Monday, November 30, 2015

Writing Takes a Village

Writers write alone, but that doesn’t mean they are solitary beings. They thrive in community with other writers and take inspiration from interaction with all kinds of people and situations. Beginning writers often keep their writing to themselves, sometimes embarrassed to have anyone know they are writing. Perhaps this is a gestation period where the writer is finding his or her own voice. But at some point reaching out is necessary in order to grow as a writer. Reading work out loud lets them hear their own words more clearly and feel the response of the group -- the potent silence when people are deeply moved, the warm laughter and the spontaneous burst of applause. There is also value in the restless rustling, the uncomfortable silence and other ways listeners show that a piece of work is not speaking to them. It’s not a personal criticism but valuable information that more needs to be done.

Writers write for different reasons, but if they want to be read, then it takes a village. One of my clients discovered this recently when she was readying her manuscript to send out for publication. She reached out to several people with questions within their fields of expertise, attended a workshop on proposal writing, asked colleagues to read her work and give feedback, and she shared her feelings of self-doubt with close friends and received much needed encouragement. She gave herself the benefit of a village.

How do you find your village? First, see if there are existing writing groups in your community. This might be an ongoing adult education class in a local college or high school, or a private group offered by a published writer or qualified teacher. Check out local bookstores too; even if they don’t host groups they might be able to direct you to one. Try the group out to see if it's a good fit. If you come away feeling inspired, it’s good. If you come away feeling hopeless, it’s probably not.

If no class or group exists in your community, you might form your own group of writers who get together on a regular basis. Put a little notice in your MeetUp or Nextdoor online communities. And when you get rolling on a project, there are writers’ colonies, retreats and conferences galore. These offer stimulation, support, new ideas and connections.

Published authors also find community in their agents and editors and other support teams. I know my clients appreciate the community aspect of working with me. I don’t just send out their works to journals and magazines; I hold back the rejection letters unless there is valuable editorial feedback. This keeps them from feeling the disheartening sting that can cause them to waste time rethinking whether they can write at all. When there is an acceptance letter, there is no one happier for them than I am! Friends and family don’t always understand the meaning of these successes. Fellow writers’ understand all too well and their congratulations may be very real, but sometimes they may be thrust against their will into thinking about their own struggles with publication. My clients’ success is my success, so we both have cause for celebration.

If you doubt that it takes a village to become a published writer, just read the acknowledgements page of whatever book you are reading!

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