Happy Monday, everyone!
I apologise for getting my post up later than I usually do, but I've been super busy the last couple of days- busy in a very good way, because my friend, sometime mentor and writing idol Diana Gabaldon is in town, and I've been lucky enough to catch up with her a couple of times.
So, I thought today I would talk about something I feel is incredibly important for writing success- seeking out mentors and supporters who will help you take your work to the next level.
In my archaeology career and in every other field I've worked in, I've had mentors. They're the people whose work I admire- whether it be their work ethic, their ideas, their enthusiasm- there are different things that draw my attention, but there's always one thing they have in common. They make me want to do my own work better.
I don't think this is unique to me- I'd be surprised if there were many people out there who *didn't* approach their day-to-day work in the same way.
So I believe that if you're serious about writing, you need to approach it in the same respect. Think about the people whose work you admire. Then track 'em down. Not all stalker-like, of course- but if you look out there, you'll find that a huge number of your favourite authors have their own websites or blogs where they happily share their philosophies and thoughts on life. Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, Maureen Johnson, Anthony Bourdain- they're just a few who come immediately to mind. As you can see they're from an incredibly varied range of fields, from young adult to non-fiction travel, but they're people I automatically consider because a) I enjoy their style, and b) they are amazingly open and passionate about their chosen craft, and they're out there, on the Internet, giving advice. For free! What more could you want?
The next step beyond reading the thoughts of your idols is to keep an eye on their travels (not, you know, using binoculars outside their houses or anything). Just keep an eye on their touring schedules. See if they're appearing at any writers conferences.
Keep an eye on writers conferences in general, and make the effort to go where you can. You might find mentors and idols that you've never heard of before. And no matter whether the speakers are to your taste or not, I believe you can learn something from anyone else.
That's where the importance of contact with your peers begins. Join a writers group or a critique group- you'll be amazed how much you learn just by reading about others, let alone by posting your own work. Something I always emphasise to new people at the CompuServe Forum is that you can learn so much from critiquing others- if you don't want to share your own work, you don't even need to.
Just by being involved with other writers you'll find kinship and support from others who know what it's like to obsess night and day over people in your head. They understand how it feels to leap back out of bed just as you're going to sleep because you've had a story idea you don't want to forget. They get why you don't want to talk about your stories to other people- or why you can't stop. And because you're all aiming for the same goal and you all know how it feels to strive for success, you can't help but support each other.
I know I spent years as a teenager thinking I knew it all about writing and I didn't need any help, but I'll tell you now- a few words of praise and support here and there can keep me going whenever I feel the inevitable writerly negativity about my stories. Every bit of positivity is absorbed and held inside, and every bit of constructive criticism makes me a better writer.
In short, as far as I'm concerned, writing might be a solitary activity, but I couldn't do it half as well without the support of my friends and mentors. And when I finally get published, I know my acknowledgements page is going to be a mile long :)
So, who do you look up to, and who have you met? Was it a life-changing experience? What did you learn? Diana is the second of my favourite authors I've sought out- I've also been lucky enough to chat with Tim Winton, a brilliant Australian writer who I caught up with at a book launch last year.