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Sunday, April 17, 2011

So You Think You Can Be a Novelist? - Part Four

So you think you can be a novelist? Really? Hmmm . . . you might want to ask yourself these questions before you commit:
  • Are you a frequent reader?
  • Have you written anything else?
  • Are you an avid and daily learner?
  • Do you have a writing support network?
  • Have you published anything?
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you might want to think again.

Part three addressed "Are you an avid and daily learner?" Today we'll address:

Do you have a writing support network?

"But Blogmaster Karen, I have this one covered. My mom says my stories are brilliant. Grandpa says I'm the next great writer of the twenty first century - and he should know because he went to high school with Joyce Carol Oates. And my daughter says the poems I write for her birthdays are the highlight of her year."

Whoa! Halt, there, writer friend.

I'm sorry to drag a skid mark across your writing dreams, but there are some people who just don't qualify to be inside your writing support network.

Family - unless, of course, your dad is Cormac McCarthy or your uncle is Stephen King or your mom is the creative writing department head at the local university. Most of us simply don't have the luxury of having a successful or well-learned writer in our family.

There are a couple of reasons family doesn't count. First, they can be unconditionally supportive making you think you are better than you really are. Second, some family members can be unrealistically harsh or critical causing you to lose inspiration or motivation - making you think you just don't have what it takes.

Friends - for reasons similar to family. If you have writer friends - from a writers' group or from school, for example, and you know they can be objective and honest, count them in. But generally speaking, most friends wouldn't be qualified to give you studied feedback.

Sure, they might be able to tell you the story is great, but they won't be able to address your writing - and there's a huge difference here. No matter how great your story is, if it's poorly written, finding an agent or a publisher is probably not in your future.

Coworkers - Your coworkers are busy people. If they get some extra time to read a book, they aren't going to want to waste it on your unpolished, uncut, five hundred page manuscript. If you ask them to read it, they don't want to be rude. But you'll put them in a position of having to not read it and say they did. They'll scan a few sentences in each chapter - maybe even the entire first and last paragraph. Then they'll tell you what a great writer you are. Why? Because they figure anyone who takes the time to write five-hundred pages must have something amazing to share. What coworker is going to toss the manuscript in your lap and say, "Your book sucked - please don't ask me to read another one."

What does the support network do?

If your book is bad or even if it just needs to be improved (and they all need to be improved no matter who you are), your support network is that group of people you can call on to help you fix it. A serious writer doesn't want to be gloated over - we want to know how can we emphasize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses?

Just give me the dirt so I can make this thing the best it can be and get it out the door.
That's the attitude of a serious writer.

Your support network 1) helps you emphasize your writing and storytelling strengths, 2) helps you minimize your writing and storytelling weaknesses, 3) isn't afraid to be honest and direct, and 4)encourages and guides you when you are ready to take the next step on your writing journey.

Who is qualified to be in my support network?

Other writers, of course. Join an active and quality writers' group. If you are in the South Middle Tennessee area, I'm biased toward Living Writers Collective, but shop around and find one that works for you. Make sure they have a strong critique group. Make sure they inspire your imagination through creative writing exercises. Make sure they have a heavy focus in writing education. Make sure they are using current references.

If you cannot find a local group in your area, consider starting one. Network online with members of other writers' groups, and see if they might help get you started by sharing some of their group guidelines. If you are in a rural area where not a lot of writers would be, hook up with an online writing group or join writers' forums. Be careful with online networking - you'll want to research any advice that seems inaccurate.

If you are in college, you have it easy. Writing professors can be great mentors. Fellow writing students can be a tremendous support. There are probably writers' groups within your writing-student pool.

Though mom, dad, and your son's preschool teacher can provide a nice boost to your writing ego, they can't do anything to help you get published. Your support network must consist of fellow writers, mentors, teachers, or other writing professionals. Find these people and hold on tight because they are the on-ramps to your writing autobahn.

What are you waiting for? Your writing destination awaits.

Join me in a couple of days for part five of this five-part series. In part five, I will explore the fifth question on the bullet list above: Have you published anything?

By the way, if you happen to be an exception - a successful author (meaning you've quit your day job) who has never had a network of supportive people, my readers and I would love to hear from you.

Post by: LWC Director, Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

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