Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Rule of the Scene: Why Where You Live Affects the Work You Do

I’ve written before that every story of success is really a story of community. In fact, this was one of the central ideas to my book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. You need a scene. But how do you find one, exactly?

The Rule of the Scene: Why Where You Live Affects the Work You Do

When we look at the lives of successful artists, writers, and creatives, we don’t just see a collection of serendipitous moments. We see strategy. Whether intentional or not, a series of incidents and connections often allow a person’s work to get the attention it deserves.

And this does not happen by accident. At least, not usually.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is how Ernest Hemingway moved to Paris in the 1920s to join a scene of expatriate writers and artists who had taken up residence in the Left Bank. Almost every time I tell this story, someone will ask, “But what if I can’t move?”

Do you have to move across the world to find your scene? What if circumstances prevent you from doing so? Here’s what to do if you find yourself in that situation.

Go where the magic is

The Rule of the Scene, as I call it, states that it’s easier to go where creative work is happening than it is to will yourself to be more creative. The research on this is pretty clear: genius is a group effort, not the result of any single person’s work. The concept of the solitary genius is a myth. We don’t do our best work alone.

At the same time, not all of us are able to pack up our things and move across the country or the other side of globe to find our scene. Does this mean we’re out of luck? Not exactly.

We need a scene. That much is obvious. But you may not have to move as far as you think. Here’s how this works. If you want to do your best work, you have a choice:

  1. You can either go join a scene.
  2. You can create one right where you are.

Either way, you don’t get out of this. You have to find your scene, even if it means you make it yourself.

Join an existing scene

Let’s look at the first strategy, which we’ll call “Go Join a Scene,” (see Chapter 6 of Real Artists Don’t Starve for more on this). The idea here is there are certain pockets of creativity in the world that are worth tapping into. These places and unique moments in time are sometimes called “creative clusters.”

Researcher Richard Florida writes about the Creative Class, as a group of workers who are particularly drawn to areas of technology and diversity. They intuitively understand that where we live affects what we do and how we do it.

Travel writer Eric Weiner shared the same phenomenon in his book The Geography of Genius. Some places, he argues, seem to have an “it” factor, something that makes that location a hotspot for creative. And if we want to do our best creative work, we would do well to tap into these places.

One quality, according to Weiner, is that these places are unlikely — they can happen anywhere. When Hemingway sees a bunch of poets and painters moving to Paris because the exchange rate is good, he decides to follow. There, he can live on a meager budget while growing as a writer in the company of greatness. So he goes. And he finds his scene.

That’s one way to do it. But of course, there is another.

Create your own scene

You can either do what Hemingway did and go join a scene, or you can create one. Let’s look at that second strategy, which we’ll call “Create Your Own Scene.” If one way to do your best creative work is going where creativity is already happening, the alternative, then, would be to stay put.

This, too, is a strategy. Because for every Hemingway in Paris, there’s a Bronte in Haworth. Haworth, England was a small rural town where the Bronte family made their home. The daughters of a clergyman, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne grew up without much exposure to the outside world. To pass the time and to amuse themselves, they would tell stories to each other.

One day, one of the older sisters Charlotte found some poetry written by Emily, which caused the older sister to share that she, too, had been writing. Before long, it was clear that all three siblings were closet writers, and thus began a literary collaboration that would last a lifetime.

The Bronte sisters would go on to write some of the most influential works of literature in the English language, and it all began in a small village, far from the reaches of civilization. These young women didn’t have to leave home to find their scene. In fact, some of them did leave only to return to Haworth because that was where they did their best work.

Sometimes, the community we need is closer than we realize.

You must move

So which should we do? Go find a scene? Or create one? It may sound like contradictory advice. If you can stay put or leave, then you really don’t have to do anything. But that’s not what I’m saying.

You need a scene. You need to find that place where your people are, that community you can connect and collaborate with to create your best work. And make no mistake. This does requirement movement.

