It Takes a Village to Raise a Novel

Writing is by nature a solitary task. As writers we lock ourselves away for hours on end, performing acts of alchemy on uncooperative words – hoping beyond hope our efforts will produce something of value. The whole process can be isolating and we can be left feeling vulnerable if we don’t produce quick or tangible results. And that’s without taking into account the creative scars we all bear as the result of insensitive or destructive comments.

But despite the hazards, my writing journey is better because I don’t walk it alone. Inspiration, encouragement and friendship can come from the strangest places – so for those of you who are writers, I encourage you to take the risk and share your journey widely. To those unsung heroes who have kept me plugging away at my dream (you know who you are) – thank you.  This blog really is about you!

Brothers-in-arms.

There is nothing like finding a kindred spirit who is on the same journey. Someone who understands the struggle with the page and why you need to write that scene over, backwards and inside out before you’re satisfied with it. When you’re injured and battle worn, this friend will help you back to your feet, hand you your sodden backpack and set off at your side.

When I started writing I didn’t know anyone else doing the same thing, but over the years I’ve collected a few good friends who get it. I’ve found them in the weirdest places too – at playgroup or a chance conversation in the street. More recently through this blog. I’m grateful to you all for many reasons, but mainly because I now know I’m not the only one like this!

The Voice of Experience.

As a writer-in-progress I am forever grateful for those who are happy to share their experiences and successes. I’ve learned the hard way over the course of my life that it is easier (oh so much easier) when I take the advice of those who have travelled the road before and avoid the potholes. Thankfully there are so many willing to share their knowledge.

If you can’t find the feet of a great writer (to sit and learn at…) writers-in-progress have many other sources to tap into. The books that live on my desk for frequent reference are: Dwight Swain, The Techniques of the Selling Writer and Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

For writing blogs I follow Janice Hardy at The Other Side of the Story and K M Weiland at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors. These girls are published and writing, but they freely share their own experience and insight.

There are many more great references out there – it’s just a matter of finding what you need.

Around the Water Cooler.

These people write, but not necessarily the same kind of thing you do. I love to follow mystery writing blogs, YA blogs and romance blogs and although I don’t write in any of these genres I’ve learned a lot of tips that help my writing. For example mystery writers are big on structure – if you want tips on setting up the big reveal, these are experts. YA writers tend to get to the point quickly and follow theme closely. And as for romance – well there is romance in my book and trust me I need help. Writing good romance is an art form, so best to glean tips from those who do it well!

Friends and Family.

But they don’t write and they really don’t get it!

That may be the case, but these are the people who let you disappear off into your writing cave and love you when you come out. They cheer you up when you feel the bottom’s dropped out of your novel, and they listen to your euphoric outpourings of joy (often with a yes-she’s-off-on-it-again kind of look) when things go well and you regale them with incomprehensible plot details. For the children who will always argue takeaways are a great idea when you’ve been writing a bit too much (and should have been cooking dinner) and the husband who loves you just as you are. They may truly believe you are the next J.K. Rowling, but only because they are your biggest fans. To the people who never let you forget that real life needs to you too – thank you. I know I couldn’t do it without you!

Chance Encounters.

Have you ever been encouraged by random words of a stranger? I’ve come across blog posts that give a voice to struggles I’ve been facing at that exact moment. These have often given me that little push, or encouragement to keep going. Although I don’t even know these people, their words at just the right time have had great impact – probably more than they will ever know.

The Trolls.

There is always someone who will have something nasty, belittling or dismissive to say. The only positive thing I can say about that is, when you encounter a troll remember who you are. Why you write. We all bring something unique and precious to this world – whether that person recognises it or not. And then go and find someone from the list above to help you put it into perspective.

A troll visited one of the blogs I follow recently and left a particularly harsh (and anonymous) comment. The blogger responded with real grace, but it must have hurt. However the following responses were supportive, especially one that read: “Three squirts of troll-be-gone.” It’s a hard road to travel alone – but that comment reminded me why it’s good to be part of a supportive community.

How about you? Do you go solo – or share your writing journey? Who are your greatest supporters when it comes to writing?

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12 thoughts on “It Takes a Village to Raise a Novel

  1. A very eloquent and oh-so-true post. I am so lucky to have the support system I have, not only in a husband who has more faith in me than myself, but also in my writing group and my established betas and editors. While the act of writing is solitary (to the point of being hermits), the act of living the life of a writer shouldn’t be. We probably need support more than most.

    1. I totally agree about needing the support Heather. I just realised too that I didn’t specfically include betas and editors in that list (whoops they probably deserved their own mention too). Thanks for stopping by!

  2. My circle of folks is my wife, my cover art and map guy (who is also working on illustrations to be included in future versions of the books), and a buddy (occasionally two) who I have been getting feedback from since the beginning. When I finish a chapter, I have my wife read it first and then send it to other collaborators. I read it at each of those points and make edits to improve flow/clarity as I go, and then I incorporate feedback I get.

    My wife and one of my buddies are the only people (other than me) who know the final conclusion of the series and that same buddy has had several major plot points run by him for feasibility/believability before I sat down to write them out in detail. He loves being the trusted advisor, but he hates that occasionally I have accidentally spoiled a plot twist for him (like a major twist in my second book that I let slip when the book was only 2/3 done in the context of another conversation).

    1. That intimate circle is something special. My writing group pretty much hears everything as it’s written – sometimes with spoilers if I’m still nutting out details and need feedback. My husband isn’t a reader – so occassionally suffers through ‘read-throughs’ – which is why I love him (he is practicing his interested face and can almost hear him trying to come up with something supportive) – so what a blessing your wife can help at the first edit stage. And can I say your cover art and map guy is awesome – really loved what he’s done for you!

  3. I love this post 🙂 Ultimately we do write to be read, and even if we’re not published yet, the people you mention are the ones who may already have read our work and who already believe we are writers. Couldn’t do it without them!

  4. Some of my family has been supportive of my writing efforts, but some have not. I think there may be some issues at play there – Jesus said “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” I’m not claiming the gift of prophecy, but the truth is that often it is hard for folks you grew up with to ever acknowledge that you can do something really good or special (maybe it is jealousy, maybe you are just part of their regular life and the concept of you being great in any way seems alien to them). Oh well.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, I am simply trying to help folks understand why family and friends may occasionally be less than supportive of writing efforts.

    1. You make a good point – not everyone is supportive, and I think it is harder for people you know to see you doing something outside of your ‘normal’ frame of reference. Success I suspect will bring that into clearer focus.

      I tend to keep off the subject of writing with people who aren’t supportive (my sensitive creative soul needs some protecting) – but it’s a good reminder that we aren’t the only ones to face it.

      1. This is similar to financial guru Dave Ramsey’s “Powdered Butt Syndrome” where he says that nobody who ever changed your diaper will ever take you seriously on financial (or other) matters.

  5. Inspirational, Raewyn 🙂 You’re definitely one of the cool writing friends I’ve found. I’ve also found a couple of others, and you’re right. It’s so encouraging when you have someone you can relate to.

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