February 16th, 2015

Desperately Seeking Writing Support?

Densie Webb

writing team

I recently read a blog post titled something to the effect “You Don’t Need Support to Write.” I couldn’t disagree more. Writing in a vacuum, without someone to give you honest feedback, occasionally shake their pompoms in your face or send you emails with lots of exclamation points congratulating you on your latest achievements, is somehow less satisfying. It’s certainly less motivating. For me, anyway. However, the support may not come from the sources you expect.

Book dedications and acknowledgements often laud husbands or wives for their undying support and belief in the author’s talent and future as a writer. Other times it’s dedicated to parents or children who inspired the author to write.

My debut novel was released last month, and my support system included none of those. My parents are gone, so that’s out. I have a husband and I have kids, but here’s the deal: I write and edit for a living, but my husband doesn’t understand my need to write outside of my day job, with no guarantee of money landing in the bank. I feared he would burst my enthusiasm-filled writing balloon, so I decided early on to leave him out of the loop. My novel is out and he doesn’t have a clue.

Okay I see eyebrows raising, mouths agape.

You’re not alone. I was at the Writers Unboxed Unconference in Salem, MA in November and someone asked me what my husband thought of my impending book release. Was he excited for me? Proud? When I told her he didn’t know, she looked at me as if I had told her he beat me daily. She was feeling sorry for me, but she looked so aghast I think I felt worse for her.

I was recently at an author’s reading in Austin, Texas. Her husband attended and clapped the loudest. He even let out a “whoop” at one point. I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t ache with envy just a wee bit. But I know I made the right decision to keep my “other life,” my writing life, to myself.

I tried for over a year to get my 19-year old daughter to read one of my many drafts, but she always found an excuse. At first I was disappointed and hurt, but I came to the conclusion that she was afraid she wouldn’t like it. She’s a terrible liar and she didn’t want to hurt my feelings if it was a thumbs down. My book with its romantic story line wouldn’t remotely interest my son. I didn’t even ask.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a pity party. I found an awesome support system in my local critique groups, close friends and online writers’ tribes like WriterUnboxed, Women’s Fiction Writers Association and SheWrites. They all offered advice and counsel and/or read countless drafts that helped me become a published author.

No, I’m not complaining. At all. This is me urging you to find your own support system, even if it’s not the one you wanted or expected. Here’s my take on where you can turn to for support, colored by my own experience.

Family

If you’re comfortable bringing your family into the fold, just know that any feedback or encouragement you receive may be colored by their love for you and concern for your feelings. Take whatever they say with the proverbial grain of salt. On the other hand, if you think they’ll offer up only nagging questions “When are you going to finish that book?” or discouragement “You’re not getting paid?” keep your writing endeavors to yourself as long as possible. Trust me on this one.

Friends

Your BFF may be more honest, especially if he or she is a writer or editor. But don’t let negative comments get in the way of friendships. It’s not worth it. Harsh feedback from your family may rankle you, but they’re still your family. Friendships can end over negative feedback of your (or their) writing. Before asking for feedback, be honest with yourself—are you expecting an honest critique or simply praise and kudos from a good friend?

Online Critiquers

All I can say about this option is “caveat emptor.” There are several online critiquing websites you can try. Some are writing organizations that offer critique matching in a 1 to 1 exchange. Others use a “credit system” that require you to critique others’ work before you earn the right to submit your own.

Here are some resources that worked well for me – I hope you’ll add your own finds down in the comments. If you need even more resources, here’s a great post by Cathy Yardley at The Write Life.

Critique Matching

Critiques with Credits

  • Critique Circle: www.critiquecircle.com
  • Faith Writers: http://www.faithwriters.com/critique-circle.php
  • Critique.org: http://www.critique.org/

I’ve been burned twice. Once I spent hours editing, making comments on a full manuscript, expecting the same in return, but received almost nothing back. Another exchange ended with a note from the author that she couldn’t wait for me to get back to her. She had self-published, but didn’t tell me until after I had sent back the critiqued 300+page document. Advice: Try to know a bit about who’s on the other end and if they’re only interested in receiving feedback, not giving it.

