5 Reasons Why You Need a Writing Community

Tuesday, February 17th 2015 • Advice, Writing

Taken from WillWriteForChocolate.com

WillWriteForChocolate.com

As a Creative Writing major in college, I had a writing community built in. I would show up to my two or three (or sometimes four) writing classes a day, freshly printed drafts in hand, and pass them out for workshopping. There was structure for the feedback we received: sometimes, peers had to write comments on the drafts, or they were graded for telling us the positives and negatives during class. It was fluid, varied based on our different professors, but it was always there, that community. That community that made sure that, at the end of the day, I had written something. And more than that, people read it, and then they told me all about how they felt.

I cannot stress enough how important something like this is for a writer, and how much better it makes your writing. I also cannot tell you how hard it can be to find and keep this community, but let’s get to that next time. For now, let me tell you five reasons why you need a writing community.

Reason #1: Writing is not a solitary job.
No matter what you have been told, writing is not something that you do alone. You do not disappear into a coffee shop, hammer on your keyboard for five hours, and produce a perfect draft. Beyond that, when it gets to publishing, you will never be able to avoid people (whether you want to or not). There will be someone telling you to put more conflict here, to take out the description here, to hack off a chapter or two. Even if you go the self-publishing route and you do the cover, the editing, the formatting, and everything else by yourself, there will still be that last part. You know, the one where someone reads your work. A writing community helps make sure that you’re ready for those parts where other people get involved. They’ll save you by telling you that you named one of the characters two different things. They’ll tell you that the pace is too fast, or maybe they’ll tell you that it’s not fast enough. They’ll point out plot points that you weren’t following. It helps because, even if you don’t take the feedback, you’ll at least make every decision knowingly. If someone says they find your protagonist unlikable in a review, you can be confident knowing that you knew that, that you intended that. It will make all the difference.

Reason #2: Writers understand you.
Imagine that you’re out to dinner, listening to your friend’s story, when suddenly, you hear it. Someone having a hissed argument right next to you, and you know that it’s just the right dialogue for your story. If you’re like me, your hand’s itching to grab the notebook in your purse to write it down. If you’re with another writer, there’s no question. That notebook’s out before they finish their sentence, no apologies needed. It’s the beauty that comes with befriending other writers: they get that there’s no pause button on life, and when you see a great writing opportunity, you need to take it.

Reason #3: They know all of the great writing places (coffee shops, museums, and secret hideaways).
There are no exceptions to this rule. My writing friends have introduced me to some truly incredible spots.

Reason #4: They care more about your characters than you do.
It makes all the difference. In the past, I’ve felt beaten up by a draft, and then I walked into a critique group where people were asking about my characters. They wanted to know if I’d worked on a specific scene, or if I’d fixed my villain issue. Hearing that concern, or hearing that people wanted me to finish something, was enough to keep me writing.

Reason #5: This is a hard business, and you need friends.
It’s true. We face so much rejections as writers, and we face it at every stage. Ideas might be off, or a chapter might not work, or our favorite agent might turn down our best project. That’s when you need other writers to lift you up and to tell you to just write 200 more words. Then 500 more. Then, before you know it, you’ve written the entire draft.

Happy writing!

V

Insights from a Writer’s Conference: Part I

Monday, August 25th 2014 • Advice, Writing

SCBWI!

This summer, I was lucky enough to attend my first writing conference. I went to SCBWI’s annual Los Angeles conference, and it was absolutely incredible. There was so much to learn, and I came home with a booklet full of notes and inspiration that I am still flipping through almost a month later. Now, there can be no substitute for the actual conference, but I’m here to report back with my first post of revelations and reflections.

Agents, editors, and publishers are real people. They’re also really nice! It can be difficult when you’re sending query after query to see those gatekeepers behind the e-mail addresses as people, but seeing and meeting them in person can remind you of their humanity. They are people who are passionate about reading and books, and they really just want to find more of the good books in the world. Justin Chanda said it best in his keynote when he said, “We’re all in this together.”

Be nice to everyone. If it’s true that agents, editors, and publishers are real people, then it follows that you should treat them the way you would want to be treated. Alexandra Penfold told us in her break-out session: “Be gracious, collaborative, and patient.” I think that sums up the publishing industry quite nicely.

Use common sense. Throughout the conference, agents and editors told horror story after horror story of being stalked on Twitter or sent unprofessional Facebook messages. They warned against being the author who responds angrily to rejections or Goodreads reviews. Again, it goes back to being nice, but more than that, realize that you are a professional. Act like one, online and off.

