Peeps Aren’t Only for Easter

Chicks wearing graduation caps

I know Kathleen and Therese meant well when they asked me to offer my best writing advice, but I gotta tell you, the idea that I could presume to do so after being here less than three months? With the pedigree of you folks? Oy. The very concept made me break out in hives.

Fortunately, as a parent I’ve built up my tolerance for irony poisoning. Also, besides Therese and Kathleen, I have a small cadre of people who believe me capable of rising to the challenge.

A posse of possibility, if you will.

Hence the basis of my suggestion: Find yourself a supportive writing community (or communities), acknowledge your membership for the privilege it is, then pay it both forward and back.

Here’s my rationale: Sooner or later, everyone who writes will feel as if they are failing. It might be as simple as a bad day in the chair or as complex as being cut loose by a publisher mid-series. We all have our own literary Achilles heel.

Challenges are quite simply easier to endure when surrounded by good people. They don’t have to be writers, but it helps. (And it’ll take a load off your partner and/or family, who by now wish you would dangle by your own participle.) It’s just important they can genuinely hear you, validate your experience, then, after allowing you sufficient time to mope, shove you back into the world with hopeful expectation and resources.

As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”  The right group will help you build a repertoire of both hows and whys faster than you can do on your own.

A few things to consider:

  • Begin looking soon: Building relationships takes time, and you may not settle on the right place at first. Or fourth. It’s awkward to make first contact in the midst of a crisis. So if it’s a public group, lurk a bit to assess its culture, then introduce yourself and begin assimilation.
  • You might need more than one group — If you put your eggs in one basket, and that community develops “issues”, another crowd can help you stay on track with the writing while you make good decisions. Also, different groups possess different skill sets. One might be fantastic at providing critique and beta readers, another understand the business of publishing.
  • Look for a place that encourages creativity and diversity of opinion — To paraphrase Stephen Covey, a group is only as good as how they treat their “least” member. Be part of a community where all are respected and respectful. An excellent sign you’re on the right track is the presence of play, and that everyone is invited to the party.
  • Consider a group with a spectrum of experience – There is nothing quite like being normalized and advised by a pro. However, relative newbies and youngsters can offer fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Some of them are damn skilled, too.
  • Value celebration— Everyone experiences bouts of jealousy. Can your group’s members rein theirs in to be genuinely happy when it’s time for another to shine? Or is the shiner compelled to play small? Also, will the group cheer for micro-accomplishments? Will they get that one hundred words in a tough scene might be as worthy of champagne as a three-book deal?

By the way, for those of you who geek-out in this stuff, as per research from the Hope Foundation of Alberta, these things form The 7Cs of Hope: coping, committing, caring, communicating, creativity, celebrating, and community.  

Now it’s your turn. Got any requirements you would add? Anything with which you disagree? ←This is me, doin’ my respectful modellin’ in one of my places of hope. (The list of writerly places and individuals who have helped me is enormous. If I could name only one as a starting place, outside of Writer Unboxed, it would be the forums at Absolute Write.) 

What communities tolerate embrace you as their member? Let’s build a repository of names for those who haven’t yet found theirs.

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About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.

Comments

  1. says

    I totally agree with the comment “You May Need More Than One Group.” I’m in a big group (20-25 each week) with diverse writers, none of whom write in my genre; a small group (5) that’s just women; and a one-on-one group. I also consider the Twitterverse to be another writing group that’s proven to be an invaluable resource, both for the articles thrown my way and the individuals I’ve met.

    What would I add? Simply that you should train your ear to know what comments are useful and what can be rejected. That’s tough when you’re just starting out and you assume everyone knows better than you.

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  2. says

    LOL at “irony poisoning”. *stealing that*

    And I think “posse of possibility” is a delightful way to describe those folks who pick you up when you’re flat and melted on the ground.

    The beauty of it is we get to be the givers AND the takers as members of that particular group. Fear and insecurity have a certain ebb and flow, so it’s nice to be able to shore up those who need it when we’re feeling strong, and receive the same in return when our tide goes out.

    Thanks for sharing your insights. I always benefit from them immensely. :)

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  3. says

    Oh–and for your repository…

    MINNESOTA writers can check out the Minneapolis Writers Workshop. It’s the oldest, continuously running writers group in Minnesota (maybe the U.S.), starting in 1937. Dues are about $35 a year and it meets every Wednesday 7:30-9:30pm http://www.mnwriters.org

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  4. says

    FANTASTIC advice. Wow. Those are all valuable things to look for in a support group, although I think “value celebration” is one of the most important — and most original — that I’ve seen on a list like this. Well done, and thank you! I hope this helps a lot of writers find the right people for them.