Local Critique Groups

If you live in mid-size to large city, this is likely an option. You can typically attend a meeting or two to decide if the group is right for you and if you’re getting the kind of feedback and support you need. Meetup.com is a good source for local groups of all kinds. You can find groups for mystery writers, sci-fi writers, women writers, screenwriters and pretty much everything in between. Attending is often free or with a minimal fee.

If you can’t find what you want, you can organize your own group. Just know that it will be open to everyone and that it’s often a revolving door of attendees.

The Bottom Line

Don’t let disinterest, a lack of understanding or enthusiasm from those you care about bring you down or influence your desire/need to write. Be cautious and informed before entering into a give-and-take critiquing relationship, so that you don’t end up being the only one who’s giving.

I found and developed my own support system through trial and error—dear friends willing to give me honest feedback, my critique groups, and my online tribes who were genuinely thrilled for me when my book was published. Depend on each other – it’s writing friends who help you get through. And here’s a heads up, guys: I’ll be leaning on you again for novel #2.

Some other posts at WITS that might help:

Do you belong to a critique group? How did you find them? What organization or group has helped you the most in your writing journey?

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About Densie

Densie Webb_2013Densie Webb has spent a long career as a freelance nonfiction writer and editor, specializing in health and nutrition, and has published several books and tons of articles on the topic over the years. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and SheWrites. Soul Mate Publishing released her debut novel titled, “You’ll Be Thinking of Me,” as an ebook in January. The audiobook and paperback will be released later this year.

Densie grew up in Louisiana, spent 13 years in New York, and settled in Austin, TX, where it’s summer nine months out of the year.  She is an avid walker (not of the dead variety, though she loves anything to do with zombies, vampires or post-apocalyptic worlds), drinks too much coffee and has a small “devil dog” that keeps her on her toes.

Hands photo credit: we are the world via photopin (license)

49 comments to Desperately Seeking Writing Support?

  • Natalie

    I needed to hear this. I worked with a group all of last year, but the group was small, and when the organizer became less available the group dissolved. It has now been six months, and I have a finished novel that I am trying to revise in islolation, and it is not working for me. Your post leaves me feeling inspired to start up my own group. Thanks for sharing your views!

    • I’m so glad it’s inspired you! Nothing about writing is easy, including finding support and worthwhile feedback, but it’s just as essential as learning the how-tos of the craft itself. And it can be just as discouraging with just as many setbacks, but in the end, it’s totally worth it. Best of luck!!

  • Thank you for this great post. It’s the reminder I needed. My husband isn’t fully supportive in my writing. He thinks of it as only a hobby where I take it more seriously than that. I’ve been a little down about this lately and have no desire to write anything. Of course, recent rejections didn’t help, but there are days I wish he would see how important it is to me.
    Thanks so much.

    • Actually, it’s good for me too, to hear about the lack of support from other’s husbands. I need to know that I’m not alone in that as well! I eventually accepted it (well, about 90%) and moved on with it. This is something I need to do and sounds like you do too. Go for it!

  • […] out my guest blog post on Writers in the Storm on how to gather writing support and what to look out for when you do. Hint: Support may be the […]

  • I’m working on my first book. I’ve shown my work to 2 people, both published authors, for some basic feedback. I decided to hold off on this until after I had my first draft finished. I didn’t want any excuses to not get that done. Plus, they could see the book as a whole, rather than bits and pieces. I have gotten some great feedback, which I am incorporating into my revisions.

  • How about non-fiction? Any great support groups that you’ve come across? Exchanging journal piece drafts doesn’t sound as exciting, but still needed. Thanks!

    • Again, local group on Meetup.com are likely to have groups for nonfiction, but some, like one of the groups I attend will critique anything, poetry, memoir, fiction. I would definitely checkout Meetup.com online for local groups.

