The Value of a Writing Community / My Writing History

I started writing when I was 13, and for years I did it pretty much in a vacuum. Oh, I had a few confidants that I’d show my stuff to, like Damon, my best friend in high school.  But I didn’t have a writing community.  Until I was about 28 I wrote off and on, eventually completing two manuscripts, which I tried to market without success. They weren’t ready, and at that time I didn’t know how to fix them, so I put them away for what turned out to be twelve years.

It was the quirk of a rainy week in August 2004 that led me pull one of them out again. As I read it I thought, huh, this isn’t half bad. I bet I can rewrite it now and make it decent. I was scared though. Writing is hard work, and in the past when things got tough I lost interest. I didn’t want to go through that again. I didn’t want to call up that weak part of myself that had no follow-through. But I missed the creative part of me, so I resolved to do it.

Because I was in the middle of earning my horticulture degree, I didn’t get the chance to start until almost a year and a half later.  The nice thing about landscaping is that the winter months are slow.  And a wet Oregon winter happens to be very conducive to writing.  So over the course of five months I wrote and revised Driven. I also joined a local woman’s critique group, Chrysalis. And I discovered that my life experience over the past dozen years had made me a better writer, even though I hadn’t done any writing during that time. That life experience, and the pursuit of a college degree, had also cured my lack of follow-through. Suddenly I had all the resolve I needed. It was like I was no longer capable of quitting.

The next winter, I wrote In the Blood. It required more work than Driven because the original manuscript was not as polished and had to be converted from mainstream adult to YA. I continued to attend Chrysalis and made a lot of friends there—my first close female friends since grade school (the 8th grade had instilled a deep fear of women in me). But beyond that, I didn’t participate in the writing community.

Last winter I continued the trend by writing Getting Sideways, the sequel to In the Blood. I had a great outline and two years experience, so it went very smoothly. It took about 6 weeks to complete the first draft, and because I’d had such a clear road map, the second draft was a piece of cake.

At about that time I got a rejection letter for In the Blood, stating that the agency was representing two similar pieces. The agent encouraged me to join SCBWI, so I did, though reluctantly. When I’m sitting on my butt writing I’m not making any money, so it was hard to part with that $75. I also joined Willamette Writers, which set me back another thirty-five bucks.

For several weeks I figured I’d thrown my money away. I was getting listserve emails about people I didn’t know, detailing their success, and I didn’t feel like I was part of that community. It was intimidating. But I joined a second critique group through SCBWI and attended a few enlightening local events with the members. Since then my world has expanded exponentially. I had a blast volunteering at the Willamette Writer’s conference. I talked shop with published authors at the Kidlit Blogging conference. I’m learning and networking. But the single-most valuable aspect of becoming involved it the local writing community has been the support I’ve received. Not just from my un-published peers, but also from those who’ve tasted success and assure me that it’s only a matter of time before I will, too.

I’d thought that I was a solitary writer. I’ve met some of those, and it seemed to be the way to go. After all, participating in online writing communities and reading author/agent/publisher blogs can be pretty depressing. Everyone’s telling you how tough it is. Trying to convince you that conforming to some formula that feels unnatural is the only way to succeed. But I’ve learned that being part of a local writing community is far from discouraging. So to all of you out there who are part of my little world, thanks. And I’ll see you on the bookshelves.

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6 Responses to The Value of a Writing Community / My Writing History

  1. Laura Marshall says:

    Lisa I love this blog. So many people lack the courage to put themselves out there. Your love for writing is coming through in every word. It has really made me think about what am I doing as a writer in our writing community. Can I participate more or is it the quality of the participation I am doing now that can improve.
    I also put writing a way for a long time because I got negative feed back and just wasn’t ready. Thank you for writing this and all the other support you’ve given over the last several months.



  2. Roxie says:

    And one of the benefits of being in Chyrsalis is that I get to read your work right away. (If you can call a thousand words a week right away.)


  3. Kitty Kat says:

    Ho Ho Ho.
    There’ll be no coal in your stocking this Christmas. With friends, you’re never alone. What happened in 8th grade to make you afraid of close girl friends? Is the answer in Driven?


  4. Katy Skinner says:

    I really liked this blog! Very interesting.


  5. Casey says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    This post is fabulous. I’m one of those isolated, solitary writers you speak of. I’ve been throwing around the idea of breaking out of that bubble, but it’s just so hard to make that step.

    As far as I have been able to find, there are no writer’s groups in my town – the closest one being nearly an hour away. Every once in awhile I consider trying to start one, but I would have to force myself out of my comfort zone in a rather extreme way to pull it off.

    Maybe one of these days I’ll find the inspiration and guts to do it. For now, perhaps I’ll join SCBWI and see what comes of it. Thanks for sharing your experience!


  6. It’s true, that sense of community and support is such a huge boost. The encouragement of other people helped me take myself seriously as a writer years before I got published, and I really think it made all the difference. Great post, Lisa!


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