We are nine days into NaNoWriMo and…
I’m already massively behind. November has taken some unexpected turns and I’ve been doing my best to roll through the punches.
Hopefully your writing month is going better than mine.
Over the years, I’ve tried numerous things to get to the coveted 50,000 word mark. Perhaps next week I’ll share them with y’all.
But this week, I wanted to talk about something that’s made a massive difference in whether or not I make it across the finish line by November 30.
In fact, writing communities are how I was introduced to NaNoWriMo in the first place. I’d joined my college’s creative writing club (it’s where I met everyone behind 18thWall, directly or indirectly). We encouraged each other to write, and to improve. Knowing there was a community helped me to sit down and crank out words.
I also joined my local NaNoWriMo region.
With the arrival of the pandemic, the NaNoWriMo region had to take on a new life. Suddenly, we had to find a way to meet that didn’t involve actually meeting. The Municipal Liaison created a Discord server for us.
Despite being able to meet in person this year, that server is still active. There’s something about being able to pop into the server and update everyone on how you’re doing that motivates you to put words on the page.
Even outside of NaNoWriMo, I keep myself surrounded by a community of writers. I find it incredibly funny that people refer to writing as a solitary activity. While there are moments where that is true, there’s a lot you can’t do alone. Or, rather, there’s a lot you shouldn’t do alone.
This week, I’m going to draw back the curtain on my writing process and show you where I benefit from my writing communities. Hopefully it will encourage you to seek out a community of your own.
1) Communities Help You Grow as a Writer
I have drafts that will never see the light of day. At one point, I had the rough outline of a six book YA series, and had written nearly half of it. But I keep them around and occasionally pick them up and read them.
Why? It shows me just how much I’ve grown as a writer over the last 15 years or so.
That growth comes from surrounding myself with people who also love writing. James and Nicole are just two examples. But they’re probably two of the biggest influences who keep me writing.
Have I ever mentioned that Midnight had four separate endings?
I struggle with endings. But since I know that going in, it’s a place I can rely on my community to help me.
I wrote the first ending and gave it to James to edit. He promptly handed it back and told me to try again. So I did. He told me that I was being too nice with the ending – where Rosella beat up a serial killer with previously unseen martial arts expertise – and that with a story like this I needed to go a bit harder, and stay in the style I’d been writing all along.
After all, I’d proven that I could with Notches.
Without the help of my editor and community, the ending of Midnight would have fallen flat. I needed to be prompted to dig in and create a deeper ending that rewarded the reader, and did justice to Rosella.
Honestly, this is just one example of a time where a piece was made better because I had input. If I look over every piece I’ve published (and some I haven’t), my strongest work has always been the ones where I’ve had help – and, most importantly, help from other writers and editors.
2) Writing Communities Push You When You Need it
One of the benefits of NaNoWriMo is that having a hard deadline pushes you to write more than you would initially. I’m very guilty of that. I have days where I only put a few sentences on the page.
But being in a community of people who are all pushing towards the same large goal means that I cannot rest easy, I have to keep writing.
Beyond that is the accountability that comes with having people know what you’re up to. There’s a reason so many writers advise you to get an accountability partner. The fact of the matter is, they can come up beside you and help push you even when you think you’ve got nothing left in the tank.
Today is an excellent example. For once, I’m writing this column the day it will come out. Monday got away from me and yesterday was a long day. While I’ve skipped the occasional Wednesday since this column came back, I’m committed to meeting the deadline and talking to you every week.
Which is why I’m sitting here at my computer typing up an article for y’all to read. In this case, you all were the accountability partner I needed to stay on task.
3) Having Outsiders Look Over Your Work May Reveal Hidden Problems
We are all far too close to our own work. After all, we leave a piece of ourselves in everything we write.
Going back to Midnight, we see an excellent example of this. I was far too close to that story at that point. Keep in mind, Rosella was the first time I officially knew I was going to publish a series. For the first time, I had to make sure I left her in a place where I could pick up and write again.
By going harder and having Rosella go through a rough end, I’ve set her up for growth, and a serious arc. You’ll see some of it in her next book. You’ll see it in other places where she may make an appearance.
The series as a whole will be stronger for it.
I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been encouraged by James. And that’s just one of so many reasons why you need to surround yourself with a community.
4) Writing with Others Helps you Find your Voice
We are the sum of our experiences; that includes people we meet. With writing, it’s much the same way. We are a combination of those around us, writers we love, and more.
The voice I had as a writer when my first short story came out ten years ago is vastly different from the voice I have today. Back then, I was still finding myself. Honestly, a decade in, I think I’m still doing just that. We are all doing that.
But without people around me to give advice and to talk me through the obstacles I’ve come across, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today. I wouldn’t write with confidence, and the stories I write now wouldn’t sound like me.
One thing that annoys me slightly about all the writing advice books is that they give you a roadmap for writing. As if it’s a one size fits all craft. But it’s not. We all approach writing differently. Sometimes we even approach it differently from how we used to in the past.
Ten years ago, I could sit down for hours and write out large sweeping chunks. I crank out a story with little to no effort.
There are days where I envy my younger self. But, with the help of multiple writing groups, that young writer has morphed into what I am today. And I’m excited to see where I’ll be a decade from now.
Had I stayed in the vacuum that was my early writing days, I would never have had the chance to find my voice and grow. James and so many others helped me with my first mystery and with their help, I was able to see how much I loved the genre.
That whole sequence of events wouldn’t have happened, if I hadn’t had my writing community.
Every point I’ve made before now can be summed up by this one thought: by being encouraged, by getting help in growing, and by having people point out what I’ve been doing wrong, I’ve become the writer I am now.
Who do you have that you can lean on as a writer? How have the people around you helped you grow as a writer?
If you don’t have anyone that comes to mind, I encourage you to seek out a community.
Start with your hometown, is there a creative writing club? Or, join NaNoWriMo and see what your region is up to and if you can find a community there. If you’re still in school, I highly encourage you to see if there’s a club.
There are lots of options so you can see what works best for you. And if you already have that community, hold on to them. They’re invaluable.