Hints For Writers: Finding Support and Building Camaraderie

Even though writers work much of the time in isolation, establishing connections with other writers is helpful for encouragement and support. In this post I’m sharing some of the activities that were helpful to me, and that I suggest for other writers.

1. Join a Writers' Group


Guests featured at group meetings are professionals such as published authors, editors, cover designers, layout consultants, and illustrators. These people have “real world experience” in the industry and willingly share tips and contact information for their connections.

2. Become Involved in a Meet-up or Critique Group


The stories authors desire to create are not always the ones they write. Critique Groups and Meet-Ups provide settings where yet-to-be-published authors participate in critical discussions concerning form and content. By design, such groups are small and allow time for analysis and evaluation of each participant’s writings. Accountability to others helps writers become better with creating storyline, developing concepts, constructing dialogue, finding redundancies, and eliminating conventions errors. The goal is to assist writers in taking their manuscripts from rough drafts to polished stories. 

3. Attend Conferences


Whether attending a genre specific conference or a general writing conference, attendees will be provided with a glimpse of the inner-workings of a very structured industry. During the sessions, literary agents, professional editors, and publishers’ representatives attempt to prepare writers for the long, difficult path to publishing.

Writers attend conferences to learn. It would take hundreds of hours of research to find the information about publishing that is provided to writers during a single conference.

Writers need to understand that, even though they will have opportunities to meet many people who could potentially be their ticket to success, it is rare that an attendee snags a literary agent or gets any kind of a contract. Even though some writers receive initial encouragement, they often find themselves being put off by the editor or agent once the conference has ended.

For all non-groupies of the writing world, be aware that literary agents and publishers’ reps are the rock stars of these events.

4. Enter Contests


The main benefit of entering a contest is receiving honest feedback on a manuscript.

Contests need to be carefully selected. Usually, the first 30-60 pages are requested. To enter pages other than the first sixty, the writer needs to locate a contest that will accept pages of the author's choice.

When small publishers run contests, they are looking for books to publish. The work an author submits to a publisher must be in the requested genre and all guidelines should be carefully followed. The best critique I received came from a small publisher that, after announcing their contest, made the decision to sell to a larger publisher. Going beyond the call of duty, the owner of the company sent me a personal letter with detailed advice and encouragement.

Some contests charge an entry fee. If paying an entry fee, it is important to enter only those contests that provide a written evaluation from either an editor or a literary agent. Most do not.

Conferences sometimes sponsor contests that promise entrants both a checklist and a written evaluation of the story sample. Often, winning entries in each genre are made available to literary agents and editors engaged as speakers. (What these people do with the winning entries is anyone’s guess.) 

Receiving feedback on a conference entry from three professionals (a literary agent, a novelist, and an English professor) was a turning point for me in my writing. The feedback I received was so consistent that it almost seemed that, even though these people did individual, “blind” reviews, they were sitting together discussing my first thirty pages. This input pointed to a weakness that seemed to derail the story for each of them. The remainder of the writing received good reviews. I fixed the problem by rearranging some chapters and doing a major rewrite of another. 

Final Thoughts

There are many additional ways in which writers find support and build camaraderie. In my new city, I have found a group that, once a month, provides a time for sharing personal narratives, essays, and poems. I enjoy interacting with this new group as I accept the challenge to keep writing.

Happy Writing!


Story Ideas

At meet-up for one of my writing groups, a lady who had joined us for the first time said she loved to read, and that her most cherished dream was to write a novel. Then she explained that she would have a problem doing this because nothing exciting had ever happened in her life, so she didn’t have experiences to write about. The group’s facilitator explained that a chronicle of happenings from one’s own life is a memoir, while works of fiction are imaginary tales, not things that actually happen. Her response was, “You mean all of those stories I’ve read were made up? Do people just get those things out of their heads? I couldn’t do that. I can’t write lies.”

Authors of the novels read by the aforementioned lady were apparently very convincing and, as she had just discovered, good “liars.” What I like about skillful writers is that they transport readers into their stories. Once there, readers might laugh, cry, experience fear, mourn, or even fall in love. While not liars, these writers do have great imaginations.

So, where do writers get ideas? My opinion is that authors’ experiences unite with imagination to create unique personalities and fancied environments.

Ideas for the characters and settings in Child of Desire came from a variety of sources. People watching, listening to conversations, family lore, magazines, newspapers, museums, libraries, personal experiences, and reading history provided ideas for characters, settings, and the story line. No single incident or observation, but rather a compilation of concepts from various sources served as the inspiration for creating characters, planning events, and developing the plot.

When I was quite young, an uncle told me the story of his baptism. It seems that he fell in love and wanted so much to marry the young lady that he agreed to be baptized. Because it was the dry season on the high plains of Colorado, and the water in the river was low, the minister baptized him in a horse tank. This account, but with a creative twist, served as the basis for an event in my story.

