I recently got back from a writers conference (the Dallas-Fort Worth Writers Conference, to be precise), and as is the norm for me after a full weekend of peopleing, I was in a happy haze of reflection and exhaustion. The conference was absolutely wonderful. I taught two classes, sat on a problem-solving workshop panel, and took several one-on-one consultation sessions for writers seeking feedback. It all went better than I could’ve hoped for.
But more than how my own events went, I was left feeling all warm and fuzzy by the people I met and listened to, plus the friends I went with. The new writers being brave and putting themselves out there. The veterans being kind and sharing what they knew. Rachel Caine’s keynote speech that moved me to tears. The friends who supported me and the strangers who reached out to say my lessons taught them something. Fellow Author-in-Progress contributor Jane Friedman, who was so gracious when I did the whole awkward introduction over the coffee stand thing. (I only got to catch one of her classes because of my own schedule, but it was amazing.) The volunteers who poured out their time and energy to make the whole thing happen. The friends who played wingman for each other, stepping out of their comfort zones to pitch to agents and introduce themselves to authors. The love, man, the love. (That last part was in a hippie voice, just FYI.)
I’m not a very mushy person, honest, but right around midnight before I went to bed I tweeted exactly what was on my mind:
Starting to believe that behind every great writer is another great writer saying, “You’re amazing and you can do this.”
— Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) May 8, 2017
I wasn’t expecting the response it got. Hundreds of writers have liked and/or retweeted it, many adding their own agreement or — even better — tagging their own writer support systems as a thank you. For days, I’ve been seeing notifications on Twitter: strangers tagging strangers because they all felt that this sentiment rings true, and are living it. Every one of us needs someone to tell us that we’re valuable and that we can do the hard things, and every one of us needs to remind others of it.
In the midst of the rather epic lovefest I accidentally prompted, I did hear a few small cries of distress. One facet that surprised me was the handful of writers who agreed with the sentiment but added the disclaimer, “Not that I’m saying I’m great, but…”
Hello, self? It’s yourself from a shadow dimension calling and she’s saying exactly what you would’ve said, so maybe you should kick her in the pants.
This is something I’ve been fighting with myself over for a while now. Self doubt. Imposter syndrome. Modesty that borders on self-deprecation. That’s probably a whole post in and of itself, but I’ll give you the quick and dirty version: You guys, this has got to stop. We have to stop talking down about ourselves just because we’re afraid that others might beat us to it. We have to start celebrating our successes and strengths even though we still have failures and flaws. We have to be unabashedly awesome in all the ways that we are. We don’t owe anyone a disclaimer for believing in ourselves.
That said, no one can be 100% confident all the time. I get it. That’s why, truly, I believe we all need someone (preferably several someones) on our team, rooting for us. Championing our talent and our dreams. We need writing buddies and mentors and critique partners and agents and besties. We need someone to remind us that we’re on the right track whenever our endurance begins to wane.
I did hear from a few writers reacting to my tweet who didn’t have someone to say that to them — writers who hadn’t felt they’ve found their tribe. If you’re one of those, I can’t encourage you enough to be your own advocate. Seek out your own support group. Join the Writer Unboxed Facebook group and make online friends. Find or found your own critique group, whether in person or online. Write to writers you admire. Join organizations that have mentorship programs. Go to conferences like DFWcon or the Unconference where you can meet other writers at your stage (and every stage) of the process.
Don’t give up. I’m not saying anyone owes you anything, and I’m certainly not saying it will be easy to find these types of friends and colleagues. I am saying it’s worth it. It took me years to find a mentor. It took my critique group years to really take off and stabilize with a healthy, steady group of driven writers. It took me years to find an agent who believed in me and my work. It took me years to build the friendships and relationships I treasure so deeply. It might take you years too. That’s okay. Keeping looking.
And more importantly, give as good as you get. Better. Be supportive to others. Be charitable with your time and skills. Give with love, dudes and dudettes, and love will come back to lift you up. Righteous. (But seriously.) Don’t give up. You deserve to be here and you deserve to not be alone. Keep going until you find your own tribe. I believe you can do it. I hope you will.
Because you are amazing, and you can do this.
Writers, do you feel you’ve found your tribe(s)? Or are you still looking? Who are the people who raise you up?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!