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The Loner’s Guide to Artist Tribes

The truth is, I’m afraid to write this post. I put it off as long as I could, because my tendency has always been towards solitude. I’ve never considered myself an expert on making friends or building communities.

In high school, while other girls skipped class to run in giggling packs around the mall, I skipped class to read novels in my room. I’ve eaten more than a few lunches on my own.

“Tribalism,” its importance, and how to engage in it are things I’m still learning. I had to write this, though, because the extent to which I have surrounded myself with like-minded people has done a lot to increase my creative confidence.

Alone, we stagnate; with others, we thrive or wither, depending on who they are for us. – Click to Tweet

Astronauts Planet Space Stars

I’ll bet astronauts are glad they have each other. “Astronauts Planet Space Stars”, photo © nikonomad, Adobe Stock.

  • My tribespeople are the reason I’ve stayed the course with my blog and eBook.
  • They’ve provided feedback and encouragement on my short fiction, helping me improve it, and increasing my motivation to share it with the world.
  • They’ve encouraged me to be gentle with myself when I’ve railed about how there was no point to my work and it would never matter to anyone, reminding me I always talk like that when I’m tired.
  • They’ve taught me to structure stories and blog posts so people would want to read them.
  • They’ve shared their struggles with me and allowed me to help them, while at the same time showing me I’m not alone.
  • They’ve celebrated with me when I’ve succeeded, and consoled me when I’ve failed.

Of course, no one person has done all those things; it’d be an awful lot to ask. That’s why Jonathan Fields recommends finding a variety of people to fill different roles for us. He writes,

We need teachers and mentors to show the way, help correct course, avoid missteps and shorten the distance from idea to impact.

We need champions to hold us up when we stumble (and we will, more than we’d like) and reconnect us with our own vision and deeper drivers when we get lost in the smaller picture.

We need crusaders to hold us accountable when we most want to bail (which inevitably is a heartbeat from our next big move), and continue to act when things get hard (and they always will).

We need parallel-playmates (I have to interject here, because “parallel-playmates” sounds a bit too kinky, I think, for our purposes at the moment; I prefer the term “parallel peers”) building their own ventures alongside us, sharing in the emotions, questions, struggles and triumphs that bond us for life and let us know that we’re truly felt, seen and understood. Because we are them, and they are us.

True enough. But for those of us who regenerate our energies by turning inwards rather than by immersing ourselves in crowds, the idea of assembling such an all-star team sounds exhausting.

That’s alright. You don’t have to be Mr. or Ms. Popular to build your tribe.

Hamar tribe - Bull Jumping Ceremony

Apparently, these guys are about to engage in a “Bull Jumping Ceremony” in Ethiopia. I’d probably want a few people in my corner if I were doing that, too. Photo “Hamar tribe – Bull Jumping Ceremony”, © veleknez, Adobe Stock.

The loner’s guide to tribalism:

  1. If you’re like me, you might find it easier to seek people out individually rather than in crowds, and
  2. to do it gradually, rather than all at once.
  3. You might find that opening yourself up in new ways to people you already know allows them to help you like they never could before. My Aunt Brenda Carre has always been a writer, but she didn’t really become a mentor for me until a few years ago, when I began sharing with her my own hopes, dreams and goals for writing, as well as showing more of an interest in her work. My sister, the novelist and singer/songwriter Celeste Lovick, became my “parallel peer” when we started exchanging stories and providing feedback on each other’s fiction.
  4. Online communities are a great place to find tribespeople, especially for those who live in small towns, or who, like me, spend a lot of time travelling. I met my friend, parallel peer, champion and crusader, the “neophyte philosopher” Niki Shmikis, through Fizzle, * an online educational community for creative entrepreneurs. I’ve found several other parallel peers in the Live Your Legend Creator’s Guild, a Facebook group for bloggers, podcasters, and other online makers.
  5. Find teachers and mentors via online courses. I’ve always cringed at the thought of sitting down over a super-awkward lunch and stammering, “Will you be my mentor?” to an actual person in the real world. I have, however, taken online writing classes from Holly Lisle, Dean Wesley Smith, and Tara Gentile (whose CreativeLive course,* “How to Write and Publish an eBook”, is largely responsible for the fact that my first non-fiction book, Creative Confidence, will be released this July). I’ve never met any of them, and they’ve all become my cherished mentors.
  6. Of course, even I can admit there’s something to be said for introducing ourselves to other physical humans in the in-person world. One of the best ways to do that is through attending workshops, conferences and events for which people like you are the target audience. My Auntie Brenda attends several writer’s conferences every year. In 2014, she let me tag along with her at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. My heart swelled with joy as I sat with hundreds of other writers in the banquet hall while Jack Whyte* led us in a rousing rendition of  “The Hippopotamus Song“. I thought, Man, these people are weird… I totally belong here.

Writers aren’t the only ones who benefit from belonging to a creative “tribe”. As the painter Ania Witwitzka puts it, finding a “tribe” is how artists find audiences: “Since we as humans share the same needs and experiences, there will be a crowd out there, my tribe, who gets my art and will want to buy it.”

Amanda's family having dinner outside.

Some of my people having dinner at my family’s cabin. I’m lucky to be able to count my parents, siblings, and partner among my “champions”.

It’s also, as Sarah J. Bray points out, a way to increase the quality and efficiency of what we make. She writes, “collaborating with our communities not only helps us get people to care, but also fixes many of the other problems associated with doing creative work. It gives us accountability, so we’re more likely to follow through with our ideas. It gives us instant feedback from the people who will be using what we’ve made, so we spend less time on ideas that aren’t going to work and more time on ideas that will. It simplifies our process, so we don’t have to see ‘doing the work’ and ‘making people care about it’ as two separate jobs.”

Most importantly, though, our tribes keep us from losing heart. Artists are often solitary creatures, but without connections to other creatives, we risk drowning in our own mental swamps, in our thoughts of “I’m not good enough,” “I can’t do this,” and “I shouldn’t bother.” Our tribespeople are the ones who’ll throw us a rope and haul us from the quicksand, bringing us back to the fire.

Featured image: “EXOTIC”, photo © everettovrk, Adobe Stock.

What about you, Reader? Where have you found your “artist tribe”? If you don’t think you have one, where’s one place you might start to look for mentors, champions, crusaders, or parallel peers? 


PS: Subscribe to my blog for free if you’d like me to send you the first chapter of my eBook, Creative Confidence, once it’s complete. 

PPS: * These are affiliate links, which means that, if you buy a book or course after clicking to it from this page, I’ll get a very small commission, although the cost for you won’t increase.

4 Comments

  1. Can’t wait to read your ebook Amanda.

    I totally agree with your definition of a tribe. We often, to avoid being alone, become part of groups where we don’t belong. Diversity is important in our tribes, but they should be held together by the thin thread of the desire to create something magnificent. Then, diversity allows us to create something unique and look at our work through fresh eyes.

    Lovely post!

    • Thanks Vishal K! You’re right – “the thin thread of the desire to create something magnificent” really can hold people together.

  2. Julia says

    Incredible stuff! Who knew that I needed this.
    I can’t wait to read your ebook!

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