Essentials III — The Writing Community

I haven’t written an “essentials” post in a while. These are posts in which I reflect on a wide range of things that are essential to my writing life. So far, I’ve tackled the double asterisk and my wonderful critique group — a wide range indeed. Today, I turn to the rich community of fellow writers who offer wisdom and support and steady shoulders to stand on.

Writing can be a lonesome task. I spend hours alone with my computer and my writing journal and my imagination. I happen to have a job that puts me in almost daily contact with people who love books and writing, but many writers aren’t so lucky–some have jobs that give them little creative sustenance; some spend all their time writing and thus nearly all their time alone.

Perhaps because of this isolation, writers are often eager participants in formal and makeshift communities. These might be critique groups that meet regularly or casual gatherings of fellow writers who happen to live near one another; regional or national associations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators that host online communities as well as conferences; workshops or classes or residencies; or any number of virtual communities, support and friendship offered via listserv, guest post, and tweet. I have benefited from all these types of communities, and I could devote a post, or several, to each one, but for now, I will highlight three.

I cannot say enough good things about the workshops and space offered by the Highlights Foundation. I attended a week-long whole novel workshop there in 2014 with faculty mentors Laura Ruby and Anne Ursu. The workshop advanced my understanding of the writing craft, offered invaluable feedback on my work-in-progress, and provided me with friendships that continue to sustain me. When I have felt overwhelmed by unexpected turns in my writing life, I have called upon the community I found at Highlights and I’ve been grateful to discover that community is with me still. So grateful, in fact, that I returned to Highlights a year ago for an “UnWorkshop,” a time to write in the peaceful environment they provide, fed by their fabulous chef, and free from the distractions of my regular life. A most delightful and unexpected bonus was that a small group of women I happened to have met years before at the Eastern PA SCBWI Pocono Retreat was UnWorkshopping at the same time, and I had the chance to reconnect with this wonderfully supportive community of writers. I am hopeful I can get to Boyds Mill for another UnWorkshop soon, and even if I can’t make it back there for awhile, Highlights and the people I met there will always be a vital part of my writing community.

Fearless Fifteeners is an online group of YA and MG authors whose works debuted in 2015. I came to the group fairly late in the year–I learned of its existence while at the Highlights UnWorkshop, actually–but they welcomed me, and I have found the group incredibly supportive. This community provided publicity when my book came out, and it has been a great resource. On our private proboards, we post questions and share problems, garnering the advice of writers who also have recently negotiated contracts, are trying to figure out how to approach booksellers, struggle to digest reviews, have great tips for school visits, etc. Sometimes the person you most need to talk to is the person who just moments ago was exactly where you are now. Fearless Fifteeners has been that community for me.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who I knew before any of us were writers. I happen to have two good friends who have become children’s authors, but I knew them back when they were just regular people doing other things. Both of these people are veteran authors now, and both have been extraordinarily valuable resources for me, generous with their time and wisdom, offering advice about the craft, business, and pleasure of writing. The guidance and friendship of these people who know me as me yet readily accept me as writer has been a bedrock as I’ve built books.

It remains true that I mostly write alone, but, as you see, being a writer is not at all lonesome. I am buoyed by the kindness and wisdom of many author-friends, and I take pleasure and strength from my conversations with them. Whether we are talking about books we love or figuring out how to write books other people will love or trying to find the best ways to reach the readers who already love our books, we love talking with each other, sustaining each other, and building together a community that loves and makes and celebrates books.

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