  • My mother and sister are responsible for me having to rewrite my entire novel. But now they steer clear of reading it even though I have edited it. They simply say, ‘we’ll read it once it is published’. What do I make of it? 😀

    I sent out another novel to some of my acquaintances including my eleventh grade English teacher and my sister’s friend. It’s been over a year and no response (!). I get the need to beware of where we are sending our manuscripts. I am trying out the Goodreads’ beta group. Fingers crossed!

    But your suggestions are great. I will be looking through all the links that you have provided. Thank you for your efforts and all the best with your book!

    • Parmita,

      Don’t let it get you down. It sounds like you’ve moved on and looking for other sources of feedback, which is great. You’ll find your “tribe”; I’m sure of it!

  • I think you’re going about it the right way. Feedback is essential and that’s great that you have 2 published authors willing to provide it. Best of luck!

  • What you said–trial and error. I think back in horror about the first couple of times I tried local critique groups. Even though I had creative writing workshop experience in college, that was poetry, and when I switched to novel-length fiction, I was a terrible giver and receiver. I vividly remember telling an amazing writer who is STILL a friend that her sentence fragments stopped my reading. Made me think. Speed bump. Just…duh. And that’s a cautionary tale. You need to know how experienced your critic is. Bottom line: the only way to learn to give and receive is to keep on doing it, in multiple ways. Face-to-face if you can, critique partner matching services, contests. Judging contests, too! It’s all good experience.

  • Chris, you’re so right—taking into account the experience of your critique partner or group is so, so important. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, especially when you’re trying to please the wrong people. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I have had experiences good and bad with critique groups. At present I have 2 critiquing buddies and they’ve been a tremendous help. Thank you so much for encouraging writers to seek support from those who can be objective.

    • Vicki, you truly have to take the good with the bad when it comes to critique partners/groups. It’s great you’ve found people who offer helpful input. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • I’m sharing this post everywhere–I loved it! My family is virtually unaware of my writing career (although my husband knows) and I’ve also been burned before in regards to critiquing. I think I’ve finally settled into a great group of close friends and that’s very important to me. Thanks for sharing this!

    • L.D., So glad you related to my travails. it’s seems we all go through some version of it. A great group of close friends sound perfect! And thanks for passing it along. Best of luck!

    • Deb, the sporadic writer is never a good match for someone who’s looking for regular feedback. I too have joined groups that disbanded. One I left because I just wasn’t feeling it. So I totally relate. Sounds like you’ve found your perfect partner. Congrats!

  • I found my current critique partner through a Margie Lawson online writing course. We hit it off and she gives me the feedback I need. I can depend on her – I had a deadline last year that fell during her travels out of the country and she STILL read my work and sent me critiques. My local group had disbanded and another– mostly online– were authors who wrote only sporadically and I felt bad giving them stuff to read all the time when they rarely had anything for me to critique in return.

    It’s all trial and error!

  • Marcia

    Denise, I also live in Austin and am a writer. We should get together for coffee one day!

  • Congrats on your book Denise! I can really relate to this post. While my husband is supportive in general about my being a writer (and not currently a paid one), his eyes glaze over and his brain empties if I try to say more than a few sentences about my projects. For a while I let myself feel resentful and down about it, wondering why he didn’t at least feign interest, worried he secretly didn’t believe in me, but then I snapped out of it, realizing I don’t need his approval or cheerleading to keep going. Writing is what I do, it’s what makes me who I am. But I do need some support, like you said, I just have to seek it elsewhere. I’m not ready to share my WIP yet, but when I am I’ll check out the resources you mention. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Dana. You were wise to not let it get to you and realize that “writing makes you who you are.” I try to put myself in his place, i.e., he’s Mr. Handyman around the house, but when he starts talking about plumbing and wiring and what he found at Home Depot, my eyes glaze over and my brain empties. 🙂 I think that realization helped me come to my decision to keep my writing to myself.

