New friends. One of the best things I have ever got out of entering competitions is to become part of a community.
Why is this important? Surely, writing is a solitary pursuit?
Well, yes and no. When it is you and the words, yes, the only other people in the room are the characters who whisper in your ears and tell you what they are doing.
But once the pen has stopped scratching at the paper or the fingers are no longer clicking on the keyboard, once you have come out of that trance or flow of writing... then you need a support team.
Me with just some of my gorgeous writing friends here in Canberra:
Kerry Malone, Harry Laing, Craig Cormick, Jack Heath, Pauline Deeves, and Tania McCartney.
I started out alone. A lo-o-ong time ago. Took a course (which was very serious and literary) by correspondence (that thing we did before we had online) because there was nothing local to where I was living that I could get to easily and I had young children. Sent off my first completed novel and got my first impersonal form rejection. With a hint that I would benefit from gaining some life experience (I was so-o-o young).
I didn’t have a cheer squad*. I didn’t have anyone to say try a different publisher (actually, it was pretty awful and I’m glad it never got any further, but I still recognise it – now – as an achievement: a complete ms, with an appropriate word count for a piece of fiction for adults). I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off. I didn’t have anyone to say, ‘I know how that feels’ and share a glass of wine or a piece of rich chocolate cake.
*NB: I did have a brilliant and supportive Other Half, who bought me my first computer because I was frustrated by my dreadful typing skills, even though I said I didn’t want a computer, but he knew that I would indeed fall in love with word processing and would spend every spare moment thereafter typing badly but getting away with it because, well, word processing.... I still have that brilliant and supportive Other Half, and he is still my tech support and patient listener who has been there for me through thick and thin, but I think remains faintly puzzled by my obsession with writing stories. He is my first and best cheerleader, but not a writer.
I felt stupid at the time. Who did I actually think I was?
I continued writing things but I wasn’t a Writer. I wasn’t good enough to submit to publishers. It was just, you know, a hobby, like painting watercolours, except I did it with words.
Just a hobby
Then I had another child, a gorgeous young thing, our very precious ‘afterthought’ who turned out to be a high need baby and who ‘forced’ me to take time off being a teacher (I mean, really, I needed my arm twisting s-o-o-o much, not... as in I think the time I spent being a stay at home mum with each of my kids ranks highest on the times in my life I have loved best).
I combined my LSL with my mat leave and strung it out as long as I could, taking LWOP for another couple of years, and eventually resigning. My beautiful little one (who, much later was diagnosed as autistic) and, slowly, my writing, became my ‘job’.
I can’t even remember how I found out about that first comp I entered, but enter I did, and short listed I was, and published I became.
That was The Garden, in Danger, edited by Stephen Matthews and published by Ginninderra Press. I have since expanded the story, published it on Amazon as Syvarne’s Daughter, The River Dragon Awakes and, to be honest, totally forgotten about it because I was going to write more episodes and just haven’t had time. Do not learn from me as far as self-publishing goes. Not yet, anyway.
I did the same thing the next year, where Connall of the Corragh and Dear Mia were included in Refuge, also edited by Stephen Matthews and published by Ginninderra Press (also both since reworked and self-published, Dear Mia on Amazon, and Connall of the Corragh as a gift story to people who join my email list). And that is where the magic started to happen.
My first attempt at an ebook,
complete with embarrassing
hand drawn cover art
(but the story is fun)
From the list of other authors, many turned up to the launch in Canberra, and we got talking, and several of us became a critique group, and I kept in contact with one or two others via email.
The cheer squad was born.
We met regularly, read each others’ work. Asked questions. Made suggestions. Drank tea. Ate cake. Supported and encouraged and generally became friends. A couple of others came and went, but, for the most part, that original crew is still there, cheering each other on. We no longer meet to critique each others’ writings (two of us went back to our ‘day job’), but we are still there for each other. And three of us have books out through commercial publishers, many of which first saw the light of day over tea and coffee in someone’s front room.
...of course, it was always high tea (fingers crossed behind back)
I also met a few other writers along the way, joined the Writers Centre (I so want an apostrophe!) and SCBWI, tentatively went along to a couple of book launches and introduced myself to the authors, and went to courses. But, without my first fellow competition enterer-ers, I probably would never have gained the confidence and started to see myself as a writer.
If you want to write, sure, for the actual writing bit, hide yourself away in a quiet space* and pour your words out through the keyboard or onto paper, but also become part of the writing community where you can learn with and from other writers, share your triumphs and sorrows. And drink tea. Or coffee. And eat cake.
*or sit with a pile of friends in a noisy café – that works, too!
Go for it!
And find out about life on the short list.
You can do it!
cake... just because, well, cake...
I was going to end on that note, but there is just a little bit I would like to add about joining a writing community:
If you are a children’s writer, I cannot recommend SCBWI enough. Here in Australia, our local chapter has an increasing number of sub-branches and is active and welcoming and heaps of fun, and as a worldwide organisation there is so much on offer it is actually hard to keep up with.
Also think about subscribing to Pass It On, a brilliant newsletter, where you will learn heaps about what is going on and find out about competitions to enter.
And for one of the best communities EVER, head on over to the Duck Pond. Yup. Really. Just ask at Girl & Duck if you can paddle along with us all.