The Benefits of Friendship

I head one of the local SCBWI critique groups in my county for Young Adult and Middle Grade authors and, friends, I must confess I feel a little guilty. Sometimes, this group seems like the L. Ryan Storms writing self-improvement hour. I get SO. MUCH. from my dear friends and our talks about what elements make a piece work or why a certain chapter maybe doesn’t work.

Is it difficult? It can be. It was definitely more difficult in the beginning when I realized I’d never shared my work in person before. (Also, I’m an introvert. Did I ever mention that? Once or twice maybe?) But as time went on, my nervousness disappeared and I began to look forward to the feedback offered to me by these kindred spirits who shared my love of stories and all things story-related.

Our group is fairly easygoing when it comes to the rules, but the general idea is:

Share your work if you have something to share. Give useful, critical feedback on others’ work (no breaking spirits allowed). And brainstorm together when it comes to what we like about a piece, who the audience is, where we think the storyline should go, or how the author can make it better.

I have been so very lucky to know such talented, thoughtful individuals who are willing to read a chapter of my work each month and tell me all the things I need to hear. The good things. The not-so-good things. Because without them, I’d be lost when it comes to catching my crutch words and phrases, my overused actions, my annoying, sarcastic main character (who is a bit of a bitch, tbh), her tendency to overreact from time to time, and the annoying boy love interest who, honestly, isn’t mad enough at the world around him when he should be.

I digress. Without my dear SCBWI group, I’d be lost. I interact with at least a few “lost” writers on Twitter every week, those who aren’t sure if their material works, who feel like they’re embarking on this crazy journey alone, who cry and threaten to never write again, who fear they’ll never be as good as, as talented as, as successful as… (insert famous author name here).

My biggest advice to them is:

Find your people.

There’s so much more to explore in the craft when you do it together. There’s so much more to learn, to unravel, to dissect and put back together when you have a posse. Find your posse. Find your people. When you do, the possibilities open wide.

But Storms, how do I find my people?

Good question. For me, the answer was partially on Twitter, where I interacted with strangers who became friends over the course of both time and multiple in-person meetups and conferences. And the answer was also to join a professional organization like SCBWI to interact with others who were writing in the same age categories. I attended a meet-up or two, met a few members, volunteered to start my own critique group because none of the times/days of the other groups worked for me, and met even more amazing writers at all stages of the game.

Some were traditionally published, some independently published, some agented, some querying, some just beginning to test the waters by admitting publicly (gasp!) that they write. And therein lies the beauty of the writing community. I’ve never met a community so open – so willing – to help others along the way.

The answer is not necessarily to join SCBWI. (Though I would argue that this move is infinitely beneficial in ways too numerous to count. If you write for children or young adults, join SCBWI. Do it.) There are dozens of other professional writing organizations out there. The key is to find what works for you and jump in, whether you think you’re ready or not.

Keep learning, keep growing, keep reaching out to writers you know and writers you don’t. Read works by published authors. Beta-read manuscripts for unpublished authors. Offer valuable feedback, and get feedback on your work. Writing is a lonely craft, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely life. Friends are everywhere. Just hit that ‘Follow’ button.*

Look at all those amazing writers (and readers)!

*Okay, for real, only follow writers you want to interact with. Don’t follow creepers. Don’t follow horrible people. Don’t follow people who look like they will DM you ‘hi pretty lady.’ Don’t follow bots. Don’t follow everyone for the sake of numbers. Find your people. Now go!

Owning It

A large part of succeeding as a writer boils down to your willingness to put in the time. Can you accept sitting at a desk, dreaming up worlds, typing (or scribbling) the words, and getting it done? The answer to these questions has always been a resounding yes for me, but I tend to fail when it comes to putting in the face time.

I did just that this weekend. I put in the face time and met dozens of wonderful writers and agents and editors at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC. It was fabulous. I participated in PitchSlam, in which authors are given one hour to pitch as many agents as they can in three-minute segments. (Truly, it’s any introvert’s nightmare.)

