Long before I published my first novel, I tried to join a neighborhood fiction writing workshop, only to be told by one member, “Sorry, come back when you get published. We can’t accept novices.”
Yeah, that stung. So did the remarks by one of my first writing workshop teachers in my MFA program: “You write with the depth of a television commercial,” he said, to which I had a normal reaction: I cried.
Meanwhile, my short stories were getting rejected even by journals with subscriber lists smaller than my Christmas card list, and my brother said, “You’ve got to learn to pander to the tastes of housewives if you’re going to sell anything.”
Even after Random House published my first book, during those scary weeks when I had to pimp myself around for blurbs, I faced a few smack downs. Several writers said they were too busy to read it and blurb it. One writer said he thought it sounded like a stupid memoir. Ouch.
I’m confessing this to let you know that there are definitely a few haters in the writing community. You’re bound to meet some of them. However, as Taylor Swift’s new song “Shake It Off” goes, your best bet is to ignore them, “’Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
When you get smacked down, jump up and keep going. To succeed in publishing, you need a lot of cheerleaders and helping hands. You must keep looking until you find your community. Then keep growing it.
Eventually, I answered an ad in a bookstore for a writers’ group, and they were the perfect fit: people out of college, all of us parents with small children, all of us seriously trying to write our first novels. We were together for many years and the critiques and deadlines kept me going. That writing workshop teacher in my MFA program was a loser, but I also found Jay Neugeboren, a professor who gave 110 percent to every writer in his classes and mentored us not just in the craft of fiction, but in how to keep steamrolling ahead, submitting stories and novels until somebody out there said yes. He, along with my best friend from grad school, Susan Straight, led me to my current agent.
Along the way, in person and online, I have continued to meet wonderfully generous writers—both traditionally-published and indie—who have reached out not only when I asked for help, but often before, generously coaching me in everything from scene structure to how to blog.
There are nice writers out there with big hearts. You just have to find your people. Once you do, your community of writers will get you through the dark days, when you think you can’t possibly do another revision or query one more agent or, God help you, hear one more rejection from an editor. That community will be your safety net if you fail and will serve as your springboard to success, too, cheering on your book launches and helping you promote your work in person and online. You will do the same for them.
More and more, the key to success in any business is networking, and writing is no exception. Recently I have been teaming up with other fiction writers to do events, because it’s easier and more fun to gather an audience at a bookstore or library if you present with a partner or a panel. I’ve also joined a cross-genre panel called Nevertheless Writers—a group that consists of five different writers from five completely different genres, fiction and nonfiction—to speak at schools and libraries about writing and publishing.
Yes, those panels take place on weeknights when I’m tired. Yes, we often do them for free. And, yes, sometimes there might be only ten people in the audience. But we love building community and spreading the message that writing can be a solitary pursuit only some of the time. The rest of the time, writers need each other to perfect our craft and bolster our confidence at a time when it seems that art is the last thing in the world anyone is worrying about.
So find your community, join the fun, and ignore the haters. Shake it off.
Molly Greene says
So true, Holly! The author friends I’ve made over the past few years are my go-to group for the stellar days, the crazy pub-related questions that come up (there’s so much to learn!) and the occasional vent. No one else would understand. You’ve captured the truth of it in your article. Thank you so much!
Belinda Pollard says
Holly, I can’t believe all those people were so horrible to you. Or maybe I can believe it. But I can never understand why people have to put others down. It wouldn’t make me happy to do that to someone else. I guess maybe for some of them it stems from their own insecurities.
Glad you rose above it, and pursued your dreams!!
I think everyone has a story to tell, and if they have a passion to tell it, then they can grow their skills and learn to tell it in a way that people really will want to read it. I don’t go for this idea that we must keep people OUT. Let’s support one another as writers!
Lisa Columbia Snyder says
You probably don’t remember, but I met you earlier this year at a Newburyport Writer’s potluck dinner. Although I enjoyed the evening, I froze with insecurity, and never returned because it’s a writer’s group. That is, you are all published authors, and I’m not. Yet.
I write everyday: creative ‘faction’, humor, and sometimes the opposite of humor, and I’m in the process of launching a blog. So, my post questions for you: “How do I start at the beginning?” More importantly, “Where is somewhere?”
Do you know of an unpublished-standard workshop for the ‘write’ like me? A similar workshop, a community, that only accomplished and published authors – it seems anyway – are afforded. Thank you very much for your time, Holly. Have a great weekend.