Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Writers' Wednesday - Remember You're Not Alone

No, that’s not a threat! This isn’t about Big Brother watching you. This week our columnist Annie West talks about the fact that in the lonely business of writing, sometimes it pays to remember you’re not the only author out there slaving over a manuscript.

Writing fiction can be an absolute joy. The characters grab you, the words flow, the next scene beckons with glittering promise. You just can’t get the words down fast enough. Days, weeks, hours like that are fantastic moments to be treasured. For, like most things, writing has its ups and downs. There are days when writing a decent page is like wrestling a herd of hissing cats, when your characters don’t want to come out and talk to you, much less each other, or when feedback from readers, editors, contest judges or reviewers leaves you feeling less than enthusiastic.

Most writers love time alone just to think and delve into their imaginations. For many of us, too much distraction can be a problem as we try to create our new world. A friend of mine is a newly published author. She lives not far from me. I didn’t know she existed, much less wrote romance, till after her first book was accepted as she wasn’t on the email loops and wasn’t known to the local romance writers’ loop. For her, the important thing was (and still is) focusing her energies on the story she wanted to tell (sensible girl). Now she comes out to play from time to time and I’m so glad as she’s great company and we get a lot out of our coffee chats. In comparison I have other writer friends who thrive on the stimulation of contact with other writers as a necessary part of their daily routine and find that helps energise them for the work ahead. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle.

We each need to choose how much interaction with other writers works best for us.

However, I’m a firm believer in the positives that come from mixing with other writers, whether it’s on a regular basis or just once in a while. There are:
Local or online writers groups where you can chat about books, market changes, or get your work critiqued;
Blogs (like this!) where you can talk to other romance readers and writers and hear their take on things;
Email loops that can provide informal support, answer specific questions or provide a chat forum;
Conferences (from the stupendously large to the small and intimate) where you can mix with other writers as well as editors or agents; and
Writer’s workshops on specific themes.

Here are some of the benefits:
Getting technical know how (from how to submit a partial manuscript to how to write a flashback);
Getting market information;
Understanding the business you’re in (I’m incredibly indebted to a number of authors who’ve patiently explained some of the intricacies of publishing);
Honing your craft (writer’s workshops are perfect for that). I like the way a good presenter can crystallise the ideas I grapple with alone;
Getting personal feedback on your latest story idea or scene;
Receiving support when you need it;
Celebrating good news with friends who understand what a ‘good’ rejection means or who appreciate the thrill of your acceptance b a publisher;
Discovering that whatever problem you’re facing with your manuscript, agent, editor or publisher, it’s probably happened to someone before you and they’ve survived; and
Feeling that you can do it (write the book, submit the story, enter the contest) after all.

Of course, one of the best ways to connect with other writers is to read their books! Reading great stories feeds the creative juices and reinforces the love of the genre. I’ve lost track of the benefits I’ve got from catching up with other writers. For instance, my first book accepted by Harlequin, ‘A Mistress for the Taking’, grew out of an idea that came to me at a romance writers’ workshop, listening to inspiring Harlequin authors Miranda Lee and Emma Darcy.

What’s the most worthwhile experience you’ve had of mixing with others in your chosen field? Do you remember one incident making a huge difference to you?

Annie is currently working on a new book for Harlequin Presents/Modern/Sexy, and drawing on ideas she’s discussing with writer friends. In the meantime, her most recent book ‘The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife’ is available from eHarlequin or Amazon as a Presents Extra edition.


  1. Is there a Golden Rooster here for the first person to post for the day? Although he's not really a pink ribbon kinda guy!

    Annie, what a great post. I get so much from my interaction with other writers but I also need my cave time when the going gets tough. The nice thing about writers is that most of them understand that need to retreat from the world when you have to immerse yourself in your story and characters. I think the best feedback I ever got from another writer came from you. I'm eternally grateful that you're my critique partner. You're a font of wisdom and a shoulder to cry on and a hoot to share good news with! As you say, this business can be very solitary so it's wonderful to have good friends to share the important stuff with.

  2. Annie, I always get so much from reading your thoughtful, thought-provoking posts. Thank you!

    I'm in the middle of the extrovert/introvert spectrum, too. I crave the interaction when I'm in the mood, but when I'm in deep writing mode, I'd prefer to hide away.

