October 21st, 2015

5 Lessons I Learned From Founding a Writer’s Association

I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes kinda gal. In my corporate life, I was happy writing and planning and letting someone else be in the spotlight. For those WITS readers who know me on social media, you know I joke about being a troll, happy in my dark cave.

So imagine my reaction when I found myself in a “what do we do now” discussion with a handful of women’s fiction writers over the fact that we were about to become associationless.  And then the somewhat unanimous decision was made that I would be the founding president of a new association (they claim I wasn’t fast enough stepping back; I claim they pushed me forward).

WFWAIt’s been almost three years since a group of five writers moved forward to launch the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. In January, I hand over the presidency to some other poor schmuck lucky volunteer. And that, of course, has me reflecting back. And thinking ahead. So I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned about myself and about stepping out of my comfort zone. And while you may not be looking at starting an association, I’m pretty sure all of us struggle with that comfort zone bubble in one way or another or one point or another.

1) Your reserves go deeper than you think.

I’ve never shied away from hard work. But I also never dreamt how much time and creativity and effort and heart starting an Association would take. Every decision was new and would set a precedent. I was either going on the books as the founding president who launched an Association that filled an important niche in the publishing industry, or I was going down as the founding president who tanked an Association that could have filled an important niche. Every time I thought I was out of new ideas or the ability to step up when needed, another burst would surface.

What did I learn? When pushed to the limit, there’s always more inside if you have the passion for what you’re doing. If you’re struggling to find the give-a-shit to continue, then maybe it’s time to either take a break or change direction. Last year I walked away from a project, not because I didn’t care about it but because I just couldn’t find the reserves to push past the hard times. But, it never entered my mind to stop writing even as the rejections piled up or walk away from WFWA when I felt tapped out.

2) There’s a great big, supportive world outside of the cave.

There’s safety in the cave, for me and my ideas. I can share with a couple of people I trust but the rest of the world, nah, they can stay outside. Then WFWA happened. Suddenly, I had a bunch of people poking into my cave wanting my time and energy. Members of the Association had expectations. But here’s the kicker, those same people wanted to give back.

What did I learn? Writing may be a solitary undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be – nor should it be – lonely. Once you find your writing tribe, they will support and encourage you. They will become the people you can turn to, who will understand why you’re heartbroken over an imaginary person and why you agonize over a comma. Don’t get me wrong, having the support of your family is awesome, but they don’t understand that far away look that takes over when you’re deep in a plot hole. This crazy trip down the publication brick road wouldn’t be nearly as easy or as much fun without my writing buds.

3) The deep end of the pool is kinda fun.

There was no wading in with WFWA. I didn’t get to start in a trial position to test out my abilities or time commitment. The floaties were yanked off my arms and I was pushed into the deep end (I’m telling you, they pushed!). I may have dog paddled around a bit, but I stayed afloat. More than stayed afloat actually. The Association went from 100 members the first day we “opened” to over 700 by our second anniversary.

What did I learn? When you jump in to the deep end, without floaties, there are no guarantees that you won’t get a mouthful of nasty water. But if you keep dog paddling, you’ll soon figure out your rhythm and that’s when the magic happens. If I’d had a chance to think harder about what was coming my way, I probably would have convinced myself that I wasn’t up for it.

4) It’s okay to be proud of your accomplishments.

I’ve always been the one happy to cheer for everyone else but reluctant to be in the spotlight. I hated birthday parties as a kid—still do, and not just because of the frightening number of candles that would be needed. Watching WFWA grow into a thriving community has been incredibly rewarding. When I look at what we started with and where we are today, I’m amazed.

What did I learn? I’m equally amazed when I think that I had a part in making WFWA what it is today. And you know what else? It’s okay to feel that way. I don’t have to apologize for being proud of my accomplishments. I don’t have to justify the time I spend writing or putting in the volunteer hours on WFWA. I chose to pursue a career as an author. And the work I put in to that end is something I should be proud of.

5) “I can’t” is no longer an option.


Photo credit: DAU – @CosmicExtension http://twicsy.com/u/cosmicextension

Remember when I said I probably would have convinced myself that I wasn’t up for the challenge? Yeah. That. Taking on a challenge like founding and overseeing a non-profit was way out of my comfort zone. WAYYYYYYYY out there. I had my doubts early on. Until one day I realized I am doing it; and I’m not failing spectacularly, not even mildly.

What did I learn? If you believe in what you’re setting out to do, you’ll find a way to do it. You’ll find the reserves when you’re too frustrated or disheartened or tired to know what comes next; you’ll turn to the people who support and motivate you; and you’ll push through the doubts because you can do it.

I admit to still having troll-like tendencies. The urge to retreat into my cave is overwhelming at times. But I also know that there’s no going back in there, at least not for more than a quick regroup. I’ve grown from this experience and I’ve earned that I can do what I set my mind to. Next on the agenda … become a debut author. And write the next book!

I want to hear from you … what experience(s) pushed you out of your comfort zone and what did you learn about yourself?

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About Orly

orly1.jpgAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.

Orly’s debut novel, The Memory of Hoofbeats, will be released by Forge in 2017.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

29 comments to 5 Lessons I Learned From Founding a Writer’s Association

  • And, of course, we’re are so glad that you decided to come out of your cave. WFWA is fabulous, Orly and I love being a part of it. And congrats on your upcoming novel!!

    • Orly Konig Lopez

      Thanks, Densie! WFWA is fabulous because of the community of members. We have such a supportive group!!