For some of us, that may mean a move across the room, as was the case with the Brontes. For others, it may mean a move overseas, as Hemingway did. In my case, it meant realizing that I lived in a city where creative work was already happening. I just needed to join it. This, too, required action. I had to put myself out there, showing up at local coffee shops and meet-ups where other creative workers like me were gathering. And over time, the more I made myself available to the scene, the more I became a part of it.

If you want to find your scene, you must move. Standing still is not an option. As you consider where you need to do your best work, it may help to understand that a scene requires three things:

  • A place
  • A people
  • A purpose

You need a place to gather, a group of people to connect with, and a reason for meeting. This was true of the Brontes, it was true of Hemingway and the rest of the Lost Generation, and it was even true of the scene that I joined here in Nashville so many years ago.

We do our best work in community. And those communities are found in places, sometimes the ones we least expect. Our job is to go find it, wherever it is. Because once you join your scene, it changes everything.

How to do this today

An example of someone who has done a good job of combining these two strategies is Eric Gale, a member of our Tribe Writers community.

Every year, he has consistently come to the Tribe Conference, going where the creative scene he needs is. But he doesn’t just show up. He makes the most of the experience, taking it upon himself to put together a meet-up for other Tribe Writers in the area. No one asked him to do this. He was just hungry enough for connection with other writers that he decided to create his own community.

This is how you find a scene. You put yourself out there, going where creative work is already happening — whether that’s in your own back yard or perhaps at a nearby (or even faraway) event. You do whatever you can to get to where your people are. And then, you do something like Eric did — you step out, take initiative, and make yourself as helpful as possible to others.

And if you do this well, you win.

So your next steps are simple:

  1. Join an existing scene. Find a place where the people you want to connect with are already gathering. Check out meetup.org or even the Tribe Conference if it’s the right fit for you.
  2. Commit to showing up. Buy a ticket. Schedule that meeting. Do whatever you need to do to get there.
  3. Be helpful. Go above and beyond, just as Eric did, to become the community you need. Help enough people and you’ll be surprised how that generosity has a way of coming back around.

If you’re curious about joining Eric along with a few hundred other writers and creatives this year who are to get the attention their work deserves, check out Tribe Conference.

Click here to reserve your seat before the early bird price expires.

What creative community are you part of? Do you need to join or create a new scene? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

It’s Not Too Late to Become a Writer

Download my free eBook on why now is the best time to become a writer.

In this book, I share everything I’ve learned bout what it takes to start writing for a living — and how you can get started today.

Click here to download the free book now.

  • Geoffrey Moenga

    Wooow! This is eye opening. I really relate to this piece. Joining a community is often inevitable to thrive in one’s art or skill.

  • Selena Cochran

    This hit the nail on the head! I often thought I too needed to move to find my scene. It wasn’t until I was invited to join a writer’s group that I began to discover and uncover my own voice, genius and creativity. The collaborative energy really did wonders, not only for my writing but for my confidence and creative growth. Thanks for another great post, Jeff!

  • Lisa Brown

    This is awesome stuff. I’m a part of a group where I feel community, growth, and I’m alive. My inner being is filled with creativity and I feel inspired. This is making a big difference in the way I relate to my writing, ministry, and calling to be a parent coach. Community pulls me to daily write, communicate, share ideas, and I’m seeing my purpose. My vision is expanding. Awesome post and I agree 100%

  • I am learning the value of this counsel on a personal basis. Too many changes and moves since the death of my husband. Writing for my blog (www.VonisVision.com) keeps me alive mentally. I’m moving again on 21 July to Georgia…eventually back to Brazil. So, Tribe Writers on Facebook may become my outlet How I’d love to go to TN for the conference before going to Brazil. God knows . . . Jeff, you have definitely defined some things here and in your last book. Thank you!

  • Darice Machel McGuire

    Thank you for your inspirational book “Real Artist Don’t Starve”. It inspired me to start my own artist group.

    Thirty years ago I had a dream of moving to Hawaii. I was a single mom of four, working three jobs to get by. One of those jobs was at my parents gallery in Lake Tahoe. I was surrounded by creative energy and fell in love with artists. The dream inspired me to work on my painting skills and teaching skills.

    Five years ago I moved to Maui. Within 6 months I got into 3 galleries and Started growing my art school. Maui is such an inspiring place with over 4 thousand artists living here.

