The not-so solitary writer

Dear reader,

Yesterday NaNoWriMo published a wee blog post I’d written for them. The only thing they chose to edit out was my mention of ScriptFrenzy, an old event that asked people to write a 50 page script in the month of March. I’d like to think they are just still too heartbroken to even think about it. Anyway, since that post was in the form of a postcard, and this one refers back to it, I thought it fitting to have this one addressing you directly as well. Hope you don’t mind.

I’ve been thinking about some of the comments the post has received on Facebook, especially in relation to my previous post about critique groups, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the myth about writers being solitary creatures is not only wrong, but also potentially quite harmful. (Most) writers, in fact, need lots of different groups of people around them.

As discussed previously, it is good for a writer to have critique partners, who read through your work and tell you honestly and helpfully what they would like to see improved, or what just doesn’t work for them. It is the best way you can improve your writing enough to get it published. But this is only one kind of support group. There needs to be at least one other group in a writer’s life: the cheerleaders.

The ultimate solitary writer, with the worst kind of cheerleader

If you are lucky, maybe you have uber-supportive parents or a great partner, and that is all the support you need to reach your goals. If you don’t have this built-in support system, a writers group can make all the difference. This would not be a group that reads what you write and criticises it (although members of the group might do), this is a group where you go to and say, “I will write 500 words a day”, and then the next time they see you they will ask, “Did you?” and either you say “No” and they will commiserate, or you will say “Yes” and they will celebrate. No judgement, only support.

I realise that everyone is different. Some people don’t need an extensive support system, some people work better with being punished, some people work best by rewarding themselves with chocolate. Looking at the writers I follow on twitter however, I don’t know a single professional who can actually stand to be alone all of the time, to do nothing but write all day. Because in your room, sitting behind a computer, that’s not where stories happen. You need to go outside, to be inspired, to give your creativity fuel to keep itself going. And you need other people to talk to in order not to go insane, in order to get some encouragement or commiserate with each other.

So, dear reader, and probably aspiring writer, I tell you this. Get yourself a group of writers willing to look at your story and critique it, but more importantly, find yourself a group of writers who are willing to support you and talk booky with you, and in turn support them. This can be in the city you live, online, or any combination thereof. You may come across groups that enjoy being negative about each other’s efforts, and feel that that somehow pushes people to do better (mostly it just helps protect their own feelings I assume). Avoid these groups if possible, try to transform them into a positive support network if necessary.

Whatever you do, don’t believe the stupid myth that you have to cut off all communication with the outside world in order to be able to write a novel. Writing and trying to get published is not something you do in a week, or a year, or maybe even a decade. It takes a long time, which is why the people that surround you and are going through the same journey with you can make a huge difference. Everyone wants to quit sometimes. Having a community of understanding friends around you makes it so much harder to give up, and so much easier to get to the next step on the writing/publishing ladder.

As with all things in life, there has to be a balance between bleeding your heart out on the paper/screen, and recharging your creativity/enthusiasm/imagination with others. What do you think?

Hope your writing is well,

L.B.

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If the world goes to hell, fantasy lovers would do well

“Why don’t you do something useful with your time?”

This is a sentence that many fantasy readers, and certainly writers, must have heard growing up. And yet, if ever there is a disastrous event that puts our civilisation back at square one, those people will be glad to have fantasy enthusiasts in their corner. Of course fantasy enriches our lives as they are, encouraging creative thought while letting us escape reality, and often teaching us about concepts such as morality as we follow the main character’s journey from doubter to hero. But that has been well-researched and discussed in the past. What this article focuses on is the grand potential that lies within fantasy lovers, waiting for a catastrophic event to reveal itself.

Since fantasy readers have had their imaginations tested throughout their lives, we will be mentally prepared for a completely different kind of world. I’m not saying we’d shrug, mutter “Well this was only a matter of time” and grab our survival packs, shooting anyone who gets in our way. But fantasy lovers would certainly be among the least shocked. We will know the new world, because we will have inhabited similar ones in our minds, through the words on the page and our own imaginations. We will rally, as we have learned from Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Ged, and many other such heroes dealing with impossible adversities. Just like those main protagonists whose lives gets uprooted, we will not break down and cry, because we know that the whiney, useless characters almost never make it to the end of the book. Instead, we will focus on staying alive, finding food, finding shelter, even finding a safe haven so we can continue reading.

amazing painting credit: holyblasphemy.net

Totally prepared for any eventuality

All of the social awkwardness that forms the cliched image of the fantasy ‘geek’, that will no longer matter. Etiquette is thankfully the first thing that goes out the window when society breaks down, and in its place will have to be brutal honesty. We will know from endless experiences with foreshadowing who we can trust, and who needs to be left behind. After all, nothing sticks in your mind like shouting at a book because the protagonist is clearly trusting the wrong person and getting themselves in serious trouble. The groups that form, maybe from groups of friends that you already have in your life, will be stronger than ever. They will have to be. And hopefully we will be wise enough to bypass the awkward phase where a group of friends thrust together in the name of survival first distrust each other for no reason except to create tension and extraneous trouble, and no one would have to die a heroic death in order to redeem themselves.

Our leaders will be the fantasy authors. They have a lot of experience herding people through all manner of bad situations, even if they may cause those situations in the first place. They have often done a lot of research into various means of survival, to know if what they make their people go through is realistic, and into death, to make sure their characters are able to protect themselves, and into many more things that probably puts them on some government watch-list somewhere. Most importantly, they are able to see the big picture. Fantasy authors are the gods of their universe, even if they sometimes feel like they are not in control of what their characters get up to. As such, they are able to see what needs to be done and order people around even if that means putting them in bad situations. They might be cruel, but they are also effective, and in the end they hope and believe along with everyone else that the good guys live and win. Except maybe George R. R. Martin.

Some fantasy lovers will find themselves plucked from obscurity and become great warriors or thinkers or cooks, like Alanna the Lioness, Christopher a.k.a. Chrestomanci, or (Bel)Garion. Others will have developed skills in their life that may only be called upon after the end of the world. Prominent geek and all-around awesome human being Nathan Fillion has once said that he’s learned welding specifically so he can be the skilled person in a group of survivors, the one that will need to be protected, even if it means other people in the group have to die instead. Those of us who haven’t had such foresight and don’t develop into heroes might even become those people that sacrifice themselves in order for the more skilled survivors to have a chance to keep humanity going. Or not, since we are all the protagonists in our own live’s stories, and would generally prefer not to get horribly murdered…. Maybe I should find something useful to do with my time aside from fantasy after all, just in case.

Sure, the world may never have to fight off magic, aliens, or an army of orcs, but regardless of the challenge one can be sure that those of us with fantasy in our brains and in our blood will be able to think flexibly, adapt, and deal with things head on.

[P.S. This is an article I originally wrote for another website, but since I never heard back from them I figured it’s safe to just post it here now]