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.


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.