Raise the Curve: Why Writers Should Surround themselves With Passionate People

I have lived with my share of slackers; people who couldn’t be bothered to clean their hair dye out of the sink, to sweep up all their broken glass, or close the door on their way out of the apartment. These were people who used scuffed CDs as coasters for the beer bottles they were using as ashtrays. They stacked towers of dirty dishes in the sink, too high to soak.

One night, at the old place, a girl was too drunk to figure out how to get the toilet to flush. She lifted the lid, found it was too heavy and dropped it into the tank. It fell straight through the bottom, shattering it. The toilet gushed its gallons across the hall and into my room. Later that day she tried to superglue the porcelain pieces back together. When that didn’t work she left an envelope full of cash on the counter. This was the same envelope the roommate who’d invited her in used to paid his rent.

My room was a mess, with a closet overflowing with laundry, but compared to my roommates’ spaces it looked immaculate. That’s the thing. If all of your roommates are lazy slobs the act of sweeping makes you a neat freak, tossing expired milk makes you anal retentive, and taking the trash out means you have OCD.

In school some teachers graded on a curve, giving A’s to the top 10% of the class, B’s for the next 10%, C’s to 60%, and D’s and F’s for the bottom 20%. If the majority of the students were putting in failing work it didn’t take much to earn an easy A.

As my roommates illustrated, this curve exists in all areas of life: in offices, customer service, and even creative endeavors. If all of your classmates are tapping on their phones then simply looking in the professor’s direction counts as participation. If all of your coworkers punch in late and leave early then merely working your entire shift makes you a model employee. If all your fellow writers are in the idea stage then just typing a page puts you ahead of them.

If you surround yourself with people who do the bare minimum you won’t feel compelled to rise that far above them. If your peers set the bar too low you will plateau before you peak. Writers encircled by slackers will have a hard time getting to the professional level.

When you’re writing it’s important to distance yourself from people who regularly declare their boredom. Dissociate with the couch ridden binge watchers jonesing for junk food. Step away from the compulsive status checkers, declaring their envy of people they haven’t seen in years. Get clear of the habitual heralds; the hot headed hurricanes spinning through the bad news cycle. You need to find peers who will pressure you to work harder.

How the Right People and the Right Places Can Improve Your Writing

Writers should surround themselves with passionate people who aren’t afraid to challenge them. Writers can find this in a writers’ workshop, but be sure to select the right group.

A writers’ workshop full of hobbyists won’t do much to raise novices to expert status, not when the sole goal is to create a nurturing environment. Here’s how I recommend auditioning a writers’ workshop to see if it’s right for you. Bring an old short story that you don’t like, or an old draft of something that didn’t work. Act like you have a lot of pride in this piece. If the workshop praises it without giving any constructive criticism find a different workshop.

Writers should seek out people who humble them not people who inflate their ego.

Sometimes it’s the people you know who challenge you to work harder, sometimes it’s the people you don’t. Try sitting shoulder to shoulder with productive strangers, people erecting their own walls of text, typing so fast they give you keystroke envy.

Find a coffee shop full of freelancers, someplace where you don’t know anyone, someplace that makes you feel uncomfortable, where people are always replying to important messages in their inboxes, where the clientele seem further along in their careers than you. I’ve found that these intimidating spaces inflate my word count, because I’m less inclined to fall into a black hole of click bait articles and movie rumors.

It turns out this method of surrounding yourself with passionate professionals can be done on social media as well. I’m starting to understand why writers on twitter post their hourly word counts like high scores. It gives the rest of us something to aspire to.

Raise the Curve

What Beds and Writing Spaces Have in Common

It’s hard to work from home when you don’t live alone. Home is where most people go to relax. Good luck getting any writing done in a minefield full of legos and children competing for your attention. If you have roommates good luck resisting the lure of entire seasons of television, viral video recommendations, and marathon gaming sessions. Good luck visualizing anything with all those screens in your sightline. Good luck hearing your thoughts with speakers blaring all the time.

Writing can be just as tough when you live alone, especially when you use your writing space, and writing tools, for other things.

There’s a reason sleep experts tell you not to browse the net, watch TV, or eat in bed. You risk developing insomnia, because your mind stops associating your bed as a place for rest.

You should treat your writing space with the same respect as your bed. Whether it’s in a home office or a cafe downtown you should only go there for one reason: to get work in. That’s why I have a coffee shop I go to write and another to have conversations with friends.

