Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't Fly Solo

I went to a wedding last month, the marriage of the daughter of family friends and her long-time love. It was a great day, and it also turned into a reunion of sorts for me, my brothers and our family friends' other children, who we grew up with but hadn't seen in years. Inevitably, the conversation quickly turned to what we were doing with our lives ... and when I answered, "apart from wrangling the kids, I'm writing a novel", well, the responses I received really hit home that if you don't write, you really don't get it.

There were the usual questions:–

What’s your book about?


Is there any sex in it? (Seriously! I’m asked this question ALL the time, for reasons unknown to me. The last person who did was my mother, of all people, which is a bit odd because she really doesn’t get why I write, hardly ever asks me about it … but that’s another whole post in itself …)

Then came the other questions, many of which are asked out of genuine interest but are hard to answer without making your audience’s eyes glaze over:-

Is it based on a true story? (Um, noooo, I’ve not come across a female physician doing battle with a serial killing nobleman in 19th century Paris in my research. Yet.)

Wasn’t all that research boring? (No, and yes, I am a geek.)

Where on earth do you get your ideas? (Nowhere special, just my dark, scary, subconscious.)

You’ve done your first draft? So, it’ll be on the shelves by the end of the year, right? (Um, no. Loooong way to go before that’s even a shadow of reality.)

Who is your publisher? And your agent? (Um, no one. See above.)

Where can I buy it? (*cries* I love you for asking, but nowhere. Again, see above.)

And those who already knew about my work in progress asked the question I most dread:-

Aren’t you finished yet?”

Like they can’t quite believe how long it’s taking me (me too, baby, me too …)

Of course, I answered nicely, filling in the gaps in their knowledge of writing and the road to publication, trying not to bore them to death in the process - but in answering those questions with “no”, and “not yet”, and “I’ve got lots of revising to do”, and “it’s an ongoing learning curve for me”, I began to feel like a bit of a … well, a loser. By the end of the night, the questions of my very well meaning and loving family and friends left me a wee bit demoralized.

It’s not their fault. They were only being supportive. It’s just that if you haven’t gone through the trials and tribulations of writing yourself, if you’re not au fait with the world of publishing, then you really don’t get it.

(And I’m not being all high-brow and elitist, either; I know when I ask my brothers about their work – one’s an electronics engineer, the other, a physiotherapist – they roll their eyes at my utter lack of knowledge about designing radar for the Australian air force and how to fix up bad backs!)

But the day after the wedding, when my ego had bounced back, I was very clear on one thing – if you’re a writer, you absolutely need to have friends who write.

With friends who write, you don’t have to explain a thing when you need to chew over whether a scene works best in first person or third. You don’t have to explain “point of view”, or “character arcs”, or what the heck a query letter is. You can talk about "beats" and "plot points" and they know exactly what you mean ... and friends who write understand, completely, how damn hard writing can be, and how mighty fine it is, too.

So, if you’re out there on your own, flying solo, get out of your cave and find yourself some writing buddies. You will not regret it.

Compuserve’s Books and Writers Community is a fabulous online writer’s support group (hello to all our loyal readers from over there!), as is Backspace Writer's Forum. Or track down a local writing group - I joined one here in Adelaide, and although I don't attend regular meetings, I do go to and thoroughly enjoy a few of their workshops each year. And if you’re not one for regular contact, then perhaps try attending a conference every now and then. Kristen’s Monday post is an excellent run down of why they are so good for your writing soul. I’m off to one myself, in a couple of weeks, and can’t wait to mingle with people who’ve also been bitten by the writing bug.

And if, like me, you already have writing partners, then treasure them and keep them close. I’m lucky enough to have four, and I know that I do, very much. :-)


  1. Argh, the questions! I hate the questions. On the one hand, it is a wonderful moment when you can finally say, "I'm writing a book" or "I'm a writer." But then come the questions, which always leave me red-faced and blubbering. I might have done marginally better at the RWA, but not by much! *g*

    And I agree. I don't know how many times I've thought, thank God for Rachel, Jen and Claire. I think the isolation would beat me down if I didn't have you all to talk to about writing.

    Oh, what conference are you going to?

  2. Oh Rachel you read my mind!
    I've been so jazzed up by some of the stuff I wrote for the house party that I sent off a scene to a few friends and my sister and what response did I get? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not even a "don't have time to read it but will look at it later." Did they even glance at it? Were they bored or what? Don't they realise I need feedback????
    But when I post scenes on the forum, whoo, the feedback! Crits and advice and praise and 'try it this way' suggestions and help and LOLs... What would I do without the forum?

    (Never mind all the inane 'why don't you publish your book yourself' questions I get all the time, as if I was a marketing genius and had no full time job. Sheesh!)

  3. Kristen, the conference is a small one, the Salisbury Writers Conference, held each year here in Adelaide. I'm only going for one day of it ... and I bravely (insanely?) submitted my first page for critique by a panel of editors, publishers etc. Eeek! Thank God it's done anonymously. And of course, since submitting, I've changed my mind about where my book should start, so it might not even be my first page any longer ... LOL. Typical of me, I know.

    Deniz - you guys all seemed to have such an awesome time with the house party. I did the first two, then never really had the time to commit to the ones that followed. One day!