Of Synergy and Writing Residencies

By Sophfronia Scott

By definition, synergy is “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”

Let’s look at the interaction or synergy that can take place between writers. When I entered a program to earn my own master of fine arts (MFA) in creative writing, I initially focused solely on writing fiction. But interacting with other writers led to a suggestion that I study creative nonfiction and write essays in addition to novels.

I would have never thought of such a thing on my own! I followed through on the suggestion and, as a result, I’ve had many more opportunities and written books I never expected to write. My writing life was changed.

Another example: Recently I was working on a book proposal on a subject that has many books already in existence. I knew I had a unique take but was having a hard time articulating it. When discussing it with a friend, a professor at the Yale Divinity School, he offered an observation that gave me new insight and helped me to better focus the proposal which went on to be bought by a publishing house.

You develop synergy by doing two things: Being willing to talk about your work (most writers are usually reluctant!) and finding the right people with whom to interact, people who also write, but who write different things and have different levels of experience. Sometimes you’ll have to dip into a few pools to find them.

When students and faculty attend the Alma College MFA residencies, the most synergistic times are when everyone gets to simply hang out and talk. These are the times at meals, during walks, after readings. From our very first residency our community has shown the ability to create an amazing synergy. In this relaxed and giving atmosphere, powerful change can be born.

You also get to share your dreams. I know the word “dreams” can, for some, feel like puffy clouds, pie in the sky, and unicorns. If this is you, feel free to insert the word “goals” or “aspirations” or whatever ignites your engine. Once you have it, I invite you to consider this: Why do you write and where do you hope to go with your writing?

Does the answer to the question make you want to get to work, drawing you to your desk (or dining room table or favorite coffee shop) like a powerful magnet? Let’s face it: a lot of the writing process is/can be drudgery! You will inevitably fall into a place of wondering, “Why am I doing this? Does this writing even matter? Who cares whether or not I wrote today?”

That’s where dreams come in, and the magic of sharing that dream with others. A magnetic dream reminds you of who you are and why your work is important. You have some place to go — maybe for the world, maybe for yourself.

The pull of a dream can change everything. It’s kind of like hope. As the character Andy wrote to his friend in the film “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies…”

And when you share your dream? Watch out—things happen.