  • You have been fabulous as our Mighty Leader. I too am stepping down from a Presidency of a writers group in January. Although getting up in front of people and talking has never been my problem (bigger problem learning to keep quiet), what I have learned is how eager writer’s are to share their knowledge with each other. Yes, writers by nature are reclusive, but we tend to still need the comradery of birds of the same feathers. Our little local group has grown from 2 people in June 2011, to 25 in June 2012 (when I took over) to 67 members today. We need each other, to learn, to encourage, to be understood. I know for a fact that without WFWA and MIW (our group), many of us would not be writing today. We would have given up. Thank you for your contributions. I know it was huge and most of us will never know all the work you put into this. You’ve got big shoes to fill, but I am confident the next leader will step up to the task.

  • lorispielman

    You are such a force, Orly! Thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do for the writing community. Congratulations on your novel and best wishes on the next exciting chapter of your life!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      If only I could channel that force into making my 10 year old clean his room. My Jedi skills are obviously not as strong. 😉

  • bettybolte

    So happy that you did decide to step out and make the WFWA the fabulous organization that it has become! I stepped out of my comfort zone years ago to be a freelance technical editor and market myself to other business people in person at trade shows. That experience, while wildly intimidating to me, prepared me for the book festivals and reader events I do now, so that they are within my comfort zone at this point in my life. Expanding comfort zones must open new doors and opportunities as a result, preparing us for what is to come or introducing new possibilities. Congrats on your upcoming release!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Exactly! When I branched out to freelance, I was terrified. And the whole working from home thing threw me for a loop. But it taught me how to be more disciplined with my time.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  • Can’t wait to see what the future holds for you, Orly! With your drive, energy and business attitude (not to mention a great writer) you’re going to go far!

    Hard work pays off! I love success stories!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Hard work pays off. And having friends who support you and kick you in the butt when the energy and attitude are in short supply, is a must!!! Thank you, Laura, for being part of this!!

  • You do realize how NUTSO PROUD I am to know you, right? And that so many of us wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for you and Laura, et al? And that you might possibly want to start demanding a cut of any WFWA author’s advances once they get published (no, no. Forget that last part)? You’re an incredible woman, Orly. Thanks for being an inspiration to so many of us.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Leah, you made me laugh. I wish I could take the credit but seriously, WFWA wouldn’t be a success if it wasn’t for the members and volunteers. I was the bull that cleared the path and drove the rest of the board nuts with ideas. Success doesn’t exist in a bubble. We come together with like minded people and together we create something amazing.

  • Orly, you should be proud of yourself! You and WFWA are incredible! I remember those dark days of not having an association home. Thank you for making a home for women’s fiction writers. We’re all rooting for you and looking forward to your success as an author.

  • Orly, WFWA was my intro into the world of writers’ organizations. I was out of my comfort zone when writing my first novel and recognized that I couldn’t do it alone, so I went online in search of support. Finding critique partners and connecting with so many other writers who “get it”, and who support each other endlessly, has set the bar very high for me as far as other associations are concerned. No group will ever be what WFWA has been for me, and it will always be my home as a writer. Thank you! 🙂

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Going at it alone makes this crazy undertaking feel even crazier, doesn’t it?! It’s so much more fun with a tribe of crazies. 🙂

  • Congratulations! You stepped up at a crucial time. Writers with the will came together to fill a need. Thank you for all your effort.

  • Orly, I’m not sure I’m ready for this news. I’m sure it is great news for you. But I’m still a coffee table kid in my writing career. I still need the assurance someone is there to catch me if I get off balance before I fall. You have been a great leader in the year or less of me finding you and the WFWA. Everyone has been great to help but you seemed to take special interest in wanting me to get the right push and in the right direction. I don’t know what you will be doing now but I am going to imagine you in your office writing many books and chiming in sometime to tell us what you are learning that we need to know. Good luck on all you want to do in the future but I’m still about to panic at the thought that I can’t reach out and grab your apron string. Thanks for all the help but thanks even more for the encouragement you have given me.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      You’re going to make me cry, you know that right?! One of the most important lessons I’ve learned, is the strength of the bond writers develop. My apron strings will always be flapping around. Just tug when you need. 🙂

      • You are such a true supporter. Thanks so much for still being there for us. Your staff you leave will be there for us and I am thankful for that but just having you in the group is a real help. I will be looking for you apron string when I need to talk/ask about something. Thanks for your dedication

  • Thanks for all your work with WFWA and CONGRATULATIONS on a fabulous book deal! I look forward to reading your book, Orly.

  • Loved your post! It was so inspiring – just like your leadership at WFWA – encouraging, inclusive, inspiring. Thanks so much to you and the board for providing us WF’ers with a magnificent gathering, learning, networking and nurturing place.

  • When I first had a vision of writing a novel, I had no idea what I was getting into, but as I typed page after page after page, it became clear I was in way over my head. At first, I dropped the mammoth task, stuck, and left it for two years. When retirement cleared my schedule, I dared to pick it up again. My fear was I couldn’t be a “real” writer, that I was just pretending, that I could never be as good as those who have books in bookstores, but I decided to attend a 5 day writer’s retreat. Showing samples of my work to “real” editors and publishers was terrifying, but when they responded with encouragement and praise – as well as plenty of recommended edits – belief dawned in me. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I am a writer. Yes, one day my books will be for sale and sought after by more people than my immediate friends. Thank you for your inspiring post.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      I’m glad you stuck with it, Ann. I struggled so much with the “real” writer part. But once I stopped questioning my right to call myself a writer, it changed how I approached my writing. Now it was okay to spend money on workshops and take those hours to write because it was necessary for my career. Ahh the head games we play with ourselves. 🙂

      Thanks for reading! And keep writing!!

  • Such great lessons to learn. I keep learning number four over and over. My favorite quote, “I don’t have to apologize for being proud of my accomplishments. I don’t have to justify the time I spend writing….” Yes, to this.