When you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on..."
Sing with me now! We all know the good ole classic "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers. Although many will tell you writing is a solitary career, I've found that having a good support system is essential to my success. And a large part of that is finding your community of writing friends who will help you stay on task and lift you up when you get down.
When I first joined Washington Romance Writers, my local chapter of the national organization, in 2013, it took me some time to connect and find the people that would embark on this mutual journey with me. I didn't really even know what I was looking for.
Initially, through the chapter, I found a critique group of four people. But it ultimately failed. We were all in different phases of our writing careers, and the chemistry just must not have been quite right.
Then, I heard about writing groups from my friend's sister who is a writer. People just get together, and write! And sometimes talk about their writing. A form of group accountability to get in the words. I kept my eyes peeled, and found my first one I was able to join during the day, on a snow day, out in Arlington, VA. It was an awesome experience. But sadly, I had to work most days. And it was kind of far. But I knew this was a format that worked for me.
Then I found a group who wrote together on Tuesday nights, same location, but at least after work! One night a week they wrote together, one night a week they chatted about industry-related matters. I adored these people and the format, but I found that I just wasn't making it enough because of the location. So eventually I got the gall and a partner to launch another Write Night but in DC on Wednesday nights. Slowly a core group formed, and it worked really well for me.
Here's how this one would go, arrive 6-7pm, get dinner, and chat. 7-745pm write. 745-8pm talk about what we wrote, what we achieved. 8-845pm write (or edit or plot or research or whatever, writerly things). 845-9pm we'd chat and depart. I could make this regularly, and even when I worked and had kids and all the other "life" things, I could at least get in 2 hours of writing reliably a week, and feel like I was hacking away at my WIP (work-in-progress) and not giving up on my dream.
Since then, with both the pandemic, and my becoming a full-time writer... things have changed. Writers have writing and sprinting and co-working groups via zoom all the time! And once you're plugged into a few they start filling your calendar. Which is awesome and helps to commit more hours per day to showing up and putting words on paper. But at some point, I found it was helpful to pick a few time slots per day that were "my" time, or else you'd be like, I can just catch the next one... I'm busy doing (fill in the blank personal life very important thing).
Above and beyond co-writing groups, I've found an accountability partner. This is another writer who I have been friends with for many years, and we've been talking about serving in this function for each other for years. By pure serendipity, we find ourselves very much in same place in life, moving into writing full-time this year, and in the same place, rewriting manuscripts we've already written but need polishing because we were newbies and made a lot of newbie mistakes. We have committed to meeting every Monday for 30 minutes at 9:30am in the morning to set our goals for the week, and then for an hour+ on Fridays at 3p, to share what we've accomplished, potentially discuss challenges, critique each others' work, whatever is needed. Not a huge time commitment, but something that helps us both keep moving forward when it is so easy to be taken off track as a creative. And we both worked in the executive/corporate world before, so we function in much the same and "get" each other.
As additional, highly-valued support, my local romance writing chapter offers a mentoring program. I was lucky to be paired with a dear friend as my mentor, who actually beta read the first version of my first book, so the great thing is, she already has the background, she knows where I was, and where I am trying to head. We do monthly calls, and she has expressed she's more than willing to help me out by looking at anything at any time. It is so lovely to have someone of her skill and experience who is willing to put in the time to help you achieve your dreams.
On the flip side, I don't have a critique group. And I don't know that I want what at this time. I have lovely friends who are willing to jump in and take a look if I ask, so it's not formalized like that. And frankly, my last mistake was I took too much feedback, frankensteined my book, and lost my voice. That's why I have to re-write it.
Each writer has a different process and needs different support. Rookie authors try to absorb all the information out there about how to do this, but ultimately it's all about figuring out what works for YOU. Why did it take me so long to figure that out? Although I'm still figuring out what works for me... 😂