Contrary to what I suspect might be popular opinion, writing books is not a particularly easy job. Barbara Cartland aside, for most writers it does not involve reclining on a chaise in a pink hat drinking tea, eating chocolates and dictating your 700th bestselling novel.
For most writers, it’s more a matter of slogging it out in front of a computer for months, depending on the length of the book, then turning around and re-writing what you’ve just written at least once, followed by a protracted editing process, then what could be a substantial wait until the book hits the shelves. And that’s only if you’ve secured a contract. For self-published writers, the writing is only half the job – the other half is marketing like mad to ensure readers know you have a book up for sale and where to find it.
While you’re doing all this – whether you’re self-published or traditionally published – there isn’t a lot of time to do much else, which not only makes writing a demanding job, but quite a lonely one. Which, in my opinion, is why writers should join writers’ groups. Also, and very importantly, only another writer will understand when you say, ‘I feel my climax isn’t strong enough, and I think my middle’s sagging as well.’
I find it difficult to talk to non-writers about my job. I never know what to say. Maybe non-writers don’t know what to say, either. I’m often asked, ‘Would I have read anything you’ve written?’ Truly, how do I know what other people have read? It’s a hard question to answer. Sometimes, it’s just a blunt, ‘I haven’t heard of you.’ Haven’t you? Well, that must mean I don’t exist. I’m also frequently asked, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I can’t answer this, either, because I don’t know. I see or read something, a moving picture appears in my head, sort of like a film, and there’s the core of my next book. On the few occasions I’ve actually said this, I’ve just got odd looks.
Talking to writers is so much easier. They’ve been there. They are there. Not talking to other writers for an extended period of time is like mentally starving to death.
When I moved from New Zealand to Newcastle in 2010 with a contract with HarperCollins Publishers for a series of historical novels set in Australia, I expected to lock myself in my office and stay there until all four were written. I joined RWA to keep myself in the Australian ‘loop’, and soon received an email from Sandie Hudson inviting me to attend a meeting of Hunter Romance Writers. What the hell, I thought, I’m not really a romance writer but I’m going mad sitting here by myself, so I went.
It’s possibly the best thing I’ve done since moving to Australia.
Ideally, a good writers’ group should provide its members with friendship, practical and emotional support, motivation and encouragement, shared skills and knowledge of craft, and new ideas. I get all of that from HRW. Who cares if I don’t write traditional romance? HRW members write YA (speculative, sci/fi and fantasy), non-fiction, paranormal, urban fantasy, category, rural, romantic suspense, contemporary, erotic, futuristic, and of course historical, most of which has varying degrees of romantic content (except perhaps the YA). It isn’t as though I don’t fit in.
We meet once a month and set writing goals, critique one another’s work, brainstorm stubborn plots, have mini workshops, and discuss specific writing issues members might be having. Everyone has some specific skill, level of experience and industry contacts they bring to the table. Last year, with the help of a group grant from RWA, we held an outstanding one day workshop on self-publishing presented by Cathleen Ross. We also have a loop, which keeps us in touch between meetings. This exchange of ideas and support is invaluable, and you just can’t get it outside of the writing community.
We laugh a lot, too. Best of all, we can relax. Everyone understands the language, challenges, frustrations and thrills of writing. Occasionally we’ll disagree about something, but that’s OK. We all understand that not everyone is going to see things the same way. Imagine if they did. How boring. Anyway, what works for one person’s writing may not work for someone else’s.
So the next time you’re sitting in front of your computer feeling lonely, bored or stuck, consider joining a writers’ group. It might be the best thing you ever do.