Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why go it alone?

 Sandra Parshall

This post originally appeared on the 1st Turning Point blog

Fifteen years ago, I was unpublished, isolated, and miserable. I wasn’t a hermit – I was involved with an environmental group, doing work that mattered to me – but I thought of myself first as a writer, and I didn’t know a single other writer I could look to for advice and support. I had snagged an agent, who put my work in the hands of the right editors but couldn’t sell it. When she left the business, I felt adrift and almost called it quits.

Then I joined Compuserve, which in those pre-Google days was a robust subscription service with more than 400 forums. I gravitated toward the thriving collection of writing forums, of course, and suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore. I was part of a community of people dedicated to writing. I joined an online critique group—the first time I’d ever swapped work with other writers—and I soaked up the wisdom of published authors, including Diana Gabaldon, a Compuserve regular. A few more years would pass before I sold my first published book, The Heat of the Moon, but I wrote it with encouragement from critique partners and other friends on Compuserve.

Cserve began falling apart after AOL purchased it, but by then I was committed to writing mystery/suspense and I had found a new source of comradeship in Sisters in Crime, which I discovered through its Cserve chapter. If the writing forums changed my life for the better, Sisters in Crime transformed it. I doubt I would ever have submitted The Heat of the Moon to Poisoned Pen Press after New York publishers rejected it if not for the urging of friends I made through SinC. That book and its follow-ups would still be unpublished and I might have given up writing altogether.

When I started attending mystery conferences, I had enough friends from SinC present to keep me from feeling like an outsider. When I appeared on my first Malice Domestic and Bouchercon panels, after The Heat of the Moon was published in 2006, I looked down from the terrifying height of the stage and saw friends smiling back from the audience, silently cheering me on. I was nervous, but I wasn’t alone.

My writing pals have become a second family to me. I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to go it alone instead of reaching out to those who share their passion for words and story, their disappointments, and their joys. Other writers will understand your highs and lows better than your real family can. They will commiserate when you’re rejected and celebrate with you when you succeed, even if the success seems minor to ordinary humans who live outside the bubble of writerdom. At conferences, you’ll always have someone to share meals with and hang out with. Conferences will begin to feel like family reunions, with hugs all around, instead of noisy mob scenes where nobody knows your name.

Whether you’re newly published or still working toward your first sale, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you join a group filled with writers who share your goals. For crime fiction authors, no organization is more welcoming than Sisters in Crime—it’s so inclusive that even men can be Sisters. If one of its 50 chapters is located in your area, join and attend meetings regularly, volunteer and make friends. The same goes for Mystery Writers of America, although MWA has fewer chapters. Both organizations are active online, and SinC has a wildly successful internet chapter called the Guppies that is dedicated to helping aspiring writers break into print. Whatever your genre, you can find a group where you’ll fit in. 

Writing can be a lonely business. We spend most of our time sitting at our computers, willing inspiration to come and despairing if it decides not to show up. But we don’t have to be alone. Don’t tell me you’re too shy to join a group, or too busy. I’m naturally shy too, and heaven knows I’m busier than any sane person would want to be, but my life has been immensely enriched by the connections I’ve made through writers’ groups, and I think yours will be too.


Barbara said...

Amen, sister! Great post.

Julia Buckley said...

I wholeheartedly agree. Writing is an isolating experience, but finding other writers can make it much less lonely and much more rewarding.

Kaye George said...

I felt adrift when I had to leave Dallas. I had had a good circle of mystery friends in my local SinC chapter, but where I moved to, there were only romance writers. A very nice bunch, but not the same.

The online sisters, especially the Guppies, were my lifeline during that period. It's so good to connect with other writers, others who get it.

Thanks for the post!

Pat Brown said...

I love Guppies so much I stayed with it even when I no longer fit the category of unpublished. There are gray moments, sometimes even black ones, when you wonder why you are wasting your time. First it's no one wants your stuff, then it becomes the agents don't want you or the big publishers or whatever seems to be eluding you. SinC is always there, always encouraging. You're right, Sandra, writing is solitary, but that doesn't mean we can't find companionship with other writers who feel our pain and our successes along with us.