Agents and editors are looking for a strong voice. I have the word “voice” on every single page of my notes. Wendy Loggia talked about how she wanted writers to “bring a unique take” to their story, and this idea was reiterated throughout the conference. Make sure that the story you’ve written could only have been written by you.

Want more tips from the conference? Stay tuned for part two!

Veronica

These four myths about writer’s block are holding you back.

Monday, July 7th 2014 • Advice, Goals, Writing

People talk a lot about this mysterious affliction that many writers “suffer” from. I’m not kidding. This thing has been called a “condition” and it’s apparently quite contagious. If you look it up on Wikipedia (never to be trusted completely), you’ll find what appears to be a WebMD type posting about it.

Seriously, have a look at Wikipedia’s definition of writer’s block here: “Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.” Doesn’t that sound positively scientific? And horrifying?

But I’m here to tell you that, whatever you have been told, writer’s block as we know it simply doesn’t exist.

Why? Because, as a professional writer, you cannot allow it to exist. You do not magically “lose the ability to produce new work” as a writer because you do not have the luxury of being blocked from writing. You must produce writing because that is your livelihood, and rarely do we apply the idea of this “block” to any other profession. I’m not talking about a sick day here. I’m talking about the days, weeks, and months that writers blame on “writer’s block.” That just would not fly in any other profession.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that writers have been told these myths about writer’s block, but they haven’t been told what’s actually going on. Here are the four myths about writer’s block and the real diagnosis that’s holding you back.

You don’t have writer’s block, but you don’t know what happens next in your story.
Stop thinking of writer’s block as some huge, overwhelming thing that you simply cannot get past. Start realizing that what is probably really happening is that you haven’t outlined or developed the scene/character/world enough, and as a result, you don’t know where to go next.

This summer, I told myself that I needed to finish my new book in about a month from outline to finish. I did a paper outline (according to The Writer’s Journey) and dug out the two sample chapters that I had written a few months ago. I got through maybe three more chapters before I was stuck, and it hit me that my direction was still unclear.

So, I went back to the drawing board.

Thankfully, Auggie was there to supervise.

Thankfully, Auggie was there to supervise.

I had never used notecards before, but I figured that trying something new might help me visualize the story. So, on each notecard, I put the motion that I needed in the story (“Ordinary World,” for example) and then I described the scene or chapter. I did a few cards for every motion, and I even color-coordinated based on the character that would be narrating that chapter. Then, when I sat down to write each day, I would pull a card and write that scene. If I was stuck on that scene, I would grab another card. It worked, and it made sure that I was producing work every single day. Find the method that works for you. Maybe you need to write a diary entry from a character or switch the perspective. Maybe you need to interview your setting and find out what’s going on in the world. Figure out what’s missing and address it so you can move forward.

You don’t have writer’s block, but you are distracted.

For me, it is incredibly challenging to write at home. Sometimes, I sit on my couch and churn out 1,000 words. Most times, though, I start to write and then get distracted by the pillows on the couch or the dishwasher or how nice it looks outside. I’m the kind of person that likes to “clock in” to writing, and for me, that means that I often need a change of scenery. To make that happen this past month, I would make it a point to migrate to a coffee shop at least once a day so that I could focus. The coffee shop made me feel like I was going to work, and I got a lot done in only an hour or so. Then, when I went home, I usually still felt inspired and got even more work done. Dishwasher be damned!

Thanks for the chai-fueled inspiration, M Street Coffee!

Thanks for the chai-fueled inspiration, M Street Coffee!

Go to the park. Go to the library. Get out of the house and find your “office” where the writing will happen. Plus, if you buy a $4 chai tea latte and don’t do any writing, you are going to feel miserable. Stay at that coffee shop until you’ve written 1,000 words (or whatever your goal for the day is). Chances are, you will at least produce something!

You don’t have writer’s block, but you are in need of some guidance.

As I mentioned above, a lot of “stuck” places come because you don’t know what is going to happen next. A lot of writers hate outlines (I love them) and choose to write without them. That’s fine, and if it works for you, I’m happy for you. But here’s the problem with writing without a map: writers end up writing the same story for years because they have no idea where it ends or how it ends.

