I once had the pleasure of listening to Dan Lazar, of The Writers House Agency, present his impression of writing and writers. He said one thing that has stuck with me ever since: “Great writers write in packs.”
Maybe it’s because I just got back from one of my own pack meetings, but I believe that Lazar is spot on with that observation. Groups do so much more than critique or provide feedback. The members become your friends, your inspirations. They become your challengers, your champions, and they offer understanding in a job where there is very little opportunity for socializing. Because, in the end, it’s just you and your keyboard. It’s nice to know you’re not alone.
Virginia Woolf was a part of probably the most famous Pack ever. The Bloomsbury Group. Including writers, intellectuals, philosophers, artists, and political commentators, Bloomsbury helped solidify the arts and crafts movement, the development of Modern Fiction, and protested violence (a la WWI and WWII). They goofed off together, raised political hell together, and created together – each inspiring and pushing the others to greater artistic and intellectual development.
In the best sense, this is what packs do – push their member to excel in their chosen profession.
But I’ve noticed another interesting phenomenon regarding the great writers. Even if they are not part of a collective like the Bloomsbury Group (maybe once in a generation will you get a gathering like that together), great writers will find like-minded people – either as mentors or contemporaries.
There was one passage in Virginia Woolf’s diary that struck me, and it’s so simplistic on the surface:
“Also Mrs. Hardy said to me ‘Do you know Aldous Huxley?’ I said I did. They had been reading his book, which she thought ‘very clever.’”
~Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary
Mrs. Hardy is the wife of Thomas Hardy (Tess of the D’urbervilles, Far From the Madding Crowd). This passage comes from Woolf’s description of a visit to the great writer’s house. Aldous Huxley is the author of Brave New World. And Virginia Woolf (who should need no introduction at this point) wrote this sentence in her diary as if it were a side note.*
So, basically, the authors of my college reading list had all spoken to one another at some point or another. Enough to be put in a casual sentence together.
That’s like me saying that at dinner with Stephen King, he mentioned he was reading J.K. Rowling, to whom I’d just shot an email, and thought her a promising talent. (Assuming, of course, that I’m an equally super writer. And we are.)
How dizzying is that?
*I should mention here that this was not a casual visit to the Hardys’ home. By this time Hardy, an eminent Victorian author, had retired from writing novels and Woolf wanted to meet him. During their meeting he did not speak about writing as much as Woolf would have liked (“The whole thing—literature, novels, etc., all seemed to him an amusement, far away too, scarcely to be taken seriously. Yet he had sympathy and pity for those still engaged in it.” ~ V.W. A Writer’s Diary) – having suffered some severe critical receptions of his novel Jude the Obscure, which was the last novel he wrote.