    I always love chatting to other writers and readers but the moment that sticks out in my mind is when I was an unpubbed at my first Australian Romance Writers' conference. As you know, there's a tradition at our awards night where the MC asks all to stand up who have done one or more of a list of achievements--finished a ms, won a prize, published a novel, etc. I was able to stand proudly with my fellow writers that night. I looked around and the sheer number of us, all working toward a common goal made a huge impact on me and spurred me on.

  3. Anna, lovely to see you here! No pink roosters here (that I know of) but a big welcome.

    Wow, thanks for the lovely kind words. Doubt the 'font of wisdom' applies to me but as I'm feeling a little below par today I'll take the accolade with a huge grin.

    Couldn't agree more about the importance of 'cave time'. Hm, does that make us Grizzlies?

    I do like the fact that with writers they do understand so much - it's like being with kindred souls - whether it be about the need to rejuvenate before tackling the next task, or the importance of celebrating some writing success which, to a non-writer doesn't seem so major.


  4. Christine, you've hit on my favourite moment in the Romance Writers of Australia conference! Isn't it great? I remember the first time they did that and people who'd sold a book in the last year stood up then people who'd had a book requested, then those who'd finished a book etc. I still get goosebumps every time. It's so terrific to see so many writers there, celebrating what they've achieved.

    Thanks for dropping by!


  5. Hey Anna and Christine, perhaps we should start an Annie West fan club - you ARE a font of wisdom, Annie, and your posts ARE unbelievably thought provoking!

    BTW is this where I confess I'm your hermit friend? I don't know whether my hermitage helped or hindered my journey to publication... problem was I could get distracted way too easily and I knew if I joined e-groups I'd play instead of work.

    Have to say now, though, that having you around to share the writing experience with is VERY reassuring... Not to mention oodles of fun. And Yay! this year I'm going to my very first RWAust conference. Can't wait!

    Thanks for a great post.

  6. Hi Annie,

    Great post. I find that contact with other writers is an essential part of my routine. First thing in the morning I like to read the emails on the loops I belong to and there's usually a kind word, a supportive shoulder, some excellent advice or even just some virtual chocolate to see you through your next writing challenge.

    As for my most memorable experience. That would probably be entering my ms in the New Writer's Scheme (run by Britain's Romance Novellist's Association every year). My reader was wonderful historicals author Nicola Cornick who read the ms, rang me to say how much she enjoyed it and then sent it straight to the managing editor at Mills and Boon Modern Heat. A week later I had my first contract.

    I'm attending my first ever writers conference this year in San Francisco and I can't wait.

  7. Nicola's a darling, isn't she, Heidi? Hey, huge congratulations on the contract! Only a month or so till SF! Yay!

  8. Hi Michelle. I'm giggling a little here at you wondering whether your hermitage helped or hindered you on the way to publication. It immediately made me think of the days when one of my favourite local red wines was called Hermitage and I wondered just what you used to power your writing! (G). But now that I know you I suspect it's a nice flavoursome pot of tea.

    I do hope you enjoy your first conference this year. I always find them so inspiring, that I come away ready to tackle almost anything. The downside for me is that they can be so full on that I lose sleep as my mind ticks over all the interesting things I've learned and the conversations with new people I've met. Hm - that balance between cave time and social time can be tricky sometimes.

    As for egroups - I'm on several. Sometimes I post reasonably often and at others, especially when I really have to make progress with a book, I more or less go off the radar because, as you say, it can be too distracting for me.

    Thanks for popping by!


  9. Heidi,

    That's absolutely wonderful news about your manuscript and the RNA New Writers' Scheme. It really must be some story you've written! How exciting. What a wonderful way to get your first acceptance! And what great proof that contact with other writers can help.

    Personally I've learned so much from other writers who have been and continue to be generous with their time and knowledge. It makes me glad to be part of the romance writing community.

    AND, how exciting to be heading to the big RWAmerica conference this year. I'd hoped to go too but sadly, finally had to face the fact that this year wouldn't be the year I made it. So I still have that first to look forward to. I've heard that the American conferences are quite an event. Hope you have a fabulous time!


  10. Anna, stop skiting about heading off to the SF conference. I'm so jealous! I want to be there when the RITA winners are announced (Anna and several other friends like Anne Gracie and Kelly Hunter are nominees). Plus one of my own books is a finalist in the National Readers Choice Awards. Plus it would be a chance to catch up with so many great writers, including some I know via the internet but have yet to meet.

    Sigh. I hope those who attend post some updates on the conference here at the Pink Heart Society.


  11. Hi, Annie! Another great post. I love the email loops, especially when there's news of first (and second and third...) sales. It's very inspiring.