Who supports you in your writing goals? Who is giving you regular feedback? Who is your writing community? In this look back at an older episode, we are busting the myth that writers need to work in isolation, and building ourselves a team to help us from the first word to the final chapter.
Hello writers. Today I want to talk about something that’s been bugging me lately. It’s this idea that we, as writers, should work alone. Of course, I know that the actual putting of words on the page is a solitary activity. But if you read the acknowledgements of any book, you will see that the writer thanks a team of people who supported them along the way. This is what we’re talking about today.
I think that most writers, especially those in the early stages of developing a writing life and/or career, probably think that the support comes once the work is mostly done, whether it’s in the form of an agent, editor, or publisher. So, in other words, we have to have proven our worth as writers by getting to that point, before accepting help. This doesn’t make any sense to me and honestly, I think it’s damaging to writers. Despite the fact that we know it takes a village to bring a book to life, we continue to perpetuate the idea that writers need to push through, to hold ourselves accountable, to do it all ourselves. Because if we can’t do these things, if life gets in the way, if we struggle with thoughts that lead to procrastination or avoidance, thoughts like “who am I to think I can write a book” or “maybe I’m just not good enough”, then we run the risk of quitting before we ever really got started. And guess what? All of those problems that I just mentioned? They happen to everyone.
So why not build a support network to support you from the beginning?
There are three primary types of support that I want to talk about today and, before I dive into describing them, I want make a couple of points. First, there don’t need to be ten people in each category! As long as you have even just one person in a support role, that category is covered. Second, a person may fill more than one role and that’s just fine.
As I go through these types of support writers need, consider who you have in your corner. And don’t worry: if you find a category empty in your own life, I’ll give you some tools to find someone. So let’s get started!
The first type of support is social support. And, by the way, the labels I’ve given these categories are not really what’s important…it’s the description. Social support is a person or people in your life who are genuinely interested in your writing goals. They do not need to be writers themselves, and they likely aren’t. But these are the people who ask you how your writing is going and genuinely want the answer. They are the people who share links of your work on their social media platforms. They are the people who want to see you meet your goals. Now, ideally, the people with whom you share your daily life – partner, parents, kids, etc. – they would be your social support. But the truth is, that isn’t always the case. My husband, as supportive as they come, doesn’t ask me about my writing, ever. Unless I bring it up first, then he’s happy to talk with me about it. I don’t say this to slam him or anything, it’s just that I’ve recognized that he’s not my social support person when it comes to writing. But I have a dear friend who is. She’s not a writer, but she is so excited about my writing that every time I see her it’s one of the first things she asks me about. When my book came out in early March 2020 and all of my events were cancelled, including one she had helped organize, she called me to see if I was okay. She bought copies of my book to have her book club read, and then she invited me to talk to them about it in a socially distanced way. THAT is social support. And it sustains me in the spaces of time between when we see one another.
Why do we need social support? Because writing, like all art forms, is a deeply personal and often emotional activity. We need to know that someone cares about that aspect of our lives, who will support us during the highs and lows, and check in on us in between.
As I give you tips on how to find social and other types of support for your writing life, please know that I get how cringy it might feel to think about, especially if you are an introvert like me. But instead of brushing off these tips, consider the alternative…writing without that kind of support. And maybe give it a try.
So if you are struggling to identify your social support person, consider simply asking someone close to you to fill that role. If you have a close friend or family member whom you trust to support you in other areas, ask them to tack your writing life on, too. Try saying this: Will you ask me once in a while how my writing is going? I’d really appreciate that kind of support. And I would be happy to check in with you about something, too.
The second type of support that writers need is critique support. Often we writers wait until we think something is “done” before we ask someone to give us feedback, whether it’s a trusted reader or an editor. Sometimes we never even ask, we just send our writing out into the world to likely receive a generic rejection with no feedback whatsoever. But why do we wait? Why not get the feedback along the way? I’ll tell you, I’m in the process of hiring a book coach for the book I’m working on, and I’ve only written one chapter. One chapter! And I haven’t even revised it! She is going to take my pages weekly and give them back to me with both a birds-eye and text-level feedback, to support me as I both generate and revise my first draft. So, yeah, you can get this kind of support from the very beginning.
Now, obviously, I’m a book coach so that’s the kind of critique support I started this section with, but there are other types, too. You might find a writing buddy, someone else who is writing a similar project to yours, with whom you could swap pages and become deeply invested in each other’s writing. A critique group serves a similar purpose, though there you run the risk of getting conflicting feedback, so just come prepared for that. On the expensive end of the spectrum, you could enroll in a writing workshop, typically part of an MFA or other residency program. All of these are potential methods for receiving critique support as you work on your project.
So, if this isn’t something that is already in your life, here are a few suggestions. Post on your social media that you are looking for a writing buddy, then schedule calls to talk about what that might look like. Take writing classes, and reach out to people with whom you felt a writerly or other personal connection with and ask them if they’d like to work with you. Hire a book coach. Keep an eye out for local writing organizations and tap into them. Just remember, the goal is to get regular, consistent feedback on your work. Anything else is writerly support…which is the next category!
Writerly support is the kind that comes from being part of a community of writers. I’m in a writing group, which I’ve been in for seven years. Although we do critique each other’s work, we individually submit only once every two or three months, so it really doesn’t fit the needs of the critique support category. It definitely, though, fits the writerly support category. We are different women at different stages in our lives, but the one thing we all have in common is the highs and lows of writing. In other words, we get it.
In my community there is another local group that is open to anyone. They meet monthly at a bar (well, these days they meet over Zoom), chat for a while about what’s new, and then get to sharing. Each person who wants to reads something they’ve written, for five minutes max. It is, again, a lovely group of people who get it.
The writerly support person or people are not necessarily writing in your genre, your style, or even at your level. Writerly support is about empathy and community. People who are in it. People who are writing toward their own goals, for their own reasons, but they are writing. They get it.
This is probably the easiest of the three categories to fill if you haven’t already. Sign up for a writing class. Keep your ear to the ground about informal groups like the one I described. Attend open mic readings. Look at community bulletin boards for notices about writerly events. Attend author events. Even now, in the time of coronavirus, a lot of things like this are happening online. And don’t just do it once! Do it as often as your writerly support bucket needs filling.
Writers, let’s lose the idea that writers write in isolation. Instead, let’s spread the idea that a healthy writer has a support network that surrounds them from the very first word. Let’s do this together. I’ll talk to you next week.