Writing fiction is such a solitary occupation sometimes it’s hard to remember you’re not alone. It’s easy to become so focused on a story and the imaginary world filling your head that you forget you’re not the only writer slaving over a manuscript or facing a block. Sometimes isolation and quiet is perfect to get the work done. But there are times when that solitude isn’t so healthy.
Writing fiction can be an absolute joy. The characters grab you, the words flow, the next scene beckons with glittering promise. You can’t get the words down fast enough. Days, weeks, hours like that are fantastic moments to be treasured. For, like all professions, writing has its ups and downs. There are days when writing a decent page is like wrestling a herd of hissing cats, when your characters don’t want to come out and talk to you, much less each other, or when feedback from readers, editors, contest judges or reviewers leaves you feeling less than enthusiastic.
It’s those times when it can help to reach out a little, if only to remind yourself that others have gone through the difficult times and survived. That they’ve not only survived but triumphed. That all isn’t lost because the revisions are massive, or the editor loved your voice but not your story, or you received your 36th rejection. I guarantee there’s someone out there who’s just got their 37th.
I’m a believer in the positives that come from mixing with other writers, whether it’s on a regular basis or just once in a while. Depending on what you want and how far you want to venture into the wider writerly world, you can choose from:
- Local or online writers’ groups where you can chat about books, market changes, or get your work critiqued;
- Professional writers’ organisations that provide support, information, links to other writers, and possibly writing contests.
- Blogs where you can exchange views with other readers and writers or maybe pick up some professional tips;
- Email loops that provide informal support, answer specific questions or provide a chat forum;
- Conferences (from the stupendously large to the small and intimate) where you can mix with other writers as well as editors or agents; and
- Writers’ workshops on specific themes.
In my case, reaching out to other writers helped me become a published author. The first book Harlequin Enterprises bought from me was inspired when I attended a talk given by two multi-published and very generous authors whose books I’d admired for years. Joining professional organisations helped me with the nuts and bolts of the submission process and the friends I’ve made there kept me determined to succeed even when I thought publication was an almost impossible dream.
If you’re wavering about making contact with others, consider these potential benefits:
- Getting relevant know-how (from how to submit a partial manuscript to what to do if your manuscript suffers from a sagging middle);
- Obtaining market information;
- Finding out about the latest technology that can make your business easier (from ergonomic furniture to laptops and everything in between);
- Understanding the business you’re in (personally I’m incredibly indebted to a number of authors who’ve patiently explained some of the intricacies of publishing);
- Honing your craft (hands on writers’ workshops can be so helpful). I like the way a good presenter can crystallise and put into words the ideas I grapple with alone;
- Getting personal feedback on your latest story idea or scene;
- Receiving support when you need it;
- Celebrating good news with friends who understand what a ‘good’ rejection means or an acceptance or a bestseller;
- Discovering that whatever problem you’re facing with your manuscript, or publisher, it’s probably happened to someone before you and they’ve survived; and
- Feeling that you can do it (write the book, submit the story, enter the contest) after all.
There’s one huge caveat here: your focus still needs to be on finishing the book. I’ve seen too many aspiring writers become distracted, connecting to others or worrying about contest feedback, they forget to get the finished book down on the page!
We each have different needs for solitude and company, for focus and for external stimulation. Just remember that, when you do need an injection of energy or confidence, making contact with your peers can be just what you need. If you’re afraid of becoming distracted by an email loop or a big conference, even following a blog by a writer you admire can give you a pick me up when you need it. Why not give it a try?
First published in the Seattle Examiner