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September 7, 2017
Writing can be a lonely art form.
Unlike performance artists, you don't have audience reaction to rev you up. And sometimes family and friends aren't incredibly supportive, especially during the early years when your writing is taking you away from doing things for someone else without the "proof of value" of publication and income. Add to this all the let downs and rejections that come with being a writer, and it's easy to become discouraged and to flail around wishing someone would throw you a life line. As it turns out, that someone probably exists and it's one of your fellow writers. So if you're not making friends with writers, it's time to start, and I’ll even give you some tips on how to do it.
Many beginning writers who jump into online interaction do so by following editors and agents on Twitter and Facebook and anywhere else they can. If they have a chance to go to a conference, they'll sign up for all the programs where editors and agents interact with them.
There is value in that.
You can learn more about how that agent or that editor works. You can learn about their side of publishing and help demystify the process. And (if you happen to have a project completed that happens to mesh well with that publishing program or that agent) attending those events can give you a limited open window of direct submission.
In one way or another, I have come to know many writers and more than a few editors and agents. Some I even count among my good friends. However, mostly the speakers at workshops have given me insights, not new relationships. But there are opportunities to network at such events. Those opportunities exist in the person sitting next to you. The other writers.
What kind of opportunities do you get from other writers? You might be surprised.
Help with your career and your pain.
Networking with writers can turn into jobs. Many years ago I was in a small online writing and critique group with a handful of writers. One of the writers went on to do some books for Abdo publishing but the project they signed her on for was too big for one writer, so she recommended me. We were friends. We were critique partners. She knew my work. And Abdo offered me the opportunity to do a kind of writing I'd never done. I took it. And now I have written literally dozens of books for Abdo. All because of a small online writing and critique group.
More importantly, friendship with writers can get you through the tough times. You've heard me preach on this before. Don't do this alone. Writing is a joy, but publishing can be a meat grinder. When you put yourself in it, there will be some bloodshed. It's going to hurt. And there aren't likely to be a lot of people in your immediate circle who "get" it. When I suffer a writing disappointment, I tell my family and they certainly try to be supportive, but they don't feel it. My husband may moan about the loss of the potential money, but he doesn't get the emotional cost of really wanting a book project and having it fall through. But my writing friends do. They've all suffered rejection. They've all hit the wall a few times. And when they respond, it's from a place of understanding and that really helps.
Choose carefully––friendly to everyone, but open to only a few.
Literary theft is rare, but so is winning the lottery and someone does it every now and then. So, as writers, we don't need to be paranoid about our fellow writers but we should be wise. Posting your hot new idea everywhere isn't wise. (Plus, it stands the chance of draining some of your creative energy because part of that energy comes, for many of us, from the need to communicate with others. So if you post your ideas everywhere or share your works in progress widely, you're draining some of that energy by doing your own "publishing.") So keep your critique partners to a trusted few and try not to overshare ideas in progress so you keep your creative energy high.
Another reason to watch how open you are in public is about your reputation. I've talked about that before also. A writer's reputation is a fragile thing. If you've had a tough time on a writing project or with a specific editor, be careful who you unburden yourself on. Save it for your trusted few, not your public Facebook wall or Twitter profile or blog. If your frustration with rejection is making you mad at editors and agents everywhere, that's understandable, but don't blast it all over the Internet. Share with just those few who are likely to understand. If you get unkind reviews, don't blast a post about how stupid the person doing the review was (especially since people may take up your cause and balloon the whole experience up far beyond anything you ever wanted). Keep the circle of close writing friends small enough to build real trust, and save more of the specific negatives or venting to that circle. Some agents, editors, and publishers do research on a writer before signing the person. Be sure research on you makes you look reasonable, thoughtful, and sane.
Building That Support Network
So how do you build that support network of other writers you might ask (and actually have asked). It comes from "putting yourself out there." ICL has a Facebook group and a page. You can meet people through Picture Book Summit, and in fact, some attendees have started critique groups through it. There’s SCBWI, Yahoo writing groups, and there are workshops small and large all over the USA and beyond where you can meet writers face-to-face. The first step is simply to do it. For starters, read the many posts in the ICL Facebook group and look for places you can add a comment, something supportive, or an experience from your own writing life. Keep posts positive and people will begin to show interest. Don't feel bad if folks don't rush to be your best friend right away; online friendships can be even slower to develop than face-to-face ones, but they are worth the effort. Don't just comment on posts by writers you admire; instead look at the tone and content the same way you do when building friendships in the real world.
And at workshops or conferences, sometimes you have to overcome your natural shyness and simply speak up. Depending upon how socially awkward the other writer is, you may not always get the response you'd like. But the key to building friendships with writers is to keep doing it. Keep reaching out. Keep offering supportive remarks. Keep showing interest. Like absolutely everything connected with writing, it takes time, but I promise it's worth it. From writing friends I've gotten emotional support in the tough times and the joyous ones. I've gotten tips and leads on work. And I've gotten referrals that led to long-time writing gigs. And I've gotten some snippy comments and snubs because writers are just human beings. They aren't all going to be my best friend. But some of my best friends are writers. And that works for me. I think it will for you too.
So, reach out to your fellow writers. Build a circle of trusted writer friends who you know have your back. Be a support to them as well. And during the good times and the bad, you'll never be alone.
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.