Beware. This is a post about writing.
When I was little, I had a refuge. My old apricot tree. I loved that old tree. I still do. Miraculously, it’s still there and it even still produces the odd apricot now and then. As a child, I’d climb up into those gnarled old branches and read Trixie Belden or listen to the wind. It was my safe place.
But needing a safe place doesn’t end when you hit puberty. On the contrary, you need a safe place even more the older you get, because you start realizing how dangerous and dark and upsetting the grown-up world is.
This is true no matter what kind of person you are, no matter what kind of work you do, no matter what kind of background you come from. Everybody needs a safe place.
What does a safe place look like?
It’s different for every person. Safe places can be people and relationships, rooms or locations, just about anything or anyplace or anyone.
I’m sure that for extroverts their safe place probably involves other people in numerous quantities. Me? I can’t even imagine feeling safe around so many people. A safe place for me is either an empty room or one or two friends—maybe three depending on who they are.
You’d assume that a safe place is full of like-minded people, right? Well, I guess in some ways that’s true. But being like-minded has nothing at all do with what you enjoy doing. It has to do with how you see the world and how you see each other.
Of my three closest friends (who I would call one of my refuges), only one of them is anything like me in the slightest way. But that’s just how our brains are geared. In every other aspect of life, we’re completely different. The other two don’t think anywhere close to the way I do, but that doesn’t matter. We are sisters, and I am safe with them. I can be myself and share my crazy thoughts, and they don’t think I’m crazy.
I have a couple of places I call refuges now, the most common being my upstairs office. It used to be my bedroom, but for the last seven or eight years, it’s been my quiet place where my imagination kicks into overdrive. I don’t even know how many hundreds of thousands of words I’ve composed in this room.
Another place I consider a refuge is just about anywhere on the 800 acres that compose Glen Eyrie, a remarkable castle hideaway outside of Colorado Springs. Seriously, this place is almost utopian. Breathtaking scenery. Tame wildlife. Comfortable accommodations. And so much beauty that you can’t help but be inspired. My favorite writing workshop ever is hosted at Glen Eyrie every year, and I’m sad I had to miss it this year. It’s a wonderful place to go and be refreshed and be around other writers.
Another refuge I’m learning to love is the people of Realm Makers. It’s a conference, though it may be growing into something bigger. As the Glen Eyrie event is my favorite workshop, Realm Makers is my favorite conference. It’s full of writers who love science fiction and fantasy and who don’t bat an eye when you walk in dressed as an elf and a Firefly mechanic—because you’ve already met a Wash (complete with toy dinosaurs).
But there’s something I’m learning about safe places that I don’t think anyone ever told me. All my life, writers have always said I needed to get plugged into writing groups. I need to subscribe to writing magazines. I need to read books on writing. And I’ve done all that, and they’ve all been wonderful. I’ve enjoyed them.
But this is a truth I’ve learned over the years: The best authors don’t write for writers. The best authors write for readers.
Want to be great?
If you want to be a great writer, it’s not a good idea to bury yourself in any one topic. You’ll stagnate. Your brain will focus solely on writing or writing basics or writing mechanics or writing industries or writing relationships. That’s not bad, no. But writers rarely write for writers.
So instead of spending all your time at writing conferences or writing workshops or writing groups, consider getting involved in a group that does something OTHER than writing. Cultivate friendships with non-writers. Get out into the world and get to know people, build relationships with non writers, even if they don’t understand the way your brain works. Your brains don’t have to work the same way for you to be friends—even close friends. And if all you’ve got circling your synapses is the three-act structure, the hero’s journey, and the need for a platform, your writing is going to be dry and stilted and frustrating.
I have a craft group I’ve started attending. No, not a writing craft group. I mean a for real craft group. Like we make stuff. With fake leaves and glue and paint. And it’s fun. And not a single one of the others is a writer.
But that’s okay. Because every time we have conversations, I get ideas. I learn how differently people can think, and that’s what’s important about venturing outside of your comfortable little writer bubble. Getting to know people.
Now, not every person you know is going to be safe. Not every group you get involved with will be a refuge. Some may be the opposite. But you won’t know until you try.
Just do yourself a favor and try not to make it through life without a safe place of some kind. Believe me. You need one.