[This blog post first appeared on LearnHowToWriteANovel.com in October 2018].
Writers can be a quirky bunch.
We drive miles to that one restaurant we must experience … because our imaginary friends go there and we need to hear the clanging of the pans in the kitchen.
We silently fume over a misplaced comma or an apostrophe that DOESN’T BELONG THERE. IT. JUST. DOESN’T.
We spend hours online researching peculiar names for a minor character who plays a tiny – but critical – role in a story we’re writing, and building lists of potential names that we carry around with us. Just. In. Case.
We live for days… weeks… months… in a world of our own creation, shutting ourselves off from people outside it because they might be a distraction.
In short, when people look at us, they can think we’re weird.
That’s why it’s so important to connect with your tribe, and realize you are normal after all.
I’ve just come back from a week at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. It was a time to reconnect with old friends, introduce myself to new ones and talk to people who get where I’m coming from. Creatively. Relationally. Socially. It was nice to talk with others about their WIP (see, you’re a writer if I don’t even have to spell out the acronym), commiserate with them over writer’s block and celebrate about wins, however small. It was deeply comforting to discover my challenges with the publishing industry aren’t just because of me and to see I’m not the only one whose writing comes along in bursts of creativity and frustrating droughts of blank screens.
On the plane on the way home (I’m in Australia after all!) I realized just how much we need connection. Apart from being a quirky bunch, we can often be a bunch of isolated individuals, as we disappear into worlds and stories of our own creation. And isolation isn’t good in long periods.
As the world passed by 36,000 feet below, I thought about the four areas in a writer’s life that a conference like ACFW helps address. And, if you’re a writer, connecting with your tribe – wherever that may be – will help your writing journey significantly and combat the isolation that we’ve all felt at one time.
One of the best part of connecting to a tribe is you get to talk to the ‘elders’ and learn from their wisdom. I got to speak to dozens of writers whose books fill shelves and learn from their successes and failures. I had dinner with Colleen Coble, and discovered that between us we have 35½ novels that had been published. Mine was the ½. (The Baggage Handler is due out on March 29, so it doesn’t count as a full novel yet!) Talking to Colleen was a lesson in wisdom, but it was also a time to be inspired; to learn about her processes and how she’s navigated a whole industry. Meeting Susie May Warren, Rachel Hauck, Tamera Alexander, Cara Putman, Frank Peretti and Dan Walsh was about more than a handshake. It was about the chance to talk to people who’d blazed the trail I hope to tread.
A couple of friends of mine won awards. Celebrating the success of others is important when you’re on the writing journey, and when you’ve seen someone slogging hard to write the story in their heart, to see them on stage holding a recognition of that story does wonders for your own motivation. Not that you hope to win something, but you know that hard work will be recognized eventually.
And I got to celebrate with people who’d signed with an agent, been asked to supply a full manuscript to a publisher or who’d typed those two magical words – The End – on their first draft. When you live in a world that is often categorized by rejection, celebrating helps your own mindset.
Catching up with people allowed me to have a coffee with others to commiserate a knockback.
Getting to share in someone’s moment of need, knowing you’ve been there before, brings you closer to other writers in a special way. It allows you to view your own setbacks in a different light, and to use them to help motivate others. It allows you to put your own rejections into a longer-term narrative
Talking to other writers is good for your soul. I’m not suggesting that we all move to a writing commune somewhere in the desert (although I’m sure the correct apostrophe usage would be at 100%), but just talking to others fires off ideas and just makes you feel understood.
I’m sure you’ve had conversations with non-writers where they don’t understand what you’re doing. I’ve had people ask me if my debut novel will sell in the millions or tens of millions (dream on people), why I’d write a story that has zero guarantees of being published (because I can’t NOT write) or they’re going to write a bestseller one day (which just adds their name to the list of potential story characters I might kill one day).
Talking to those who get you, who understand what you’re doing and also why, is an important thing in understanding yourself. In seeing that you’re ‘normal’.
I’m not suggesting your writing journey will only be helped in these four ways at a writing conference. Even just coffees, Facebook chats or emails will help keep you connected with your tribe.
And if you’re isolated, you need to be.