Today is my oldest child’s 19th birthday (Happy Birthday, baby girl!), and I find myself reflecting on life’s journeys, and the people who are part of them. On my journey toward published author, I have had many traveling companions who haven’t just made the journey more pleasant, they have made it possible.
I feel very fortunate to have companions who have been in turns hand-holders, critics, cheerleaders, and most importantly, friends. They have shared honesty that made me a better writer. They have kindly pretended not to notice when I’ve thrown childish tantrums, and they have laughed at my jokes, some of which may not have been that funny. That’s the kind of truly dedicated companions that I believe make a writing journey a successful one, no matter where it leads.
So where does one find these companions? For me, they come from a variety of sources. Here are a few:
My first reader has always been my mom. An artist herself, she has a keen appreciation for transferring the mind’s image into something tangible. She also has a sharp eye for pace. She has yet to return a manuscript without several marginal notes, “this drags here,” and she’s usually right. (Okay, she’s always right, but one should never admit that outright to one’s mother.)
My kids have been great readers, too, and the young audience I need, but they have been more than that. They are the ones that fill my soul with joy and light and humor when it might otherwise be drained dry by the stresses and mundane duties of life. In that sense, they have been not just my readers, but my muses as well.
A stable, long-term critique group has been so vital to my writing. I am fortunate to have a group that has stuck together for over five years. We meet every other Sunday at a local coffeehouse (we’ve outlasted two other meeting locations.) We have held each other up through rejections and frustrations, talked through character or plot problems, and honestly told each other things we didn’t want to hear. I am grateful for them every day. THANK YOU, Mike, Megan, Kiersten, and Jenn (of Mixed Up Files of Jennifer Bertman fame.)
Without my critique partners, I would not be an EMU’s Debut today. They pushed me to rewrite MAGIC CARP, the manuscript that sold to Karen Wojtyla at McElddery Books in November. It was a manuscript I had abandoned, but they could see the merit when I could not. And when it did sell, they brought me gifts, hugs, and big, happy smiles, and not a one of them succumbed to the temptation to say “I told you so!
I also belong to the Coffee House Percolator, a writing group of a very different sort. The Perc is an online freewriting group with members in numerous countries. Daily writing prompts serve as inspiration for quick, unfiltered writing, which is posted to the group listserv. We then comment, but only positive feedback. The point is not critique, since the work is spontaneous, unpolished writing. The point is to access deep writing and identify what is best within it. The Perc is just that–a perky pick-me-up when the journey gets grueling, but it offers more than affirmation. Sharing freewriting brings me back to the reason I am on this journey–the pure joy of creativity.
Groups of Writers
In addition to having writing groups, I have found support and inspiration in groups of writers who have never read a word of my prose. From them I have gained valuable advice and perspective on the challenges we all encounter on this journey.
Examples of these groups for me include SCBWI Schmooze Groups that sponsor presentations or brainstorming sessions, and a listserv for EMLA clients, where my agency siblings freely share experiences from the heart-wrenching to the silly. This sharing has been so valuable that we have begun annual retreats, where the camaraderie and friendship reinvigorates us all. And of course I would be most remiss to not mention the incredible support of my agent herself, Erin Murphy (dead center in the photo, in purple and orange.) But more on her role in another post.
These are just some of the groups that have made a difference in my success and enriched my journey, a journey that is far from complete. If you are on the writing journey without traveling companions, look around you. Writing groups (and groups of writers) can be found everywhere–on blogs and listservs, in local bookstores and coffee shops, on Facebook and Twitter–maybe even under your bed or between the couch cushions. Maybe right here.
Share with us where you have found your traveling companions for this journey, and how they have helped you. The more we share, the more we have on this writer’s journey.