How to Find (and Join) the Writing Community

I have said it before, but I’ll reiterate it now. I’m still new in the writing world. In the last year, I have learned so much about crafting a story, but it wasn’t all through traditional writing resources. Some of what I learned came through trial and error. My errors were kindly and constructively pointed out by the wonderful people I have as critique partners, and am fortunate enough to call friends.

But how do you find these elusive critique partners? You get involved in the writing community as a whole. Maybe for you that means using the MeetUp app to look for writer groups that meet face to face in your area. Honestly, that was not only a bit inconvenient for me but also intimidating. I’m a closet introvert. I seem really outgoing, but the truth is that people often make me self-conscious and after meeting up with a group–even people I know and like–I sometimes need a recovery period. So for me, the online writing community held a lot more appeal.

So where is this elusive online writing community? Where everyone else is hanging out in these crazy modern times: social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Basically, if you can think of a platform that has a tendency to eat away your productivity, writers are probably on it. There are tons of hashtags and groups to join.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, but I don’t want to just jump in out of nowhere. That’s scary. I have nothing in common with these people.” Everybody starts somewhere. Yes, it can be scary, but the community is welcoming. You do have something in common with these people. You’re a writer. They’re writers. Boom. Connection.

If you’re still not convinced, why not look into some writing contests and competitions? Most of them have their own groups or hashtags that participants use to get to know each other and bond over the emotional rollercoaster you’re on together. Some of them don’t even require a full manuscript. For instance, the submission window for #WriteClub is open until April 1st. The only requirements are a 500-word submission and a pen name. That’s right, you can (and must) be entirely anonymous on the competition front. But that doesn’t mean you can’t join the hashtag (#WriteClubDFW) as yourself and bond with the other participants.

Don’t believe me? Check out the competition info.

write2bclub2bsoap2b2

It’s that easy.

Or hard. I admit that I spent more time figuring out how to fit a whole scene into 500 words that I should have. It was a good exercise for me even if I don’t make the competition.

So find a competition, a hashtag, a group, something on whatever platform you are most comfortable. Connect with other writers. Make friends. Swap chapters, queries, synopses, anything. Critique. Get critiqued. Interact.

Don’t be afraid. We’re writers. We don’t bite. We just write about it.

Keeping Motivated

I’m a list maker. When I sit down to get things done, I prioritize by making a list of everything I need to do, most important goes first.

Spoiler Alert: I’m a mom, so sometimes the list doesn’t get finished. Kids need naps, snuggles, lunch, kisses for boo-boos, trips to the doctor’s office, outside play time, emergency toy surgery, etc. So the most important tasks get listed first because otherwise, I might not get to them.

I’m a writer. Being a writer means more than sitting at my keyboard hacking away. It also means I’m a reader. I have to read in my genre in the industry to keep up with the trends and find good comparative titles. I also read for my critique partners, because, well, it’s a partnership. If I want them to slog through my hot mess drafts until I can beat the prose into something palatable, it’s only fair that I read their wonderful works of art in return. I do book reviews, usually posted here on Thursdays. Thanks to NetGalley, I also do some ARC reviews so I can get a sneak peek at what’s debuting this year. And last, but not least, I do some beta reading too.

It may not sound like a lot, especially since I love to read, but the time adds up. And I still have to find time to get my own writing and revising done–not to mention all of the pesky things my non-writing life entails, like being a mom and paying bills.

It can get a little overwhelming sometimes. Perhaps I’m the only one who has ever felt it, though I doubt it, the feeling of having so much to do that I don’t want to do anything. When my to-do list is so long that my brain refuses to function and I end up stuffing my face with bad snack food and watching Netflix. Or falling asleep sitting up. Maybe both.

Eventually, though, I have to crawl out of my haze and get my rear in gear because that list isn’t going to finish itself.

In the last few weeks both my kids got the flu, so naturally, I got it too. My husband had to travel for work, so it was just the three of us in the house, sneezing, coughing, and fever dreaming up a storm. After we got better, the kids were on Spring Break–which isn’t saying much when they’re in preschool, but it still meant that I didn’t have my usual quiet work time during the two days a week that I usually do. Then my parents came for a surprise visit. And then my youngest had his first birthday so everyone came to visit. It’s been a whirlwind.

Now, we are all well, sanitized, and living on the leftover cake, so it’s time to get back to business. But the problem is that while all that was going on, my to-do list in the writing world didn’t get any shorter. It got longer. Things piled up. A lot.

But it’s time to crawl out of the haze. So what do I do?

I have to find the right motivation. I can’t get on my daily chat with my writer friends until after I finish [insert acceptable number here] pages of the reading I need to do today.

I finished that critique? How about a bite of cake!

Wrote the blog post that was due three hours ago? That deserves a cup of coffee at least. Even if it’s just Folgers.

I reworked the outline of my manuscript and found a way to up the stakes while fixing that character who wasn’t quite working anymore? I’ll take a fifteen-minute break and do something mindless so my brain can rest before it shuts down and resets to factory default settings.

You have to find whatever it is that works for you.

Also, remember to forgive yourself when life interrupts and you don’t finish what it is you were in the middle of doing. Writing is work. It’s work we love, but it’s work. You have to find a good work/life balance. Don’t let your guilt over not finishing that chapter rewrite by today suck all the joy out of the new character arc you just came up with.

If you succeed at keeping the guilt at bay, write a blog post that gives me your secret. Maybe it’ll work for me, too.

