Hope you’re having a great Friday! This week, I debated giving an update on some of my writing, but I’m going to save that for next week. What makes me want to wait to write about that? Well, in the process of putting my thoughts together, I realized I needed to take a step back and look at why I am where I am.
Yup, that’s the question I came up with! This is such a significant question to me, but first, how the heck did I get to this question instead of writing about what I’ve been working on? Ok, ok. So, hear me out. I was typing along, listing what I’ve been reading and learning when I realized that I take my writing group for granted. That’s when it hit me. My writing group is SO important for being successful.
Ok, quick detour. To me, being successful as a person means improving, learning, applying, or evolving as a person or, in this case, as a writer. While I have NO objections to being famous, well, none other than reduced privacy or anonymity, I don’t like having that be a metric for measuring my success. It’s unpredictable. It can have little to do with skill and far too much to do with luck. And it can disappear suddenly. For many artists, success through fame occurs after death. Just look at Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Stieg Larrson, etc. Artists aren’t always appreciated while they’re alive. It’s a sad truth that makes it a bit easier to let go of the ‘become famous’ in order to feel successful.
I guess what I’m saying is that there are two ways to look at success. There’s fulfillment of the soul and then there’s fulfillment of the wallet. There’s nothing wrong with wanting both, but I’m happier with focusing on the first one while doing what I can for that budgety stuff.
I’m sure I can come up with more, but here are the ones that quickly came to mind, particularly as I reflected on the last several weeks.
This one is obvious to me, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in a writing group and someone had an issue and we all jumped in to help. When it comes to a writer’s block or a plot hole or an issue with a character not listening to you and going way off script, a group can come up with more solutions than you could on your own. By that, I mean a good group. A bad group will just nod and agree and go back to fiddling on their phone, or worse, they’ll ignore you and wait for their turn to ask for help. Anyway, that’s something to look out for when selecting a group.
Ok, to be clear, a good group can do this. I had plenty of those lackluster groups in college or even high school. You probably know the ones. You look for constructive feedback or criticism as the teacher walks around the groups, and all you get is, “It was good,” or “I liked it,” or “It was OK.” That’s feedback, technically, but it isn’t constructive.
With a good group or an excellent one, you can ask something like, “Is this person believably dumb, or does it feel like a forced plot point?” and you’ll get answers that actually answer the question. “I don’t think so because X,” or “It is a bit out of character for them considering Y,” or “If you leave it saying Z, then you’ll probably want to loop the behavior back to what happened in chapter A.” The main thing is to get more than a “Yes” or “No” answer and nothing more.
This is honestly true of just about any group, not just with writers. I’m talking about the type of emotional support that keeps you going, even when you think the thing you’re doing sucks. They might agree with you that it’s terrible, but they’ll hold you accountable and tell you to either take a break or to keep going and improving anyway, because they want to see you succeed. Of course, they also may be a bit selfish and just want to know how the story you’re writing ends. SO FINISH IT ALREADY! They may be your first fan club, or your only one (at least until you gain followers). I’ve heard of so many writers who felt no one cared about their work - not their families, their significant other, or even their friends. A writer’s group can change that, and having a cheering squad in your corner is incredibly uplifting.
So long as people in the group are working to improve their writing or to just get that darn first draft of a story finished, it inspires others in the group to keep going, too. I’ve seen it happen so many times. One person says they have a chapter up and ready to read, and suddenly someone else is excited to read it and the spark is ignited. Now they want their story read, so they write a chapter and post it, and then someone else is inspired, and they post something, too. Then, the first person to post has a whole bunch of comments and feedback, and they’re excited to improve their work, and so on.
If no one does anything, it can cause a fizzling out, sure. However, once one person breaks through the writer’s block, they’ll often pull the rest of the group with them. Inspiration sparks more inspiration. It’s incredible! It’s exciting!
Honestly, envy should be viewed more positively, at least when it’s done right. Envy done wrong is a lot like opening a treasure chest and finding a mimic chomping on your arm instead. Envy done right can lead to mimicry. Personally, I love (changing names here just to see if my writing friends can figure it out) Virla’s ability to pull a reader into her world with characters that see things from a perspective that’s different from the ‘norm’. In Kelsie’s chapters, I’m always impressed with the ease with which plot twists occur. I mean, what is it with seeing things in hindsight and suddenly recognizing foreshadowing for what it is? Then there’s Miran’s ability to dazzle with lore. They each have unique characters and a stylized way of going about telling a story. If I say too much about their strengths, they'll guess too much, so I'll leave it at that.
There’s grammatical choices, descriptive choices, and plot choices that inspire and impress me. Imagery of a world or character impresses me a lot right now. But anyway, we each have our own way of going about our stories, and that’s inspiring, too. Sometimes it can be demoralizing. I’ll admit that I sometimes compare my work to another’s and I become momentarily depressed. Why can’t I write like that? But then I smack myself, metaphorically, and I strive instead to improve, sometimes even through mimicry. I will never write like Virla or Kelsie or Miran, but that is great! It means my writing will be every bit as unique. It means my style will be my own. But it also means that by improving myself, I can inspire others in my group and make them want to imitate me. How fun is that? It’s like a cycle that just keeps making us all better and better.
Alright, this is a bit of a bonus point. Still, it’s true! I like to think of a good writing group like the kid’s game of Leapfrog. One kid jumps over the back of another and then the next kid in line jumps over the kids in front of them. They all move forward in a chain. One kid could wander away, but so long as there’s a ‘frog’ to jump over, the game can continue. Heck, more can join and you can have a bunch of jumping. Really, it’s about that forward movement. It’s about being a hurdle for the people behind you to overcome so they can improve, and in doing so, they jump ahead and become the hurdle for you to feel driven to surpass. Though really, it’s more like being inspired by rather than being a literal barrier for your fellow writers. There are no losers in this. If there are, you’re probably dealing with children. Er, I mean something is wrong.
If any of this has inspired you to make a writing group of your own, then feel free to check out my blog Creating a Writing Group. It has some fun tips as well as more of me boasting about how great it is, lol.
Trying to avoid inspiration? Well, you’re in the wrong place already, so I can’t really help you. Sorry. But if inspiration is something you enjoy, then subscribe to my blog here or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to see what I’m up to during the week.
As always, may your adventures be many and your inspiration be endless!