    My addition would probably be Time Commitment: Make sure your group meets as frequently as you need (once a week) or as infrequently as you can commit to (once a month). If it’s an online crit partner or cheerleader, make sure you don’t overwhelm them with emails, or vice versa. For writers especially, time is one of our most valuable assets, so you want to make sure you and your support network are using it in compatible (and effective) ways.

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  5. says

    So true. I’ve been a part of several writing groups over the years, each special in their own way. Now I’ve found writers through blogging (one who also writes mid grade and reads much of the same children’s and adult titles I do, one who happens to be my agent-mate).

    We are willing to take on an entire manuscript and turn it around in 1-2 weeks. Invaluable, especially when things like edits come up.

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  6. Sharon Bially says

    Wise words, Jan! Nothing to add except that all of the above applies to the rest of life, beyond writing, as well!

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  7. says

    Fabu! Yes, we all need our peeps (and how adorably perfect is that photo??)

    I’m lucky enough to have an embarrassment of riches on this front — the warm and wonderful folks online at Intrepid Media and Backspace, and two in-person groups, one for writing critique and one for writer career strategy. And of course the Writer Unboxed crew is also a great source of support and wisdom.

    Every community is a commitment, so make sure you don’t sign on for too much, but the support of others is so very much needed in this business. Find your others.

    Great post!

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  8. says

    Great advice. We all feel like failures at time, writing and otherwise. Having the right support helps lift you back up…like a good bra!

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  9. phoenix says

    AW has been a wonderful find for me … writing groups that meet in person can be tough to join bc of scheduling conflicts, but an online group is there when you can make it. Gret post!

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  10. phoenix says

    Ack! Apparently I missed the online writer’s class on spelling. Meant ‘great’ of course.

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  11. sue says

    Great post!
    I’m another AW fan. There probably isn’t a writer’s group around here for miles (literally), so I need an online writer’s group.
    AW saved my sanity and improved my writing beyond all recognition. But, the best gift I’ve received from AW is becoming part of a writers’ community.

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  12. says

    Hey, where are the marshmallows? You said Peeps! Umm . . . Peeps . . .

    Sorry, I digress. This article is fantastic and hits it right on the proverbial head.

    I’m dealing with something huge and personal right now, so I’m not writing much. However, I’m keeping up with my humor blog (hey, I think it’s funny) and spending as much time as I can in my writer community. When I’m there, no one gives me the ‘poor dear’ look, I’m just another scribbler with something to add to the mix. It keeps me creative. Without those communities and the support (and distraction) they offer, I would be very isolated.

    Fantastic post, I’ma gonna tweet it (ya know, to my twos of followers)

    Terri
    http://www.whyifearclowns.com

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  13. says

    You are so right about the benefits of more than one writing group. Recently, I became involved with one group of writers I have known for some time. This has been a refreshing way to take a second look at what I have written.
    Since attending that group, I have also started to meet with a poetry group, specifically. Each one has a positive impact.

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  14. Stephanie says

    Jan- wonderfully said. I’m thankful everyday that you reached out to me, and others, and created a great group!!

    I’m part of groups, both virtual and f2f, and they each have their strengths. I get different things out of each of them. One thing that I try to keep in mind, especially when with f2f groups that have meetings with topics that may not seem overly interesting to me is that you never know what conversations may develop – either in your head based on what you hear while you’re there, or while you’re daydreaming, or with someone you meet, or at lunch, or in the parking lot afterward. Being present and available for what may happen is the greatest gift I can give myself while I am part of these groups. I don’t think it hurts other people either;)

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  15. says

    Great post, Jan! I know for me, I like to have a posse comprised not only of people who write within my genre, but also writers of other genres. I think it gives me a greater pool of skill to draw from.

    Excellent list, and thanks for mentioning Backspace.org, Therese. I belong to Backspace and have found a very supportive group of writers there.

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  16. says

    I’m so glad this post made sense to many of you, and that you’re offering more resources. Some of these are new to me — a bonus.

    I wore myself out last time by replying to each and every person, so I won’t repeat that endeavor. Please know I still read and value all comments!

    Anne Greenwood Brown, I was resistant to Twitter intially, but like you, have found it to be a great resource. And I agree we can’t subsume our own judgement even if we’ve found a good group.

    Donna C, think I stole that phrase myself, but I couldn’t tell you from where. ;)

    Kristan, I appreciate Absolute Write, in part, because it’s both vast enough I don’t always have to be the one to shore up others, yet I can shrink it to work on specific projects or issues. Your point about commication is spot-on.

    Caroline, it can be a process for sure to find people who are the right match. Glad you’ve found yours.

    Sharon, LOL, if I try hard enough, I seem to make *everything* about writing apply to life.

    Jael, I definitely lucked out with the photo.

    Anita, LOL.

    Therese, thank you for the link.

    phoenix, online communities are fabulous for those people in different time zones or for competing interests that interfere with FTF groups.

    Sue, I’m geographically isolated, too.