I still associate with my share of slackers. I have people I only hangout with and others I can also work around. I try to surround myself with creative individuals. When none are available I go to places where I can at least rub elbows with them. I go to these strange lengths because I’m always trying to raise my personal curve.


My audiobook Terms and Conditions is now free on Bandcamp. You can listen to it right here!

After getting a lot requests for prints of my art I decided to open a  store on REDBUBBLE where you can find prints and a whole lot more.


17 thoughts on “Raise the Curve: Why Writers Should Surround themselves With Passionate People”

  1. Love your work ethic, Drew, it’s very similar to my own. But then I have been called a snob on many an occasion, because it tends to influence how I live my life. I have always believed in that old adage…’if you lie down with rats…’

  2. I use to have this one writer friend who kept on walking around and bragging to people that she is writing a book and meanwhile she hasn’t even typed a word.
    She would then tell me to take time of from my writing and that I’m too serious.
    The two of us are no longer friends because she decided that I’m too serious about the future for her liking and I told her that if she wasn’t going to support my writing then I’m not going to put up with her drama.

  3. Great advice. This is so true. I’m lucky I have an identical twin sister who is just as gung ho about writing as me. I’ve met a lot of passionate people via wordpress and twitter

  4. Great advice! I especially like the idea of presenting an old story in order to gauge the caliber of dedication of other writers based on their feedback.

  5. GREAT advice about how to audition a writers group. Most of them are very well-meaning but don’t offer the right atmosphere for an aspiring writer to improve his work/craft. If you want to learn to play basketball, you don’t challenge a group of grade-school students on the playground; you try to find NBA-level pros with whom to practice. For three years, I was part of a group of professional writers (all repped by managers and/or agents, all with a measureable degree of success, be it a script option or a TV staffing job or what have you), and, while it lasted, it was one of the best experiences of my professional life: Aside from simply the feedback I received (which was often invaluable), it taught me how to GIVE notes — how to diagnose a problem in a script and articulate the issue in a constructive way. Those skills improved my own storytelling acumen immeasurably, and made the experience infinitely more valuable than any single set of draft notes could have ever been.

    1. Feeling you re: those creative groups of days gone by, Sean. But, as I said in my full comment below, I’m finding something similar among the people with whom I’m associating online, yourself included.

      1. Erik,

        I’ve actually been giving consideration to writing a post on my experiences with my writers group (though probably not till August or September at this point, since the last two pieces — the ones on postnarrativity and the Buddy Love genre — took quite a bit of time to compose, and, as such, I’m a little behind on my novel!).

        But, to echo your comment, I can say with certainty that a lot of the skills and techniques that I honed as a member of that group are now being shared (and further developed) on my blog, and, consequently, they are benefitting a wider audience. So, the online community of which I am a part brings new voices into the conversation, and forces me to challenge and refine long-held notions about my chosen discipline. All of which goes to show that as long as you engage people constructively and creatively, the medium by which those associations subsist — be it analog or digital — is irrelevant; it is merely a tool for fostering human connection.


  6. Very good advice in there. As a writer who has no choice but to work in the lounge room, I found the only way to get the job done was to shift my work time to after everyone goes to bed.
    The other issue with associates who don’t have ambition or focus is that they can actually resent your drive, and even work against it.
    This is very noticeable down under, where tearing down others is a national pastime.

  7. I found myself cringing in empathy – and remembrance – at your roommate recollections. I had roommates for 20 years, not one of which ever cleaned a single thing. But beyond that, I had one set the place on fire leaving chicken cooking in a pot then going to bed, drunk. A fly infestation of literally hundreds of flies from maggots that hatched in the August heat from weeks of plates left in his room with steak bones, blood, etc. One that invited an unknown female over on Thursdays to … er … kanoodle (loudly at all hours) then kicked her to the couch – my couch – where THREE TIMES she urinated and covered it with the throw pillows. I could go on and on. More horrific than Running with Scissors.

    This post made me miss the best of my creative people and environments past. Honestly, it’s been hard to find people locally who are actually at a level in writing or music where it challenges me to be better; rather, I always wind up being the go-to person who is asked to look over other people’s writing or songs. I miss having people who could truly collaborate or “talk shop” in ways that fuel one another. However, I am building an online community (the “social” in “social media”) with some very cool people who, through their written work as well as in personal exchanges, fill this role quite nicely (including right here and with You-Know-Who), for which I am constantly thankful.

    By the way … thanks!

  8. I completely agree with you. You should be around what you want to attract. You want to attract creativity and passion, surround yourself with those kinds of people. Want to slack off, hang out with slackers. People who will support you are key.

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