Sharkskin and Rhinohide
A while back, we (by which I mean somebody who actually does stuff ‘round here, like Amanda or Sarah) asked for suggestions for topics, and I’m swiping one from the compiled list. One or more of you, our valued readers, asked how a newbie writer could become part of an established community when uncertain of the quality of their output, how to get feedback, and how to start feeling real. Well, be warned: perspective incoming.
The writing side of publishing may well be the least organized industry in existence. Do you write? Words, strung together into phrases, used to cast spells to vaporize the unworthy convey meaning from one thought-having thing to another? Congratulations: you’re one of us (one of us, one of us, one of us). Like most quasi-social organisms, we tend to agglomerate into loose communities.
Unlike more regimented industries (i.e. those with established lines of training and accreditation) and owing to our own, often peculiar natures, writers (as well as other artists) tend toward the odd, and often the Odd. Which is reflected in our communities.
All humans do this, but in writing, the strange little in-rules that govern human social group interactions are what organize (Hah. Hah.) how our industry works. For a given value of works. So what you’re asking is really, “how do I become good enough friends that a group of writers won’t ignore me?”
I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but we’re more or less cantankerous, and really only seek out social contact so we can abuse each other in print. *reads the preceding, looks at his half-full mug* Ok, that coffee was too dark. Gimme a minute.
–One dollop of cream later—
Much better. My apologies. What you’re looking for is how to become accepted by writers, when what you need to be doing is looking at befriending lonely, often curmudgeonly, and always strange individuals who happen to interact on a somewhat regular basis.
The secret, speaking from experience, is this isn’t actually very hard to do.
The biggest part is just showing up. Odds are good you already know a writer. Or several. If you’re here, you rub elbows with several, of varying degrees of success and notoriety (not the same thing), and frankly, the MGC is a good place to start. The method is the same as any community: find where your interests and the community intersect, and participate. A few years back, I decided (based on some interactions at a convention) that I wanted to expose myself (shaddap) to more of what a handful of writers did that wasn’t just their fiction. I started frequenting blogs, and (here’s the trick) commenting on a regular basis. This was more than a little emotionally risky. I don’t often have much of great wisdom or insight to offer. I’m not nearly as well read as a lot of our readers, let alone my fellow Mad Genii (can’t put that back in the bottle). I can, however, turn an amusing phrase now and again, and that kind of repeated presence establishes you as a regular. It led directly to me posting here at the MGC. In short, pay your dues. Become part of the community by becoming part of the community.
Now, as to quality of writing, I don’t have anything new. You may well not have anything “good” when you first become accepted by the rest of us crazies. On the other hand, you could be the next sliced bread of the publishing world. For most writers, success seems to come much later than quality of prose. We’re an industry founded upon preference (specifically, the taste of others), and as the ancients had it, in matters of taste there can be no dispute, though you wouldn’t know that from the state of, well, anything. At least on the internet.
Is your writing any good? Well, beyond a certain basic level of craft – past the rules of good grammar, can you put together a story in ways that don’t have readers putting your words through virtual walls – whether your writing is any “good” depends less and less on what you can control that the question becomes meaningless. Becoming a better businessman helps, I’m told. Though again, success seems to depend a great deal on luck. And from my industry contacts, luck looks – over time – more and more like hard work and persistence. So, keep at it. Keep writing, keep showing up, keep learning, keep pushing your personal limits. That’s how you get better at anything, and writing – being a skill – is no exception.
Now, on being real. Insert a math joke here. And another, because I’m pushing limits. This is where the title comes in. You have to consider yourself a real writer. Nobody is going to do it for you. At least until you have fans. Decide what Real Writerness is going to look like, and work toward that. Is it an author page on Amazon? Or a Real™ book that you wrote in your hot, little hands? What about a publishing contract with a Real Publisher™? Or a regular income from a handful of successful series?
I know authors with multiple novels by multiple publishers who aren’t considered real writers by some readers. Usually for obscure emotions linked to emotional issues. I freely admit that – at this point in my life – I’m more than a bit of a dilettante. It’s not that not a writer, but I don’t keep to a schedule, I don’t meet deadlines, and the whole endeavor looks more like a hobby than a business. In my own defense, I have toddlers, and looks can be deceiving.
And that’s the thing about being a writer: it’s complicated. On one level, you determine whether you’re a writer. Do you write? That counts. Do your peers accept you? That counts, too. Do you have readers? That also counts.
The best approach seems to be more or less what I’ve already described: join a community of writers, practice the present imperfect of the craft, and develop a hide thick enough to shrug off the proverbial slings, arrows, and fiery darts of the naysayers. External and internal.