An incident my dad related about a young girl who fell into a flooded river, and his part in the attempted rescue, was the inspiration for a tragic account in Child of Desire. Without his account of the rescue efforts, I would not have understood the details of such an event or the emotions of the volunteers.

Because I had visited and also researched the history of the two major settings for my story, I hoped to integrate the settings and action in a realistic way. This was confirmed for me while my sister was reading Child of Desire aloud to a ninety-two-year-old blind lady. When things in the story were taking place in Southwest Virginia, the lady would say, “It seems like I’ve read this story before.” After she made this statement several times, my sister started to question her and discovered that she had traveled extensively in that area during her younger years. This would have been close to the time the story takes place.

Jotting down observations and events seems to be helpful for most writers. Some writers keep journals, some take notes on whatever happens to be handy, and some make lists. I had files of notes, and I reviewed them often when I was searching for new ideas.

If you don’t already do so, start to people watch and collect ideas.

Happy Writing!

Note: Personal experiences provide me with the information I use when posting about writing. I recognize that each writer has a different experience.

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The Character In My Head

For many years Amanda lived in my head. I wanted others to know her, but I knew the only way this beautiful person residing in a soft mass of grey and white matter would become known to others was if I launched her into the setting of a story. Because of my experience with Amanda, I have a theory about story characters. My hypothesis: Interesting, believable characters develop slowly in the brain over time. Of course, the null hypothesis being: Interesting, believable characters do not develop slowly in the brain over time. I have no evidence to disprove the null so, in lieu of evidence, I contend that, “What Is, Is” (WII). Because I believe, it is. Hats off to those who can write a novel and dream up a protagonist as they compose.

When I finally decided to present Amanda to the world, a plan for doing so became important. Successful writers, so I had been told, need to set goals. The following questions, and my answers to those questions, helped me to clarify my goals.

Why do I want to write, and what am I willing to do in order to succeed?
First of all, I want to free my protagonist before she dies of old age. Secondly, based on successful writing experiences during my professional life, I consider myself to be a good writer. Most importantly, I'm willing to learn all I need to know and I will work hard to get my novel published. "If little labour, little are the gains: Man's fate is according to his pains." (Hesperides 752) Yes, I am even willing to suffer.

Can I write a novel that is better than those currently in circulation?
I won't even try, but I will work hard at writing the very best story I can imagine.

Do I want to be the next James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, or other well-known author?
No, I don’t want to copycat any writer. I pledge to think creatively and use the talent that is mine.

Is there a specific objective I want to accomplish?
My objective is to publish a novel that will bring enjoyment to others. I have no desire to scare anyone to death, bore anyone to tears, or influence anyone’s political thinking.

Am I planning to disseminate a message?
The message I want to convey is that life is real and that, even during difficult and dark times, we can find strength and courage to face obstacles. I want readers to identify with the characters rather than be people watchers.

Is my plan to write an original story for a particular audience?
Yes, I want my story to be one-of-a-kind, and I know the readers I will target. I do not plan to write a predictable “happy-ever-after” story with a cookie-cutter plot.

Once I understood my goals, I needed a strategy for success. The following plan kept me on track and helped me to develop good writing habits.

Organizing the story.
I quickly learned that story consistency is easily maintained as a result of organization. Even though there is a lot of advice out there about outlining, I came to understand that this is not the only way to organize writing. As I wrote, inspiration sometimes led me in a direction totally different from my original plan and I needed to fine-tune my organizer. When I wandered off-plan, the story fell apart and became confusing, even to me. 

Carving out time to write.
When I left my writing until I had time, I was tired and easily distracted. Poor writing was often the result. When I became really serious about my writing, I scheduled writing during my peak performance time.

Developing good writing habits.
A quiet place where there was little disruption became my writer’s den. As soon as I discovered that my best ideas might be lost forever during even a short interruption, I paid as little attention as possible to anything electronic.

Continuing to build vocabulary.
Reading is a great way to build vocabulary, so I took the time to read books written by acclaimed authors. These authors used vocabulary commonly understood by the majority in their target audiences. I decided to follow their leads and to use my thesaurus only when I needed to avoid overusing a term or word. I chose not to replace common words with obscure words.

Researching for credibility.
As my story unfolded, there were missing pieces that required additional research. In order to keep everything real, researching was an on-going process.

Visualizing success.
I became my own encourager. I gave myself pats on the back for finishing self-imposed quotas and said aloud, “That sounds really good,” when rereading chapters. My family encouraged me. Others asked, “Why do you want to write a book?”

Reaching out for help.
A network of non-judgmental people provided me with honest, constructive feedback. My network included my husband, siblings, children, close friends, critique partners, and professional readers.

Thinking about writing a novel? I encourage you to set goals and develop a plan.

Happy writing!