The writers’ subculture

How and why it is that birds of a feather…

I enjoy the phantom-like anonymity and abstract idealism of writing, either a newspaper column or a blog. I can choose not to think about what happens after the copy is published. I bury my head in a computer to stay focused where things are logical and cohesive, so that what I write is a world unto itself, where the ideal is feasible.

One day I decided to come out of the “think tank”; to climb out of the ivory tower I do not believe I am in. It required that I leave my keyboard and put raw, spontaneous words into the air, to let them reach actual ears, and deal with the consequences. In short, I would cross over to the fluid present, without the protection of 20/20 hindsight.

That day, I tentatively lifted my head from the computer where I was working at a college newspaper. Looking around, it dawned on me that I was in a room full of people with their heads also buried in computers. Appearances are deceiving, and I had to convince myself that I somehow ended up among people just like me. Somehow this variety of people around me were also writers at their core.

I applied this discovery to the faces; one at a time, I tagged the person “writer” and then added what I knew of his or her personality and temperament. In a few minutes, what I thought would be foreign territory was transformed into something vaguely familiar and comfortable.

Now I needed to connect; to actually socialize.

I looked for some thread to help me and it gradually materialized.

Although we work independently, the slight interactions necessary to bring a newspaper together gave me a place to start. In the shades of newspaper production, I saw a sociable network of goodwill, playfulness, professionalism, diplomacy, caution, rebellion, talent and serious work in which everyone played a part, even me. Coming out of isolation, then, seemed merely a matter of stepping out where others already assumed I belong.

What we experience in common was my lead.

A newspaper is a dynamic setting for writers. During production, the newsroom is a cauldron of people, events, emotions and reactions. We try to distill mural scenes down to thumbnail sketches, and immediacy is a newspaper’s business. Perfecting a piece of writing is a luxury; perfect or not, our pieces go to print. We do our best, prepare for criticism and rejection, but all the while hope for approval.

I investigated further to see if my perception of others was accurate. By visiting with 10 people from the news team — writers, editors, photographers, page designers, production and business staff — I learned something about our social mechanism.

Surprisingly, no one seemed to be aware of the existence or operation of this mechanism, although one insightful person described the benefits and effects of mixing business and pleasure. He said that when you enjoy the time spent with the people you work with “you don’t think you’re working any more.” Some commented that it is helpful to know how others work and how they think. If they know someone through other projects, they have an easier time working together.

Most of us are working to follow our dreams

By taking a survey and talking informally with my fellow writers, I came to know a bit about their lives beyond work. It became obvious that the majority of the staff at the newspaper, in a matter-of-fact way, are working to follow their dreams.

For some, connection and camaraderie take no thought whatever. I proved, at least to myself, that connection and camaraderie can also be acquired with conscious effort. I was surprised to find that the transition away from my writer’s closet was relatively painless, and I found a place where I feel free to be creative and encourage creativity in others.

After this successful venture, I became more comfortable with the prospect of having company in future explorations. I continue to explore the world, and make it line up in my writing, but I also check my assumptions and give others the opportunity to expand and enrich my view. Knowing there’s a community of people like me – “people who write” – is a kind of safety net under the tightrope.


“How and why it is that birds of a feather…” republished from “”Up Front,” a weekly column by Elizabeth Diane Martin in The Criterion newspaper, Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State College) December 7, 2005.