05 September 2023
by Austin Robey
I never considered myself a writer.
Growing up, I never kept a journal. I never started a blog. In college, I studied architectural design – a degree for shape rotators, rather than wordcels. There were few instances in my personal, academic, or professional life that required me to take writing seriously.
In 2019, that changed. I was in the process of starting an artist cooperative called Ampled, and was frustrated by the limited resources available on starting co-ops. I searched for simple guides written by practitioners, but only found outdated and dry PDFs written by consultants with little experience.
I researched far and wide trying to absorb any disparate materials I could find on cooperative enterprises. I found myself digging through archives at Brooklyn Public Library, reaching out to authors of academic papers, and listening in on policy meetings for the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives.
Although I didn’t have any writing credentials or samples, I gathered the confidence to author a guide based on my experience, published by The Creative Independent, titled How to start a cooperative. It was the first time I had presented myself as a writer or published anything. I was 31 years old. I struggled with feelings of imposter syndrome. Who am I to present myself as an expert? Why would anyone listen to me?
When the guide debuted, I was overwhelmed by the response. Dozens of strangers emailed me to thank me for creating a valuable resource. A few people even said it inspired them to start a new company. I assume there were many more people who enjoyed the essay, but didn’t take the extra step to contact me. I was blown away.
This experience taught me the power of writing.
Writing is how ideas are spread. Writing is a forcing function to sharpen our own understanding of a subject. Writing changes people’s minds and clarifies our own. Writing can make a dent in culture.
I continued to write for several more publications. I became a contributor for Dirt. One essay, “What co-ops and DAOs can learn from each other,” became the most viewed piece on FWB. I wrote another guide for The Creative Independent. I authored op-eds and self published on a personal blog. Writing became one of the best habits I have ever made. In the years since, I can indirectly attribute nearly every professional opportunity I have had to writing. When people ask me for advice, professional or personal, my answer is always the same: write.
For me, writing became a way to build a public thesis and connect with like-minded people from around the world. I have made many friends through writing. I’m grateful for the voice it has given me.
This year, however, I’ve been struggling. I haven’t published any personal writing in months.
I feel stuck.
A few months ago, I was excited to be commissioned to write a new article for Outland. I spent late nights crafting several drafts of an essay to submit. I stared at my screen. I didn’t like it. I doubted myself. The deadline for submitting the article had passed (sorry Brian!). My imposter syndrome was back.
Earlier this year I made a commitment to myself to start a newsletter. Nine months later, I still haven’t started it. I feel intimidated by the anticipated promotional labor. I am not excited about competing in the attention economy. What if no one cares what I have to say?
I’ve been examining the source of my doubts and emotional anxiety, trying to diagnose what is holding me back. The answer is increasingly clear.
Writing is lonely.
I want a support network. I want accountability partners. I want encouragement and feedback from a group of trusted friends.
Illustration from Metalabel's New Creative Era zine
At Metalabel, we have published two zines this year outlining an optimistic alternative vision for creative work: After the Creator Economy and New Creative Era. Both publications call for new norms where creative people cooperate, collaborate, and form grassroots social and cultural organizations together. In these zines, we outlined a vision of a multiplayer creative economy where isolated individual creators join together to work under a common identity for a common purpose.
After reflection, I’ve been considering how to apply these ideas to my personal writing practice.
Last month, I proposed creating a newsletter collective in a tweet.
In the days that followed, more than fifty people reached out and expressed a desire to be part of the group. The overwhelming response suggests an emotional truth: I’m not alone. For creative practitioners, there’s a need for peer support in many forms, including accountability, community, structure, and friendship. This desire for mutual creative support systems is something that many of us feel. I wanted for us to create a larger social container for other people who feel the same.
Lonely Writers Club is Metalabel’s ninth release. It’s a new ephemeral peer group for writers providing creative mutual support. A space where interested people can transform their writing practices, collaborate with others, and create writing labels with people who share similar interests and visions.
LWC will meet for three weeks and explore:
-Goals and benefits for collective writing practices
-Group creation, purpose, and finding collaborators
-Development of resources, methods, and best practices for group work
Together, we’ll all learn how to incorporate the emotional benefits of shared work into our individual practices. It’s an experiment.
By participating in Lonely Writers Club, my personal goal is to create a new collective – a writing label that publishes a weekly email newsletter. I want to assemble a group of friends to share perspectives, responsibilities, and promotional efforts. I aim to articulate the vision for this new outlet, find my squad, and start publishing.
Other members may have different goals. This could include finding collaborators, accountability partners, a support group, or just some healthy motivation and a community of peers.
Are you a lonely writer like me? I’d like to invite you to join us this month. We’re meeting online on September 13th, 20th, and 27th. Join me 🥲
Thank you to Mariquita Philippa de Boissière, Marcus, and Yancey Strickler for the thoughtful edits and feedback during the development of this essay.