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.
21 thoughts on “Support Group for a Writer”
Interesting distinction between ‘critique group’ and ‘support group’. The group I am in currently, in Stratford, straddles the line, I think, but is shifting toward support. But it’s hard to find time to spend with them, what with all that travelling with the circus. 😉
Time? I know the feeling. 😉
I’ve never thought of there being a difference between a “critique group” and a “support group” but you’ve defined the line well. Thanks for this interesting post – now that I know Yvonne is traveling with the circus I can ask for her “support” on my next book! lol Honestly, though, I have been a member of an awesome “critique” group for seven years. Without them I wouldn’t have gained the insight and confidence I needed to continue.
In the end, that’s what it’s all about. Whether it’s a critique or support group that keeps you going doesn’t really matter. As long as you keep going then you’re moving forward. Write on.
Thanks for the funny and sound advice K.D. I’m also a member of the circus, what with writing book two, re-editing book one, planning book three, doing reviews, blogging, marketing, shameless promoting, checking daily returns on Amazon, get me out of here! I’m still having fun though and wouldn’t dream of any other occupation.
Thanks for the funny and sound advice K.D. I’m also a member of the circus, what with writing book two, re-editing book one, planning book three, blogging, marketing, shameless promoting, dreaming, checking the daily sales on Amazon with a magnifying glass, get me out of here! I’m having fun though and wouldn’t dream of doing anything else being in such a good company.
Writing really is a circus if you think about it. It’s a juggling act and half the time you feel in control, just like a lion tamer. The other times you feel like the lion tamer walking a trapeze wire.
Nice post. I did the support group, where we met at each other’s houses and read what we’d written that week. It was working out nicely, but the time commitments problem was our demise, among other things. I still stay in touch with most of the members, and we get together on occasion.
I have my group online–all the great people I have met in the indie world. I would have just stuck my MS under a rock and left it there if it weren’t for all of the support and encouragement I’ve gotten here.
I’ve recently gotten into doing reviews for other authors, with a Facebook page set up for that purpose. I also have a new website; I have no idea what I’m going to do with it yet. But it will be invaluable, I’m sure. The review thing helps me release my not-so-well-buried inner Grammar Fiend, and allows me to offer my help to other writers in the field of editing, which so many need (I’m in that group, I will admit it).
I joined a Facebook Forum, “Independent Authors Forum”, which has been a terrific source of help and encouragement. One of the members gave my MS a really thorough shakedown, opening my eyes to some of the things that really needed improvement. You can’t buy that kind of help. Well, you can, but I bet it wouldn’t have been delivered in as friendly a manner as she did.
I’ve only been doing self-marketing and promo for a few months, but have learned a lot. I’ve gone virtual places and done virtual things I never thought I would. With two new books coming out early in 2013, or before, I will be using my time and online network to good use very soon.
K.R. it’s great that you have an encouraging group. I wish you all the success in 2013!
KD, excellent advice. A support group isn’t about the editing or marketing of writing; they are about the beauty and art of writing. I don’t know what I would do without my support group (in which you dear KD play an integral part).
Another great post :))
Thanks Jo. You are one of the best writers I know, and someday I would like to be nearly as talented. You and the rest of our guild inspire me to keep going. I learn so much from reading what you guys write. Hope to be back in the swing of things soon. The project for work should be done within the next month. 😉
Good points, KD. A writing group I joined a while back didn’t quite match what I was looking for. I’d rather not repeat that experiment, so I’ll keep these ideas in mind.
Marny, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s all about building friendships online with people that you wouldn’t mind inviting over.
I have recently joined Critique Circle, and so far the results seem positive and worthwhile. I went to one face to face writers’ group and didn’t go back. It’s a constant search. When you find them hang on to them.
Excellent post, KD; you and the rest of the Indies Unlimited team are about as close to a support or critique group I have ever really been; travelling with the circus and all, I don’t really get the time to socialise very much.
You’re one of the best circus performers that I know. Write on brother. 😉
I’ve never thought of my online friends as a support group per se, but now I realise that that is exactly what we are to each other. I call all my online friends ‘kindred spirits’ but the name doesn’t matter – it’s the genuine caring, and generosity that matters.
You’ve made my day. 🙂
Excellent! And you are correct my friend. Genuine caring and generosity define the perfect support group.
I tried to post on this yesterday, but I guess it didn’t go through. I guess I’ll just sum it up with great post and thanks for the shout out, KD 🙂
As always, thank you for stopping by! 🙂
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