. He’s part of my writing group, and we have bonded over our shared Latinidad, our love for photography (he’s a pro, I’m the amateur), and our reverence for the divine (from our own perspectives). Everyone needs a Steven in their lives: Thoughtful, wise, supportive. Check out his YouTube channel and his Substack()
Special thanks toand for their kind feedback.
And special thanks to you for honoring me with the gift of your attention today.
Until next time!