Welcome to The Learning Curve. This is where I chronicle my adventures as a new writer. The goal is to inspire you to put that bag of chips down, step away from the television, and tell the world a good story.
Support Group for a Writer
Writing, for the most part, is a lonely job. There are very few of us who can afford to write full time without relying on some other form of income to keep the creditors at bay. Take our Indies Unlimited crew for example. Stephen Hise sells apples and homemade furniture by the side of the road. K.S. ‘Kat’ Brooks has a mobile dog washing service. Laurie Boris trains dolphins for a living, while Chris James, T.D. McKinnon, Carolyn Steele, and Yvonne Hertzberger all perform in a traveling circus to pay the bills. We do what we need to do in order to do what we want to do, which is write.
Now that we’ve established writing as a hobby for the majority of people who walk this path, let’s take a moment to discuss why any of us would be willing to tackle what equates to another full-time job. Obviously it’s not the money. You could easily make more by signing up for medical tests or selling plasma. The time commitment to write and publish a novel is significant, and the returns are often underwhelming.
One of my former co-workers published a book several weeks after leaving the company. I’m sure she expected it to sell millions of copies. She had poured her heart and soul into it for years; her family loved the story, so fame and fortune were right around the corner. I think she’s still looking for another job.
Why do we write? That’s the question I asked a few months ago in this column. I won’t go through all the great responses, but most had a common theme, and none of them involved writing for money. Please check out the link if you have time. Brian Beam posted a comment that sums it up nicely.
“My two main reasons for writing are the sheer joy it brings me to write and to make that connection to the reader…”
It’s the connection part that I want to focus this column on. In order to build a support group around you, and there are many reasons to do so, you will need to make some connections. If you thought writing was time consuming, then welcome to the next level.
Quality Equals Quantity
You may think you have a great story, and perhaps your family agrees with you. Still, you want another opinion. After all, it’s family, and most of them owe you money. With a little research you come across several writing groups online, and some even seem to be active. Before you sign up to be the next inconsequential member of this group let me give you some advice: don’t. You will waste time and energy because everyone in this group is there for the same reason. They want feedback on their writing. What you have found is a critique group, not a support group, and the two could not be more different.
A critique group has its place. If you’re looking for a quick way to get feedback on your story, and the quality of this feedback isn’t a concern, then it is by far the easiest solution. Be warned, however, that honesty is not prevalent here. This is a generalization of course. There are probably some critique groups that rise above the internal drama, hurt feelings, and egotistical administrators that run them, but finding one of these is akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack.
A support group does more than just provide quality feedback on your writing. As the name suggest, this group provides something you will likely never see outside of family: support. You will not find a true support group in your local community or online. These groups are not found, they are created…by you.
The amount of time you spend developing your support group will play a direct role in the quality of feedback you’ll receive.
This is important, so let me say it again. If you do not spend quality time developing your support group, then you will not receive quality support. What do I mean by quality support? Here are some examples:
- Honest feedback on your writing
- Suggestions on how to make it better
- Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other gotchas pointed out
- Amplified voice
If you can’t trust the feedback on your writing, then it’s useless. When you trust the people giving you suggestions, you can expect your writing to improve. They help point out mistakes that you may have missed, and they do so with encouragement. These are the people you turn to when all you feel like doing is throwing in the towel. The support group keeps you going, even when you don’t think you can.
Another great benefit is having this group act as an amplified voice. When you are ready to promote your writing, whether it’s a blog post, a column such as this or that novel you’ve finally published, the support group will help you shout about it from the rooftops. In short, they take your success as seriously as you take theirs.
How to Build a Support Group
There are an infinite number of ways to do this, so I’m going to share the method that works best for me. Feel free to adjust any of these steps as needed.
1. Find people who have the write stuff.
By write stuff I mean finding people who write like you want to. If you don’t admire their writing, keep looking. I’m sure it’s not necessary to point out that if Stephen King, John Grisham, or Dan Brown are on your short list, connecting with them may elevate you to stalker status. Set your sights a littler lower and find a great blogger or indie author that may be more accessible. The only requirement is that you really enjoy their writing.
2. Connect with great writers.
When you find people who meet the above criteria, you need to make a connection. Tell them how you feel about their writing. Help them promote their website, leave comments on their blog, or do a review for their book. Be their amplified voice. This doesn’t guarantee that they will reciprocate, and that’s fine. The point is to make the connection and let them know who you are.
3. Never ask for anything in return unless they offer.
The fastest way to turn someone off is to ask for something. People naturally want to help, but asking them for assistance is not unlike standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign and your hand out. You may get what you’re looking for, but it will come at the price of your dignity. If they offer help, then it’s different. Now you’re on equal ground.
4. Build a relationship that will last.
You get out of a relationship what you put into it. It took a couple of marriages for me to figure this out. Trust is an important factor. I can’t tell you how to win friends and influence people; Dale Carnegie is much better with this than I’ll ever be, but I can tell you that lasting friendships are built on mutual trust. This does not happen overnight. It will take weeks, if not months of interactions in order to form this bond.
5. Connect your support group.
One of the great things about building your own support group is that you have the ability to introduce one friend to another. It’s also nice when one of your new friends introduces you to someone they respect and admire. Call it networking if you like. Over the past year I’ve been able to build a support group of half a dozen people, all of which inspire me. There are another two dozen writers around this group who have offered encouragement, feedback, and support. We are all connected by the love of writing.
If you want to write for fame and fortune, then I can’t stop you. Will you hit the jackpot? Who knows? The chances of getting struck by lightning while riding a dolphin are probably better. Laurie Boris may be able to give you the odds on it; she’s our dolphin expert.
If you want to write for the love of sharing a special connection with a reader, however, then build a support group around you. Not only will they be the best readers you have, they will be the ones who help you become the writer you want to be.