My number one advice is to find a style of outlining that works for you and try it. I like the mythic structure outlined in The Writer’s Journey because it’s so pliable. I’m not a write-by-numbers kind of writer, but I like the basic structure of the hero’s journey. I deviate from the outline quite often, but it’s a good place to start and makes me answer serious questions about my characters’ hopes, dreams, desires, obstacles, and more.

Also, when I find a rough patch of the story, it’s really helpful to open up The Writer’s Journey and read about what other stories do at that point. Is there usually a face-off with the villain? Should I try that? Is there a mentor in my story? Do I need that? The answer won’t always be “yes,” and sometimes I’ll try something and it won’t work. But it usually shakes up my writing and gives me ideas, and that’s essentially to producing work.

Master writers.

Master writers.

If you find that you are struggling with a scene, pack up some writing books (three of my favorites are pictured here), go to your office, and read up. Flip to random chapters or, if you’re like me, reread parts that you’ve bookmarked as helpful in the past. There are ideas waiting for you in those pages if you’re willing to use them.

You don’t have writer’s block, but you do need a break.

This past month, I’ve been writing 4,000+ words a day on average. That is way more than I normally write, but I was able to do it thanks to the strategies above. However, I would not have been able to do it if I didn’t give myself moments to just enjoy the summer. In addition to writing this summer, I’ve met up with old friends, gone to the beach, gotten ice cream, gone shopping, and more. Writing needs life in order to flourish. If your writing has hit a wall, consider calling up someone to go get coffee or go to a museum. Talk to people and enjoy your life, and then come home and try to look at that blank Word document in a new way.

Do not miss out on beautiful days like this. They will make your writing so much better.

Do not miss out on beautiful days like this. They will make your writing so much better.

It’s okay if you only write 40 words on one day. If you’re stuck, go walk your dog or make a salad or something. Listen to some new music while you drive into a new town. Try a new restaurant. Then, go to your office the next day and make things happen.

Remember, believing in writer’s block is essentially telling yourself that you cannot write for whatever reason. Take a good look at what is actually holding you back, address it, and get back to producing. You are a writer, and as long as you keep the pen (or the keys) moving, there is nothing that can hold you back.

How can you fit in writing during the holidays?

Monday, December 2nd 2013 • Advice, Writing

Happy December everyone! It’s time to reflect for the last time in 2013, set some goals for the remainder of the year, and talk about writing. First up, in terms of last month’s goals, I was mostly successful. My biggest priority was to finish up my most recent project, and I did! It’s off to the editor now. I can’t wait to tell you all more about it.

For me, December will be all about my next project. I’ve got a solid outline and need to just apply myself. Speaking of that, I want to talk a bit about writing during the holidays. It can be incredibly challenging, and I want to give some tips.

Guard your writing time. It can be infinitely more difficult to abandon your writing efforts when ice skating, hot chocolate, and old friends are calling your name. Obviously, it’s important to enjoy the season and the people in it. But, as always, writing needs to be a priority. Pick a time to write and stick to it whenever possible. When I was writing Mara, I would trek to my favorite local coffeehouse and write for at least two hours. When I was there, I was focused on my writing. I wasn’t on Facebook, my phone was turned off, and family and friends knew that I was busy. I was able to finish Mara by the end of that year, and that was largely due to the fact that I stuck to a routine.

Be realistic about when you will and will not be able to write. There are certain days for me during which writing will not happen. If there is a holiday party after work, I probably won’t be able to push myself to write 2,000 words during the hour in-between. As a result, I need to set aside extra time for that writing before. It’s a matter of knowing yourself.

If you miss your word count or don’t like what you write, it’s okay. Set goals. Set deadlines. However, if you look at a scene and think that it’s horrible, don’t beat yourself up about it. Put it aside and just keep writing. If you wanted to write 5,000 words and only wrote 3,000, it’s okay. Do better tomorrow. Just keep writing.

Bring a notebook everywhere. Yes, I’ve said this before, but this is especially important during the holidays. If there’s a long line when you’re shopping or the friend from high school that you’re meeting is late, write. Write what you see around you. Play with description. Journal. Experiment with a different perspective. There is a lot of unexpected downtime during the holidays, and taking advantage of it can help you feel better if your regular writing time didn’t yield the best results.

Read, read, read. For me, I’m lucky enough to have a winter vacation from work. It’s important that I fill those hours with writing, but it’s also equally valuable to kick back with a book and drink some hot chocolate.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment or catch me on Twitter as @veronicabane! I’d love to hear from you.

V

© 2013 Veronica Bane. All Rights Reserved.