While I’ve been writing for a while, I only recently (like in the last year) joined the writing community. I guess I always knew there was a one hanging out there somewhere, there’s a group or community for everything these days, but it never occurred to me that I, as a writer, was, or could be, part of it (don’t you love all the commas in that sentence!). I dove in when a co-worker who has a great book published with a local publisher invited me to his critique group. Through the group, I’ve met some wonderfully talented local authors and gotten excellent feedback on my own work. That same co-worker/friend also told me about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which opened a world of conferences, contests, and other opportunities of which I was previously unaware. I discovered the Absolute Write forums through a website that provided query letter guidance. Eventually I stumbled across blogs and other writing websites.
I write this to say, the writing community amazes me. It’s a relatively small world. In relation to the rest of the population there really aren’t that many people who are serious about writing. The actual publishing community is even smaller. You’d think such a competitive field would be just that, competitive. You’d think people would be reluctant to help one another because the query you just critiqued might be one an agent picks over yours.
But it’s not. It’s one of the most encouraging, helpful, supportive groups I’ve ever encountered outside of church, and certainly from strangers. There are people I’ve never met, and probably never will meet, who are willing to take time out of their busy lives to help me become a better writer, or draft the perfect query letter, or synopsis. When one person gets a rejection, everyone is sad. When one gets an offer or contract, everyone celebrates. I know there are a few sour grapes here and there, but I’ve yet to encounter them. On the whole, the writing community is warm and friendly and I’ve been thoroughly impressed. It’s like walking into “Cheers”. Everyone is glad to see you. (Norm!)
For example, I recently entered a writing contest. Another entrant sent me a message letting me know she also entered and asking if we wanted to help each other. We exchanged excerpts and critiqued each others’ work, tightening the language, etc. When we swapped back, we wished each other good luck and each promised to keep the other updated as the contest progresses, and genuinely meant it. I believe in my work, but hers was really good too. I wouldn’t be upset if her work beat mine out (disappointed I didn’t make it, yes, but in no way bitter or anything). In fact, I’d be pretty proud to say “I ‘know’ her!”
In this time of sucky economy and high competition for jobs and with the seemingly grim future for paper and ink books, it’s refreshing that people still work together like this. I find myself pondering why. The chances of getting published are like a bazillion to one and it seems every book that gets a contract means there’s another book, or several, that won’t. Yet, the majority of writers work together.
When I really sit down and think about it, I think every time a colleague makes it, it gives the rest of us hope. If they can, someone we “know”, then we can too! I also think it comes down to loving what you do. I love to write, but I also love to read. I’ve read some fantastic works on the AW forums. Works I want to read more of. Members generally only post a chapter or two, or maybe even a paragraph they’re struggling with, but sometimes that’s enough to hook me. Enough for me to care about the character and want to know their story. (As a side note, you’d be surprised the number of published authors who hung out at AW before they got their deals or who currently hang out there. It’s really an excellent place for assistance from people who know what they’re doing).
I’m lucky to be part of such a great community and I hope my “friends” get published so I can read more of their stories, and so they can get the recognition they deserve. What other professions can truly say that? (Not many).