Writing Resources

computer-2242264_640

I’m a newbie in the writing world. I finished my first manuscript last year. I was so proud of it. It was so dear to me. It was a piece of me. All of my life I have wanted to be a writer, and I did it.

What then? I did some research about what it would take to get published. I found out about a few twitter pitch parties and contests. Even better, I learned about the special brand of torture called a query. I got some likes and got some kind and encouraging rejection letters. Most importantly, I connected with other people in the writing community.

I learned what critique partners were and found great people who graciously took up the burden of being mine. They helped me to see some things I had been blind to. I loved that manuscript so much because it was my first and it was a part of me, that I had no idea how bad it was. But it was.

Y’all.

Awful.

But I learned from it. I found some great resources online, some by accident and some from recommendations. Crafting threads, podcasts, free ebooks and online courses. I learned how to tell a story, how to kill your darlings, the three-act structure, the hero’s journey, and found some basic guidelines regarding how to write more inclusively.

Now when I sit down to write, it feels like a different animal than it was before. In some ways it’s harder because when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know how badly you’re messing up. But it also feels like I’m growing as a writer. Every time I sit at my keyboard and hack away, even if I end up deleting everything when I’m done, I’ve grown as a writer. Because I know why it needs to be deleted. I can hear my CPs in my head asking questions and know what won’t fly.

Do I catch it all? Of course not. I’m human. And still learning. But now I at least have some inkling of how much more I still don’t know. It doesn’t stop me from writing. I’m not waiting on that magic day when I’ve read all the crafting blogs, listened to every possible podcast, etc. I do have a life away from my keyboard, after all. Blasphemy, I know.

So I write. And I rewrite. And I edit. And I cut. And I promise my fiction is more polished than my blog writing.

Anyway, I thought today I would pass along some of my favorite resources. If you’re even newer to the writing world than I am, maybe they’ll help you as much as they are still helping me.

Podcasts:

I have only recently joined the podcast craze. I’m not the best auditory learner and I’m a mom of little boys. Life is crazy and my attention span is short. All that means that while there are some really great podcasts out there, my favorite right now is Writing Excuses “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” As the tagline suggests, each show is only fifteen minutes. This makes it a great podcast to listen to while scrubbing dishes or folding laundry.

Blogs:

As far as blogs go, I have several favorites, so I’m going to narrow it down. First, I’ve learned a lot from Writing with Color and refer back to it often. I highly recommend it. Also, you should let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of their recommended reading. Before you know it, it’s dawn and your kids are up, but you have zero regrets.

K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors is another great resource. She breaks things down in easy to understand chunks. She even has a series where she breaks down story structure using the Avengers franchise. So many light bulbs went off for me while reading that. I will note that most posts have a link at the bottom to listen to the podcast version, but so far I’ve stuck to reading.

Vlogs:

If you’re more of a vlog fan, Ellen Brock has some very helpful tips regarding editing. You can see her videos and read her posts on her site, so there it’s really the best of both worlds. The videos are all short, so much like the Writing Excuses podcast, they are great to watch in the few minutes you have between other chores or activities.

Classes/Webinars:

If you are looking for specific topics and can afford to pay for classes or webinars, I recommend The Manuscript Academy and the webinars offered through the Pitch Wars site. I have had a good experience with inexpensive courses from both of these sources. And the experience doesn’t stop with just the class. The Manuscript Academy also connected me with a Facebook group for other people who took the same class I did, offered a live Q & A with the author, a podcast, and the class video. The Pitch Wars staff offers ways you can interact with other writers on social media through activities like Pitch Wars Movie Night. They pick the movie and appoint the time, you watch along and tweet with them on the hashtag throughout the show.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It should be noted that I have a folder of bookmarks on my computer that is nothing but “Writing Advice”. It has five subfolders and I still have to scroll down to reach the bottom of the list. And that does not include the separate folder I have that’s just for podcast links.

Nerd and proud, y’all. Nerd and proud.

What are your favorite resources? I’m always looking for more tools for my writing toolbox.

Book Review: 5 Secrets of Story Structure by K.M. Weiland

5 Secrets of Story Structure Cover

If you are just getting started as a writer, or if you’ve been at it a while and can’t figure out how to solve your wandering plot issues, this book is invaluable. K.M. Weiland breaks down the concept of the three-act story structure in easy to understand ways and offers common examples.

The book is short, easily read in an hour, more or less depending on your reading speed. If you are already well versed in the three-act plot structure, then you are not the target market for this book. Though I will say, I knew what the three-act structure was, but this did make the pieces of it clearer to me. The examples were a tremendous help. And she has a database of examples. My list-making, organizational heart loves that she has a database of examples. A database. It makes me happy.

All of the information in the book is available on K. M. Weiland’s site, but to have it in a quick to reference book, organized away on my Kindle, is right up my alley–especially considering it’s free. That’s right. You heard me. Free. In it, she points the way to several other resources as well. Some of those are free. Some are not. Your mileage may vary.

I love the simplicity of what she says and will be keeping this one filed away with my reference books for some time yet. Because if I’m having pacing issues, there’s probably an issue with my structure that could easily be fixed if I take a step back and study it a little harder. This book helps me break it down and examine what each of my plot points are and what isn’t necessary or draws the reader out of the story by crowding out the important milestones within it.

It’s quick. It’s simple. It’s valuable and yet free. You have nothing to lose by giving it a shot.