When we first think of becoming writers, we often think of it as a relatively solitary endeavor. We imagine ourselves holing up in the attic, pecking away on a typewriter, producing page after page in a kind of creative fervor, perhaps with an inquisitive mouse for company.
What our daydreams don’t usually include is a writing community. I’m not even talking about editors and agents and other professionals who help us bring our book to the masses. I’m talking about other writers.
At its core, there are three types of writers who make up your creative support network (Tweet this!): mentors, peers, and mentees.
A mentor could be a professor who teaches a creative writing class that makes your pen dash across the page; a writing coach who helps you establish a writing routine that works with, not against, your need to be there for your kids; a workshop leader who encourages you to write that short story you’ve been thinking about for months.
Mentors don’t necessarily have to be right in front of you or even alive to teach you something. A mentor could just as easily be a memoir or a how-to book, like Heather Sellers’ Page after Page or Julia Cameron’s Floor Sample, or an author you admire, like Jane Austen or J.R.R. Tolkien.
A mentor is an important member of your creative support network because, even if they haven’t been exactly where you are, they’ve been somewhere similar and can offer the wisdom learned from a path already travelled. They’re also likely to have a more analytical perspective on the situation you’re going through, which can reveal ideas, solutions, and possibilities that a 100 percent “caught in the ebb and flow of creativity” perspective might pass by or dismiss.
Take action: Write a letter to an author you love and admire, whether they’re still alive or not. Tell them what you love about their work and what’s going on in your own writing process right now. Mail it, if you can.
Sign up for a writing workshop and actively participate.
The peers in your creative support network are those writers who you likely interact with most often. They’re your classmates in the creative writing program. You chat a mile a minute (or a Tweet a second) on Twitter. You trade rough drafts for feedback and constructive criticism. You commiserate over query letter woes and lament how difficult it is to find a decent antagonist these days. Maybe you’re even co-authors.
This is likely to be the most expansive part of your creative support network, especially because the internet allows us to connect with writers around the globe. When you’re up at 3 AM writing because you’re just that close to finishing your book, writer friends several time zones away can cheer you on.
One of the most valuable things about knowing these writers is that they’re in the trenches with you. They’re some of the best people to comfort you when things go awry because they, too, were scraped creatively raw only weeks earlier. You can brainstorm and cheerlead and pep talk to your heart’s content, knowing that you’ve got their back and they’ve got yours. They’ll also be first in line to your book signing when you get published.
If you’re just poking your head out of your hobbit hole, unsure where to find writerly types, you could always check for writing groups at your local library, café, or bookstore. I’d also suggest (and there can be less pressure, starting this way) checking out an online writing forum, like SCBWI’s Blueboard (for New Adult writers and younger) and Absolute Write, or participating in a weekly Twitter chat, like #storysocial (Wednesdays) or #storycrafter (Sundays).
Take action: Set up regular writing dates (electronic or in-person) with a writing buddy.
Join a writing forum and introduce yourself.
When you’re first starting out on the writing path, it can be hard to fathom that you could ever be in a position to mentor other writers. Just remember this: there will always be someone more experienced than you, and someone less experienced than you. You needn’t have been writing for twenty years to be able to mentor, or at least assist, someone who’s been writing for three.
This also doesn’t have to mean teaching a class, although it could! Maybe your 11 year old son is starting to wonder what magic goes on behind your office door every day, and wants to have a little of it for himself. Maybe your grandma wants to write the story of her life but has no idea how to go about it. You can help them.
Yes, you. Trust me, you don’t need to be a university professor to introduce someone to the joy of writing or shepherd them through the writing process. You just need a love for the craft and an openness to what your mentee needs from you.
If you’re a published writer, any of your readers could also be mentees, whether you’re aware of it or not. Sharing advice in workshops, author events, and blog entries is another form of mentoring.
Take action: Write a blog post about something you wish you’d known when you started writing.
If you feel like your creative support network is a bit lacking, there are three steps I want you to take:
1. Figure out your creative boundaries. How much are you comfortable sharing about your work-in-progress? If you prefer to keep it close to your chest for a while (I do that, too!), a weekly writer's group might not be the best fit for you. Try a Twitter chat or a forum instead, or have monthly Skype dates with another writer to talk about the craft of writing.
2. Decide exactly when and how you're going to take action. Use the action steps in this post as suggestions to get you started.
3. Take the plunge! You don't have to build your creative support network all at once. In fact, it's better if you don't. Focus on building authentic relationships and make sure to keep your creative boundaries in mind. Don't be afraid to take chances, either, though. Sometimes (a lot of the time) it's good to shift out of your comfort zone.
As time passes, you’ll occasionally find the writers around you shifting from one category to another, and that’s totally normal. Figuring out how to be a writer never ends. There’s always something else to learn and someone new to learn it from. An old student might one day become your teacher. You may find yourself co-writing a book with an old mentor. Nurture these connections. Your creative support network is not to be trifled with, and neither are you. You are a kickass writer, and finding the support you need and crave is only going to make you stronger.
Who’s in your creative support network? Let me know in the comments! Mine has ebbed and flowed over the years, but currently I have a lot of love for blogs like She’s Novel, books like Wonderbook, and writers like Maud Hart Lovelace.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Gratitude for the Writer's Soul and Seven Ways to Court Your Muse!