Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Another Side to Becoming a Writer
There's a side to writing that has little to do with words, punctuation, or grammar. Many of us start out thinking of writing as a solitary profession with little connection to actual people. Some of us are introverts who imagined writing would involve some kind of interaction just between "me and my computer". We express our thoughts better on paper than vocally, we're shy, we're easily flustered in social situations, and far more comfortable around imaginary characters than the real deal. Who knew writers were supposed to become salesmen, public speakers, and plan launch parties? Surprise! Writing has a great deal to do with connecting with people---not only the reading public, but with other writers.
Early on most writers discover people watching is a useful tool. But more is needed than just watching people, their language, and their reactions. Feelings, empathy, hurt, loneliness, love, hate, disgust are just the beginning. We can't write what we can't feel. Taking this a step farther, let's think about the relationship of writers with each other. At first we may wonder why we should concern ourselves with other writers. That's another one of those surprises. Call it networking, critique groups, a guild, or just friendship, but I have found other writers essential to doing my best. All the way from mentioning that the door of a restaurant in New York I wanted to use in a story happens to be red to a couple of mentors who taught me that we sell more books when we tout each other's books than when we try to push our own. Writers understand writers and sometimes that makes all the difference.
I really hate driving in Utah County, but over the past two weeks I've made four trips down treacherous, under construction I15. Each of these trips has had something to do with interacting with people in the name of writing. First there was the Whitney Gala, an opportunity to honor some of the best writers around who also happen to be LDS. The conference and the gala highlighted the efforts of writers to help other writers while honing their own skills. This was an opportunity to form networks, build friendships, and applaud the success of those who excel in a field important to us. Though each writer would like to be standing at the podium, award in hand, there's little jealousy between writers. We truly aren't competitors. Even the greatest of egos amongst us sees him or herself deserving of honors also not instead of because we each see ourselves and our gifts as unique.
The second trip involved a meeting with my editor. The writer/editor relationship is of utmost importance. Both the writer and editor have a big stake in the success of any writing project and want to see the best product produced possible. Fortunate is the writer who has a strong, knowledgeable editor who not only knows how to edit, but is a friend. I've been blessed with several such editors over the years and am about to lose one of the best to law school.
Unfortunately books don't sell themselves. There are many, many books to choose from which means writers have to become involved in marketing. And in today's market there are many formats both for our books and for marketing them. The third trip south to Utah County involved a group of bloggers and reviewers. We met over lunch and discussed the power of reviews and blogs to inform the public of what's available and to establish working relationships between writers and reviewers.
Since I write reviews for Meridian Magazine, I was invited to a dinner sponsored by one of the major LDS publishers for my fourth trip. This was a relaxing social event meant to further friendships and award in-house high achievers. Which brings me back to writers benefitting from befriending other writers. When one of these writers needs a special bit of research, they're going to think, "Oh yeah, I met so and so once who writes about dutch oven cooking. We hit it off and I bet he'd be happy to help me with some camping questions I have in the suspense novel I'm writing." It also boosts spirits and rejuvenates drive to hear words of praise from a fellow writer.
Royalty checks are nice, achieving approval from the reading public is wonderful, but one of the best things about being a writer is the friendships we form along the way.