But you know what? While I was nervous going into my first pitch, it melted away quickly. Why? Because I discovered something as I delved into conversation with these agents. I found myself admitting something surprising. Out loud.

I love my book. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the interactions and the quirks and the personalities. It was a fun book to write and I had fun writing it! And when you enjoy your story, I think it shows. You start to enjoy talking about it and telling people why it’s something they’ll want to read…which makes it a lot easier to pitch.

Proof? I pitched 6 agents and all 6 made requests for partial manuscripts (requested lengths varied). This may or may not result in progress moving forward, but that’s not the point. The point? When you love your work, it shows. 

Writers. Friends. I have one piece of advice for you. LOVE YOUR WORK. It’s yours. You wrote it because you loved it. 

Now own it.

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So many fabulous writers. Dinner on a Friday night.

All In.

Before kids, my husband and I each had a full range of hobbies to fill our time. (Amazing how those hobbies dwindle when parenting takes precedence!) Back in 2005, my husband went deep into the world of online Texas Hold’em and enjoyed throwing live poker parties (with real cards, real chips, and real stakes) at our house once a month. I guess it was a good thing that he was always good at it, or I would have lost my mind in addition to our money. Personally, I’ve never been one to understand a gamble. Why in the world would I put my hard-earned money on a bet, with no certainty that I’d make any profit? I’ve always preferred the solid return on investment that comes with hard work and dedication.

But sometimes, just sometimes, life’s about taking a gamble. So I paid my registration fee and I’ll be at the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop this Saturday, learning from other writers and getting tips from agents and editors. This is a big deal for me for a few reasons.

1. I’m a major introvert. The very idea of going to a city I’m not all that familiar with is daunting in and of itself. (New York is the exception to this rule. I don’t care how loud my anxiety screams, I will always be ready for a trip to NYC. Because really – theater, art, culture.  Need I say more?) Generally speaking, though, just having to navigate the public transportation system to get myself to a specific location in a major city sets my heart into irregular palpitating thuds. To top it off, I’ll be around people (a lot of people) all day long.

2. Big Changes. Attending a conference means that I’ve crossed over from treating writing like a hobby and a dream and started viewing it as an honest career. To be fair, this is the second conference I’ve planned to attend, but this one is much bigger than the last one! It’s a big change in mindset and one that’s necessary to being successful as a writer. After all, if I can’t treat myself seriously as a writer, how can I expect that anyone else will?

3. Forgoing Reward. Go ahead. You can read it again. “Forgoing reward.” As I write this, my dearest husband is on an all-expenses paid trip in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, a trip I should be enjoying with him. Instead, he took a fishing buddy. Why? Because part of being dedicated to writing is committing myself to the job. I booked the conference before we knew about the trip and I’ve committed. So he can go right on and enjoy the amazing Caribbean cooking at the all-you-can-eat open air buffet, sip his strawberry daiquiri made with rum too high quality for US import, and snorkel in the crystal waters to his heart’s content. I’ll be too busy tackling a dream to think about the Caribbean. (And maybe I’ll just stop at the liquor store for some daiquiri ingredients on my way home.)

4. Pitching A Manuscript. As icing on the cake—I’m pitching my book to agent Eric Smith of P.S. Literary Agency in person, someone I’ve been following on Twitter and admiring for months now. If I’m honest, it’s turned into borderline stalking. (Eric, I’m sorry! I love your tweets!) And part of the reason for my extreme nerves here is that Eric is not only a literary agent who’s constantly championing his authors. He’s also a YA fantasy author himself, so he knows the genre and he knows exactly what he likes to see in the genre. So, you know. No pressure.

So that’s it! I’ll be one big ball o’ nerves until it’s all over Saturday night, but it’ll be worth every minute! I’m pushing my chips to the center of the poker table and calling out, “All in!”