What it Means to Be Seen

I believe that writing is a solo sport, but that at the end of the day, no one does it alone.

Recently I had a Q & A with Lynn Lovegreen and one of the questions was “How can we be seen or understood by others, and help others be seen?”

How “being seen” or “feeling understood” actually manifests can be different for every writer. But I do believe there are some common denominators. For instance, taking a collective moment to let go of any writing expectations or agendas can be a huge relief to folks. About a year ago, I started adding a brief grounding message at the start of every class and webinar that I taught. It was surprisingly well received! So even just taking 1-2 minutes to let someone else be in charge of providing a space of creative permission and validation can life a huge weight off a writer’s shoulders and help them feel understood.

Being seen can be trickier, because of course we think that the ultimate goal is publication…and we often compare our drafts to the published and edited and proofed versions we read on our bookshelves. Holding up or first or second or fifth drafts to a prize-winning book that had a literal TEAM of editors, marketers, copyeditors, and in some cases developmental writers behind it is not only unfair, but unproductive. So – yes – being published is a great and perfectly valid way to be seen. But there are many, many steps between the seed of a story idea and the story finally finding its wider audience. My goal is to acknowledge some of those steps along the way by encouraging writers to post daily word counts or share an opening paragraph from a free write or to share pictures of edited pages amongst a group of other writers, as a way of being seen “in process” and helping us bridge the gap.

Thinking through this question made me wonder what others in my community think so I posed this very question on Facebook:

What does it mean to you to be SEEN and to feel UNDERSTOOD by people in your inner circle? What about in your outer/community or social/political circles?

Here are some of the responses I received:

  • To be seen and understood by my inner circle means I feel less alone, affirmed, and acceptable. In my outer community, it means I have a voice and opinions that count.
  • Writing is generally a solitary activity. A writer can often become lost in his/her own stories and this can result in the writer feeling out of touch and alone. When a writer is seen or heard and appreciated within an inner circle, that writer may lose a bit of privacy, yet he/she also gains a wondrous touch of support, connection and sometimes, appreciation for the work in progress.
  • Inner circle: understanding my needs for solitude, writing time, and specific activities to fill my creative well. The ability to actively listen without trying to solve my problems. And, I don’t expect my inner posse to read my mind, but I cherish those times when someone gives me something—a hug, a text, a phone call—that I didn’t ask for and may not have even realized I needed. Outer circles: I appreciate when people look beyond superficial appearances and resist the temptation to make snap judgments. I don’t expect everyone to like me or my writing, so it’s very gratifying when I write something that resonates with others, and they take the time to tell me.

I was curious about these questions because of how they impact the way we develop and nurture community within Airstream Dispatches. What started as an experiment with a handful of writers, now has the foundation to support a writers from around the world, who want to connect, learn, and be seen. Coming together to provide gentle accountability for each other broadens a writers circle of community, and as one respondent stated allows for “a wondrous touch of support, connection and sometimes, appreciation for the work in progress.”

As Kelli Fitzpatrick noted, “To be seen is to be recognized as a distinct creative entity with struggles and joys that are both unique and universal.”

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