    Anna, I tore out the emotional part of my last post, which was about *why* I applied to be at WU. There are many places online to learn about story and writing; not so many that also offer a safe and caring community. But thatsa why I’m here. ;)

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  17. says

    Jan-Great post. I am totally with you on the importance of a supportive group. My writer’s group is composed of my favorite people on the planet.

    We aren’t as varied in experience–having all dived in together from about the same VERY EARLY spot in our writing careers, but we DO bring diversity of skills. We’ve all committed to honesty about works, but because we were friends before starting this venture, that encouragement and happiness for each other is real.

    For people WITHOUT, I would suggest the blogging community is a great way to find like personalities and letting a critique group form organically around compatibility. I’ve watched a few of these, and, had I not already had my group, it is definitely how I would have gone.

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  18. says

    I’ve met so many wonderful people in-person and online of varying experience levels, ones who write in my genre and ones who write outside of it. I’ve come across a few bad apples, but I definitely feel supported and I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge from them.

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  19. says

    I have been in a couple of writing groups, but I’ve found the most joy, progress, support, and challenge with a singer partner. We are committed to each other and our work, and provide great balance for one another. We submit 20 pgs to each other every three weeks, then conference by phone or in person the following week. It’s manageable, disciplined, and the support and encouragement can’t be beat.

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  20. says

    Thanks for the insights! I’ve been writing for years, but am new to the blogosphere. I am amazed by all of the talent and comraderie on here. I feel as if I’ve missed out on this “secret” club for far too long. (For example, is there a special handshake?) Any children/YA writer should check out and join the SCBWI — a great resource that also organizes local chapters and groups.

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  21. other lisa says

    Lovely post, and I totally agree! I think I have three groups, and they are all great and helpful.

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  22. says

    I love this post (and the fact that this month’s theme is ‘best advice’) because I’m brand new to fiction writing and itching to do two things – get the story on paper and learn as much as I can while I do it. I’ve picked up more writing craft books than I care to admit, but it’s the idea of an online community I’m truly interested in. The “few things to consider” listed in this post are great pieces of advice that I’ll take to heart, along with the great suggestions listed in the comments.

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  23. says

    Patricia, I can imagine that a poetry group would require a very different skillset than for prose.

    Stephanie, I’m often party to conversations that occur well before I’m ready to absorb them, but it’s amazing what sticks. At least we know who to ask when we’re ready, too.

    Hart, blogging is definitely another way to find others with common interests and world views. I’m very grateful to my blog readership for that. And your method seems to be working for you. :)

    Medeia, my experience is the same as yours. 99.9% of people are helpful and encouraging. I do find having a place to be vulnerable/messy/imperfect and still be accepted is critical. I’m not comfortable doing that in the wider world.

    Erica, where did you find your critique partner?

    Amanda, yes, I hear SCBWI is invaluable for people who write your genre. Similarly, my local branch of the Romance Writers of America has been a huge resource to me. As for the secret handshake, no promises, but I’ll speak to Kathleen and Therese. ;)

    Corey, I’m so glad if you got some suggestions here that will help. It took me about a year of stumbling around before I found the places most helpful to me. Perhaps we can speed your jouney.

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  24. Nina Badzin says

    Wonderful post! And Erika, I like your idea with your writing partner (submitting a certain amount of pages in a scheduled time frame . . . ) Anne, Something for us to think about!

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  25. says

    Oh, how pretty. We have avatars now. :)

    Terri, you got caught in the spam filter. Your point about the community keeping your head on writing a bit, even when life interferes, is so true. Hope things settle for you.

    Teresa, I’m the same. In fact, many of the people I converse with regularly write a different genre. So many struggles are the same, it seems.

    Nana, ha! Break out that whip.

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  26. kellion says

    OK, I’m a little late getting to this, but I like the advice about having more than one group. I’m working on this — it’s so hard to find a fit, but if you have a few choices and many opinions, you don’t need to have the “perfect” reader.

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  27. says

    Great advice. I should probably take you up on that advice, actually! I need to find a writer’s group nearby. I belong to AW, and I communicate via blogs and FB with writers, but I need some peeps in person!

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  28. Dad says

    Jan,

    If I were a writer (My daughter seems to have the talent for the family) I would take your advice. Above all, we need community.

    Keep on keeping on!

    Love
    Dad

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  29. says

    kellion, I haven’t found “perfect” in one group that’s sustainable, if it’s small. Perhaps it’s even a little too much to expect. Good luck with your search!

    April, I love on-line stuff, but there’s nothing quite like face-to-face meetings to create energy and fluidity. Hope you can find something local.

    Dad, mwaaa! (That’s cyberspeak for a kiss.) So nice of you to come and comment. Anything you see here that you like is in good part due to you and Mom. Who else indulged the four-eyed kid and took her to every bookstore she ever saw?

    xoxo

    Jan

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