  • karenmcfarland

    First of all, congratulations to you Densie! After all the time you’ve spent editing other writer’s work, you put yourself out there! I applaud you! That’s has to be a wonderful feeling.

    This critique thing has weighed on my shoulders for quite a while now. I have longed to partner with another writer for feedback and critique. But because of a disability that keeps me mostly housebound, I am unable to join a group, unless it’s online. And I tend to be a bit timid when approaching other people about this subject since I don’t know many writers.

    I totally am in sync with why you kept this to yourself, or should I say, away from your family. My husband doesn’t understand why it’s taking me so long to write a book. And my two grown son’s think that this is just a hobby that will pass. I’m a newbie and there’s a huge learning curve. And of course, I’m making all the newbie mistakes. So I guess I’m in good company as far as that’s concerned. But it can get discouraging when you’re at it alone. 🙂

    • Karen, you hit the proverbial nail on the head with people close to you thinking “it’s just a hobby that will pass.” And there is a huge learning curve in the beginning and, of course, you’re never “done,” the process of learning how to write continues forever. It took me 5 years from the time I decided to start writing until publication. I read lots of books on craft of writing and editing fiction, took online courses and workshop and submitted many, many, many drafts to many, many critiquers and, in the final stages, got the feedback from a very talented developmental editor. It’s not a do-it-yourself project. Good luck with it; don’t get discouraged.

  • Densie, I just approved a bunch of comments, so you might want to take it from the top again. Thanks so much for spending the day with us at WITS!

  • I use Scribophile, which is a credit critique site. The major issue I have found with it is that some of the members there are as new to writing as I am, so a lot of the critiques are not as accurate as I’d like them to be. The good thing about it is that I have learned so much from the members that knew what they were talking about. But they aren’t that many.

    • Chris, therein lies the rub. We all want readers/critiquers who are a step or two ahead of us experience-wise, but then that’s what those writers want as well. It’s a challenge for sure. I’d love to have feedback from someone who has 3 or 4 books under their belt, but then they likely want someone who has half a dozen and a movie deal. I’m exaggerating, but you get my drift. The secret, and it seems like you’ve discovered it, is being able to separate the viable comments from those that are off the cuff and not relevant to your work. But there are almost always golden nuggets hidden amid the junk. Grab ’em and run with ’em. Thanks for commenting.

  • Thank you so much, Densie … this post has wonderful advise. I searched for a long time to find the right fit and I am gratified to say I have three wonderful BETA readers and four months ago started a local critique group. We are cast-offs from another group that has become a tea party.

    We need serious readers … serious and generous. When someone passes on my work, I thank them anyway and go on. I have learned that not everyone is going to fall in love with my work … but I can tell if they are giving me honest feedback 🙂

    • You’re so very welcome. You hit the mother lode with 3 BETA readers and starting your own critique group. Well done, I must say. I had to smile at your “tea party” comment. Socializing is good and it’s a side benefit of these groups, but when meetings devolve into little more than chatting, it’s time to move on. Glad you’ve found your niche. Thanks for commenting!

  • My husband wasn’t a reader, so he knew about my books but didn’t read them any more than he read others (he was big at buying books and sometimes starting books but never at finishing books). But his lack of interest in my writing, while somewhat freeing to me, was indicative of a more general lack of interest that I perhaps should have paid more attention to sooner. We are amicably separated now. I wish him well, but I am also SO enjoying not trying to love a man who just wasn’t able to love me back. My life is obviously not your life, and I know it’s a complicated issue at the best of times, especially when you have children, but my advice is to consider that something is not right here. If you are not already doing it, consider getting professional help to either improve your marriage or prepare yourself for something else. And my best wishes to you. I’m glad that you have found so many other sources of support.

    • Thanks for your words of advice and I’m so happy to hear you’ve been able to carve out a writing life for yourself. Best wishes and thank for commenting!

