No, not some piece of faded, lucky underwear I’ve had since 1989 that I don every time I sit down to my keyboard…
What I’m talking about here is support; the kind that only an underwire bra can give.
(Quick aside – how cool is my bra bunting? I KNOW – RIGHT? It’s not what you know but who you live up the road from…)
As a writer, I get support from all sorts of groups and individuals, both online and in the real world. These people make me smile when I want to sob silently into my half drunk glass of Pinot Grigio, point me in the right direction when I’m wandering around aimlessly in the dark, and I’m sure will be the first to pop the champagne cork when things are going my way.
Of course, I can only comment on this from an unpublished point of view, as there is a whole other platform of support when you are published; from agents and editors, to retailers and most importantly readers. But as someone still on the bumpy road to publication I want to talk to you about the support I receive in my writing life.
Creative Writing Courses
Five years ago when the I suddenly knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, there weren’t many people I could turn to for guidance. (A few special people have been there for me from the start but they know who they are.) So I searched for a local group or course in order to connect with like-minded souls and to point me in the right direction. A creative writing course eventually came up at an Arts Centre nearby and it was the first time I met writerly people like myself in the flesh. We had an excellent tutor who covered everything from mechanics of writing – like grammar, to the abstract – like inspiration. A lot of it I knew but some topics had me scribbling down her every word, steam coming from the pen, as I soaked up her superior wisdom. Our tutor was a journalist, so a master at cutting excess wordage, and her red pen taught me many things.
But there comes a point when the best way to learn something is to get on and do it. You can read a car manual a hundred times over, but until you get behind the wheel you will never be a competent driver. Plus, there was the odd person in the group who I wanted to slap around the face. Repeatedly. (These groups really aren’t the place to air your political views and/or turn it into a let’s-talk-about-me session.) If the tutor is not on the ball, certain personalities can dominate, and it’s easy feel uncomfortable about sharing in front of the class. But for me it was a fantastic place to start and my tutor’s support gave me confidence.
I belong to the Scribblers; an informal group of people who met through the creative writing classes, decided we didn’t want to slap each other, and now meet regularly to support and to share. Our meetings have gone from a couple of hours, with no real direction but copious amount of coffee, to a whole day (including a homemade lunch) with a definite structure. We take it in turns to chair the meetings and set the agenda. It is an environment where I feel safe and I trust all the members of the group implicitly. We’re a mixed bag of ages, genders and writing genres – but that makes for a rich mix. We critique each other’s work and, using various online resources, discuss topics such as dialogue, structure and viewpoint. (We even had a fascinating session on writing Haikus.) There are plenty of laughs and I always come away feeling motivated – but it is rather the case of the blind leading the partially-sighted and there have been occasions when we have all sat around the table, scratching our heads, trying to get to grips with the slippery eel that is third-person objective narration.
If you don’t belong to a writing group, either a formal one run by a professional, or an informal one like ours, I would recommend you find one. Or start your own. It is the underwire in my bra.
Family and Friends
These are my number one fans – and rightly so. They want to support me and want me to succeed, but here’s the problem – they aren’t objective. So while my ego might be boosted by their praise, my inner author suspects the short story I showed to my mum might not be my best work. I’m sure some of my fellow writers will agree, this group of people don’t always have the courage to tell you when something stinks, or the knowledge to point out that you’ve written a whole novel with a passive heroine. (*Cough* – not that this has ever happened to me.)
As much as we don’t like constructive criticism, we do need to hear it. It makes us better writers. Everyone has room for improvement. A writing group or a beta reader can gently nudge you in the right direction. But do go to your best bud or your mum on the days when you receive the rejection email or the one star review on Amazon. Your mum, after all, was the one who took out a three page ad in the local paper the day you took two tiny steps across the living room without clinging on to the sofa, farted, gurgled and fell on your bottom. Rest assured – she’ll LOVE anything you do.
By this I mean the online writers I am connected with via Twitter, Facebook and other social media. They support me in so many ways. From the wonderful published authors who have been kind enough to befriend me, pass on their sage advice and answer my naive questions, to the struggling, unpublished friends who have sympathised with my trials and kindly shared the nuggets of information they have gleaned on their quest. And best of all, this online group is amazing when it comes to help with research. All you have to do is post a question regarding ritual virginal sacrifices in 13th century Paraguay, and you can bet your bottom Euro, someone will have an aunt who has written a thesis on this topic and they will happily put you in touch with her.
Virtual write-ins, where participants set aside a particular time slot to write and then feedback their progress, help to motivate me when I’m struggling and feeling isolated – which as writing basically involves me sitting in a room with a cat and a computer – I am. And of course author events, hot off the press book releases and industry news is shared via social media, which keeps me up to date with the writing world.
I’ve made some amazing friends online, some of the very best are people I have yet to meet in real life, but I would be lost without them. We exchange private messages of support (thanks for all the motivational pandas and naked Poldarks in my darkest moments Liz) and share information and resources through online writers groups (thanks Paula). And sometimes it’s merely a private joke connects me to another person (Mary and I sign off to a chinese “Siam Son” after autocorrect misinterpreted “speak soon”) and even though we live a hundred miles apart, it is another person who I am connected to, who understands me, and who is there for me.
So talk to me, lovely people, and tell me who is your underwire bra? Who supports you when everything on your writing journey is heading south?
(Or jock-strap of your writing life for all the fellas out there.)