Saturday, June 18, 2011

How to Support Our Fellow Writers*

When I started this blog, it was with the purpose of reaching out to, and meeting writers like myself.  Since so much of our time is spent alone with our thoughts and the characters we create, when we emerge from those worlds, we need others who can relate to us.

Some of us are fortunate enough to have terrific support in the form of a spouse, significant other, or friends.  But the truth is, no matter how much they are there for us, a person who is not a writer cannot fully understand the struggles we go through.

They don't know what it is like to experience the highs and lows that come with writing.  They don't know the importance of a crisp first five to get an agent's attention, the importance of show don't tell.  They don't know the work that goes into creating the perfect query, or synopsis.  And in truth, being a writer can bring a lot of negativity.

We're always reminded of how perfect our character development and prose needs to be if we want to sell it.  We play with words, rearranging and changing them until we nearly lose our sight sometimes.  As I tell those close to me, when I'm old I'll be scrawling words on the walls, and scratching them out and putting in new ones.  (I sure hope I've made lots of money by then.  At least, I'd be considered eccentric, not crazy.)

We need to stop viewing as each other as competition, but realize we're a brotherhood of sorts, joined together by a common interest.  How can we play a part in this?

15 steps to support our fellow writers:

 1)  Stay positive.  We have to start with ourselves if we're ever going to have a chance of projecting this.  Remember negativity is contagious, but so is a smile.

 2)  Offer words of encouragement.  If they share their work, post about a challenge they need to overcome, or tweet about a hard day, we should be there to pat them on the back,offer a hug, or slap them on the ass (figuratively speaking) to get 'em moving again.  (Hey, some people like the direct approach.)

 3)  Provide advice and constructive criticism.  I use these two elements together for a reason.  As writers, we thrive on feedback from other writers to grow.  Writers look at things differently than does the reader.  But, if we're to be a support to our fellow writers, we wouldn't want to tear them down.  Best piece of advice it to balance critique with compliment.  If you're going to point out something you feel could be stronger, be sure to offset that with something you enjoyed about the piece.

 4)  Be willing to give of your time.  We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day, and we all cram everything possible into them, but taking out time to support our fellow writers is well worth the investment.

 5)  Make a presence on the web.  Set up a blog, a Twitter and Facebook account.  Connect with with other writers.

 6)  Reach out to other writers.  Do so in person or over the internet.

 7)  Share what you've learned with others.  Whether it be sharing it directly in regards to a noted question, or posting what you've learned along the way on your blog, you are supporting your fellow writers.

 8)  Join a network.  Whether you connect with writers online, or in person, this step is vital.  We all need encouragement to keep moving ahead.  With a support network, not only do we help others grow, we grow in the process.  (A great online avenue for writers is the Absolute Write forums.  If you're not already joined up, I suggest you do.)

 9)  Offer to beta read.  This is a vital step to getting a MS in the perfect shape to query.  Your having a part in this process gives evidence you support your fellow writers.

10)  Don't re-write.  If you're blessed to be asked for help, advice, or to beta read, be careful not to rewrite sections.  This might sound like straight-forward advice, but can be tougher in the execution.  A good beta reader will point out what works, what doesn't and why.  If grammar is part of what's being checked, they'll point out errors.  They don't eradicate the writer's voice.

11)  Keep a level head.  Have you landed the perfect agent, and your MS is on sub to publishing houses?  Maybe you already have an offer on the table, or your book is in the marketplace, perhaps with higher-than-expected sales?  In that case, sincere congratulations!  It would have taken a lot of hard work.  But, please, always remember where you came from.  Remember the people that helped you along the way.  This leads me to point 12.

12) Pay it forward.  If you've experienced success with your writing, take all you've learned and share it with others.  Can you volunteer to speak at writing conferences, speak at community writing group meetings, be a guest speaker at a local college for their writing students?  If you are successful enough, and have a solid presence, do you offer links on your website to sites that help writers grow in their craft.  Do you respond personally to emails, or delegate this to staff?
       I'm going to add one terrific example here, yet I'm sure there are many more.  Sandra Brown is one of my favorite writers.  On her site she has links for the writer, but she also went beyond that.  I emailed to the address provided and mentioned I was also a writer.   She emailed me in response and added a personal message "Best of luck with your writing!".  That meant something to me.

13) Don't be jealous of a fellow writer's success.  Jealousy is something that eats away at you from the inside.  It's counterproductive, and has a paralyzing effect on you.  Instead, congratulate them on their success, support them - and mean it!

14) Tweet, or Re-tweet to support a fellow writer’s blog post, or book.  Don’t always just be talking about you, your books, your sites.

15)  Welcome fellow writers for guest appearances on your blog or website.  Let them showcase their book to your audience.  Some do this by way of book reviews, or interviews.  To take part in this aspect of support, I have started “The Independent Voice – Celebrating Self-Published Authors” which will post on Thursdays.  (If you are an author and interested in contributing fill out a simple interview form here and I’ll notify a week before your post goes up.)

Now I know that no one's perfect.  And there's no way we can simply check mark this list and proclaim ourselves our fellow writer's greatest support.  There will be times when we hurt another writer,  inadvertently discourage them, and times they may bring us down.  But as long as we're trying to be there for other writers, we're making a positive difference.

As the phrase, "iron by iron itself is sharpened", so too is the writer who avails themselves of supporting their fellow writers.  Please spread the word.
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*How to Support Our Fellow Writers was originally posted March 19, 2011.
Due to the importance of the message, and the fact I have met even more of you with whom to share the message, I have re-posted this with an amended list of how we can support other writers.