When I began my first novel in 2014, I was writing in a virtual vacuum. I tried Googling local writer's groups and places to get critique, but there seemed to be very little out there. I've realised since that there probably was support, but it operated on a word-of-mouth basis. No good if you're on the outside of all the gossip!
Every new writer needs support from other writers. They need encouragement, guidance, constructive criticism and cake. Lots of cake, virtual or real. I sat down and wrote a 130k novel in six weeks (on an iPad) and thought I was the bee's knees. Then I read it through a couple of times, tweaked a couple of bits (I called this editing, in my ignorance), then gave it to a friend to read. The friend said it was great, and I believed them.
I subbed that novel to every publisher and agent in the Writer's and Artist's Yearbook, as well as all the ones I managed to Google. The ones that bothered to reply were all rejections (because, let's face it, it was crap), and I had shot myself in the foot in terms of subbing to many of those places ever again with that novel. I had needed someone to tell me that then, before it was too late, but I didn't have anyone. Now, I try to be that someone for as many new writers as I can.
Why? Because I was eventually lucky enough to bump into a talented, generous soul on a now-defunct writing forum, Skypen, run by Blackstaff Press. Springs, as she called herself then, reached out to me and offered advice and critique. I was like a parched desert under the first rain of the season, soaking up knowledge. Springs (or Jo Zebedee, as her fans know her) pointed me towards various forums (which will be covered in a future blog post) and set me on the right path to improve my writing. I have no idea where I would have been without her.
So, flash forward five years and here I am, a published author, well-known in local literary circles as well as in my true home, SFF. I still see new writers, maybe typing away in a café, or a library, or at a literary event. They're easily spotted: they usually have a preoccupied expression, sometimes wave their hands in the air or pull faces or mouth silent dialogue in between frenetic typing/handwriting. They spend minutes at a time, watching other café patrons, storing away mannerisms or patterns of speech to use in the future.
I occasionally approach them (warily, in case I break up creative flow) and start up a conversation. Sometimes they know where they're going, and that's great, but sometimes I hear those tell-tale phrases, like, 'I've already written my cover letters, ready for when the novel's finished'. Or 'I bought the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. I have a hundred and twelve publishers marked ready to send it to.'
So perhaps nothing much has changed, but now I'm on the other side of the fence. I'm able to help others, and I am in on the gossip, so I get invited to read my work at events (I even get paid, which I never expected), and I've been interviewed on TV about my writing and the genre.
There's so much more to writing than just having an idea, and the lovely thing about the writing community is that we generally help each other out. We applaud each other's successes and share each other social media posts and we tell each other about juicy open submissions, because we're not really competing with each other in the way other disciplines do. My short story might appear outstanding to one submissions editor and banal to another, but it's still the same story. My friend's success one week might be mine the next. It doesn't mean they're better than me (although they might well be), but that their story on that particular day appealed to that particular editor.
So don't be downhearted if you're a new writer. Look around you, join writing groups and forums and chat to established writers. And remember: everyone started out as a novice, once.