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.
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.
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?
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.
Critiques with Credits
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.
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.
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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Densie 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.
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