It’s been a busy couple of months. I’ve been immersed with big projects—the kind that stretch you and leave you a bit breathless. And I was equally busy out in the world registering voters in Pennsylvania and at home exchanging emails on all the crucial issues of the day. Hope you’ve been doing meaningful things this fall and connecting with others in satisfying ways.

Lately it seems that the theme of community is on all our minds—and I’m not talking about the current obsession with social media. The hurtling economy has forced (nudged) us to have conversations we may have avoided—or just skipped over—with ourselves, older parents, children away at college, life partners, and even friends. But while the conversations have been sparked by fear and uncertainty, they have also been a great leveler. We’re connecting in truer ways. We’re all in it together.

So what does this have to do with the working, writing, launching, wanting-to-express-ourselves, wanting-to-succeed endeavors that are most important to us?

What I’m getting at is that we often separate our creativity from our community. When we put the two together, each is more powerful.

Communities need the creative spirit of the people in them. We need to breathe life into our relationships, projects, and goals. If we don’t bring our whole selves to what we’re doing, our communities lack inspiration. Likewise, we need the spirit of community to bring our creative ideas to fruition.

At its most basic level, community is about connecting with others. For a writer, it’s about connecting with an audience, and the creative exchange that happens in that moment. The audience starts with our internal self and moves out from there. But without an audience in mind—without keeping that sense of community and connection in our minds—our ideas are likely to fall flat. The burning desire to communicate crystallize our words, images, stories, and meaning like nothing else.

Your can think about creativity + community as:

“Curb Appeal”

At a writers conference, I heard Sena Jeter Naslund, author of the bestselling novel Ahab’s Wife, talk about her struggles with the plot of a recent novel. She said she talked to any and everyone she met about the novel-in-progress to see if it had “curb appeal,” She kept looking for the right frame. When she finally figured out the puzzle, everything “clicked”—everyone she spoke to wanted hear more about what happened! Creativity plus community unlocked the door, figuratively, and the writing then flowed.

“Asking, Why?”

Novelist Barbara Kingsolver hears her characters in her head. She knows who they are and what drives them. In writing Pigs in Heaven, an unplanned sequel to her beloved first novel, The Bean Trees, she wrote almost a whole draft with the nagging feeling that something didn’t make sense. The adopted child, Taylor, who is central to both novels, was abandoned as a baby. Until Kingsolver resolved the “Why?” of Taylor’s adoption and the community the child was separated from, the book lacked a necessary truth. Getting to the deeper issues, Kingsolver transformed the book and created a rich and deeply rewarding experience for the reader.

“Word of Mouth (WOM)”

On a less artistic plane, book editors (and bloggers, too) ask themselves, “Who do I know who would care about this book/subject/author and can I imagine them recommending it to others?” We can use the WOM question to test our passion for our ideas. Do we want to share our work and ideas? If not, what would make us feel more passionate or confident? If we’re thinking about the ideas of others, do we want to become a loudspeaker for the work? Is there that spark that catches our imagination and compels us to share it with others?

Thought exercise: Have a conversation with yourself about your idea or current project. Does it capture your passion, intent, and purpose? Then imagine what insights, information, inspiration, or direct feedback you might seek in your current community, or in a community that’s right for your ideas. Think about Curb Appeal, Why?, and WOM and what Creativity + Community lead to.