  • Loretta

    Congratulations on a published book! Great post. I’ve been burned by friends whom I thoght would make got critique buddies, but did not. The meetup groups seem to meet during times when I have other obligations. The on-line resources are greatly appreciated. I’ve considered starting a local group but feel unprepared to organize one. I need a bit of real critique to see how it should proceed.

    • Loretta, thanks for the congrats! Yes, these are only a few options listed here. You could also start a Facebook group for critiques, if you’re so inclined. I’m sure you’ll find a way to get the feedback you want. There are also online workshops on how to critique. The Women’s Fiction Writers Association is holding a critiquing workshop in June of this year.

  • Kate Mallinger

    I loved this post. I’m a newbie that recently self-published and learned “oh so much.” I do not have current access to a critique group but that’s my next thing. I wrote academically before and I was told frequently that I needed to get into creative writing… That my voice shines through… Wonderful comment( but not for academics which is wholly fact based with pages of bibliography) so that is how I got here. I’m loving it! I totally connect on the “No one close is at all involved or really interested” thing. They don’t get it. Having a doctorate and writing in that realm was good grammatically, but that’s where it ends. Now I’m alone in this endeavor. So your post was inspiring … Sometimes one needs to hear that they’re not alone out there. (And I’m loving not using correct grammar when needed…). Thank you!!

    • Kate, I absolutely get that. I actually have a Ph.D. in a science field and writing and referencing papers is still my day job. I’ve said the exact thing myself, i.e., it helped me gain some mastery of language, but it only goes so far toward writing fiction! It warms my heart that you found my post inspiring. Best of luck!

  • Orly Konig Lopez

    Congratulations on your release, Densie! 🙂

  • Robin Witt

    Thanks for a great post. 🙂 I think I would probably mention it to my husband when my book comes out (someday) – but I don’t think he’d ever read it. He’s not interested in books, or reading – mine is not an exception. But it doesn’t mean that he isn’t interested in ME. So it’s ok.

    Anytime the topic of my writing comes up while my dad is around, he tells me that he is not interested in fantasy or science fiction. I tell him I know, he’s mentioned that before. And conversation moves on. My dad is a great guy, he just isn’t into this. Again, not a big deal from my point of view.

    I am fortunate enough to have an awesome Beta reader (my husband actually introduced us), and her two lovely daughters to fangirl and give comments which tend to be slightly less helpful, but incredibly encouraging.

    I think it’s great advice to find the support where it is, and not worry too much over the spots where it isn’t (like a spouse in some cases).

    • Robin, love your closing remark “…find the support where it is, and not worry too much over the spots where it isn’t.” Exactly. Writing is a very personal thing and while I clearly think support is essential, you have to discern who’s going to “pump you up” vs “take you down.” Glad you’ve found your tribe!

  • Awesome advice on groups and support. My family is mostly interested in how/when I will start making money.

    I’ve been part of one in person writers group, and a few online groups. People eventually drift away from the closed groups – get what they need and move on – and you do have to be careful with open, online groups. But if you go in looking for like minded, committed people, you are sure to find them. I know many authors who have found steadfast writing and personal friendships through those connections.

    Chin up, toughen up, and write/search with integrity is my best advice. Support is out there.

  • Jay Jay

    I was thrilled when I found a local group through Meetup, and for several months, I enjoyed the meetings. Then one night a new guy came and railroaded that meeting and all subsequent meetings. I used all my best assertiveness skills on him, but nothing worked. Meetups are open to anyone and everyone, not just the sane and the talented. I’m looking for a new group that can be more choosy about its members.

    • You could go to one more and hand out an invite to those you liked to join a private group. That way you get to have an outside meetup with people you already have synergy with. 🙂

    • Jay Jay, I had the exact same experience recently. Ruins it for everyone. Short of the organizer talking to the person in private or banning them from the group, which has also happened before, there’s not much that can be done. But I go along with Jenny’s suggestion of talking to people you connected with and see if you can form a small group outside of Meetup. I’ve done that as well with good results.