    After reading your book I started an artist group. I invited 6 of my closest friends ( all artist). We meet in my studio once a month. I’m excited to see where this will lead us.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

  • Jathan Maricelli

    In the past, I have fretted about not living in a more creative area.

    But Jeff’s statement,”Standing still is not an option,” is right on.

    We must work with what we have. We must do SOMETHING.

    1. I joined a small, local writers group.
    2. I went to Tribe Conference
    3. I purchased Tribe Writers and became active in the TW Facebook community.
    4. I found someone to give me a monthly coaching call at a price I can afford.

    The amount of progress that I’ve made in the past year would have been IMPOSSIBLE if I had continued “standing still.”

    Thanks Jeff.

  • Eric Gale

    Wonderful article Jeff. Joining a scene is critical for growth. I couldn’t find one around me locally so I joined various online communities. I didn’t connect with any until I found Tribe Writers. The community you created and continue to foster is the best I’ve found. Looking forward to another great TribeConf. See you in September.

  • Charles Robinson

    Hi Jeff,
    Balance is the key. Unless you have some talent and, more importantly, motivation and discipline, moving or joining won’t change your situation or output. Wayne Dyer had some excellent essays and lessons on that. Teddy Roosevelt made a great observation: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
    Interaction with other creatives can help advance one’s career, as can a good mentor or teacher, but in the end, you have to “tend your own garden” (-Voltaire)

    As Hemingway commented to Scott Fitzgerald, “You are a writer, you need to WRITE! Stop all the fooling around.”

    Your Intentional Blog class is one of the best at providing some “tribe time” but keeping the focus on just writing.

    Something to keep in mind.

  • Patricia Salem

    I agree with Charles about the balance. If you are stuck and need people to bounce around ideas, or if you already have a body of work and want to get your name out there, a scene can be really helpful. A scene is great too when you need motivation to get working or to push yourself to the next level. Or when you’re just lonely for a substantive conversation with people who get it. I live in a fairly rural part of a foreign country, and there are times I would just kill for an artists scene here. (Most of my conversations involve sentences like “Yes, the weather is good” or “How much to remove the bees nest from my closet?”)

    I find I need to be more picky about my scene, whether it’s because maybe a particular writers group is not a good fit for me (too advanced/too rudimentary/not wanting to workshop/overly focused on other genres) or because whenever you have a bunch of people, there’s the potential for drama, gossip, and the like. Also, it’s easy (for some folks anyway) to let the scene become the work and to spend too much time on FB communities and at events, instead of writing.

    I’m one of those people who has a tough time getting out of idea generation and research mode in order to execute, even when I know I ultimately enjoy the writing process. (I recently learned that this may be because the dopamine reward cascade in the brain not only rewards accomplishment, it rewards avoidance as well, as part of our ancient fight-or-flight mechanism.)

    When it comes down to it, writing is essentially a solitary pursuit, and it’s just you and the blank page. Only your butt in the chair is going to get it done. So if you haven’t done the work, as you gently remind us to do, Jeff, a scene isn’t a panacea.

    I’m curious what other people here think about the old adage “When the student is ready, the master will appear.” Do you think when you’re ready, your scene will find you?
    Will things line up to make it easy to join the right scene? I’m a big believer in the Universe (or whatever higher power you believe in) paving the way when you take steps in the right direction. How proactive do you feel you need to be to find your scene? How do you judge when it’s time to take action versus waiting? Thoughts?

  • digital evolutions dubai

    For your business to prosper, for your organization to come up with the best outputs, for your product to be known worldwide, connect it to the internet. Bring it beneath the thumbs of your target. Develop a website with anything and everything about your company; upload your mobile app with all best features, in the Playstore. “DigitalE” is here, with you, to help digitize your business, to provide the best promotion for your products and create the best online platform characterizing your organization. Here we showcase our highly innovative works, subscribe & follow our inspirational ventures. Contact us anywhere, anytime.

  • Inspiring post. My need for a scene cannot be over-emphasized. I will surely get me a scene. Thanks.