Finding Your Tribe: A Writer’s Community


, , , , , , , , ,

Writing is a solitary activity. Even writers who work with co-authors, or who break story ideas in a group as part of a television writing staff, must eventually sit down to face that blank page on their own. Beyond the act of getting down the words, however, dwells a wealth of opportunities for writers to interact, exchange ideas and experiences, and enjoy a community of people who understand precisely what it means to wrestle an idea into shape or struggle to ramp up the tension in a scene. Fellow writers read your work and offer constructive criticism, provide insight into where you might research an obscure facet of your story, and share knowledge about the submissions and/or publishing process. Other writers provide your network of both practical information and emotional support; in short, they are your tribe.

Whenever I attend a writing conference, it strikes me anew just how important it is for writers to escape the trap of working entirely in a void. Writers who know other writers also know more about the business, have a better grasp of the publishing process, and tend to have fewer typos and plot holes in their manuscripts. That’s not to say having a writing community means automatic publication and a swift path to bestsellerdom, but it does help writers avoid the more obvious pitfalls along the way, and provides some understanding shoulders on those days when frustration overwhelms determination.

But where do you find other writers? Writing isn’t the sort of career where you necessarily meet colleagues in your office, sitting one desk over. Most writers have other jobs to pay their bills, and not everyone who goes home to a second shift writing stories discusses their ambitions around their day-job’s water cooler. So where to start?

Writing conferences and conventions that revolve around genre writing make for obvious choices, and they come in a variety of sizes and for different budgets. Go prepared to both learn things and socialize. Many events offer an introductory session for first-time attendees, but even if they don’t, you can meet people simply by speaking with the person next to you in a workshop or at a meal. Ask what they write or what they’re currently reading. In a gathering of writers, you have built-in ice breakers. You can even arrange to meet people ahead of time through Twitter using the event hashtag.

If conferences are out of your budget or if travel poses difficulties, check out opportunities in your own town or nearby. Writers’ organizations, such as Romance Writers of America (RWA), have local chapters that meet monthly to discuss their members’ achievements, hear from guest speakers, and encourage each other to reach for their goals, and can offer a ready-made tribe of writers who work in your genre. Writing classes come in all sizes and shapes — from continuing education at the local university or high school to courses offered at the community center or YMCA — and give you the chance to meet other writers in the process. If you want to find a writing group, ask your librarian or at area bookstores to see if they have information about existing meetings, or go to and see if they have a group near you.

The internet, of course, makes a wonderful resource for connecting with other writers. You don’t have to meet face-to-face in order to chat about writing with other likeminded individuals, and many writers work with critique partners or beta readers who live thousands of miles away by emailing back and forth, chatting online, making use of Skype, etc. Online classes can be less costly than those in real life, and many offer the opportunity to read and critique the work of your classmates. Some writers’ sites offer forums, such as this one at Writer’s Digest, where you can post questions, introduce yourself, and chat with other posters. Participate in the comments section of writers’ blogs — not solely to find critique partners, but to become part of the community at large by engaging and offering your own thoughts. Follow writers you admire on Twitter, as well as editors, publishing houses, and other industry accounts to learn more about the business as well as what’s happening in the wider writing community. Even if you don’t want to write a novel in a month, consider participating in NaNoWriMo and getting to know people through their local writing meet ups and extensive forums. Although not everyone will have professional aspirations, there will be plenty of published and hoping-to-publish writers in the mix. As with any social interaction, please use some caution when meeting online acquaintances for the first time in person and start off in a public place.

Building a writing community won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth making the investment of time and effort it takes to develop your personal tribe.

A few additional resources to check out:


Friday Links: Hauntings of All Sorts


, , , , , , , ,

Greetings from Surrey, B.C., Canada, where I’m attending the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. For those of you looking to attend an excellent, all-genre conference in the next year or two, I highly recommend this one. Great organizers, programming to meet a wide variety of interests and skill levels, and an excellent faculty-to-writer ratio.

Just because I’ve escaped to cooler climes (it’s actually autumn here!), doesn’t mean I have forgotten about Friday links. I’ve got a nice array this week, and I hope they leave you inspired and excited to read and/or write this weekend. Enjoy!

Get Booked Episode 4: Haunted by Horror – This is a relatively new podcast from the folks at Book Riot, where they recommend books in response to a few questions from readers, in this case with a great Halloween/horror theme.

How I Got Millayed – A lovely look at how the author became intrigued by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

How Libraries Acquire Books – An interesting peek behind the process.

Margaret Atwood on Vampires, Gene-Splicing, and Talking Turnips – Because my going to Canada calls for an appropriately Canadian author link.

Stacy Schiff: By the Book – The author (most recently of The Witches, about the Salem witch trials) talks books, writers, and influences.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Writing a Novel in 30 Days


, , , , ,

Remember that post about writing a fast-and-furious, no-apologies-needed first draft? NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is the perfect time to exercise your edit-free, crappy first draft rights. For the uninitiated, the idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel between November 1st and November 30th. You start and finish all within the confines of a single month, pounding out words every day — or possibly in marathon weekend sessions where you forget to sleep and subsist primarily on coffee and junk food. (For the record, I don’t recommend that last strategy.) Participants range from published writers attempting to get a jump on a new project, to first-time writers looking to turn off their inner editors, to complete newbies who just think it might be a fun thing to try and are hoping for a really hilarious end product. But for the more serious-minded writers among you, NaNo can be a wonderful way to churn out that first draft (or at least a good chunk of one, since 50,000 words is a bit short for an actual novel) because there really is no time to worry if it’s any good.

So with those thoughts in mind, I’m offering up a few ideas for how to prepare for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Decide what you want to write. I’m not saying you have to outline ahead, but it will make your life markedly easier if you have some direction each time you sit down at your keyboard to pound out your daily word count. Create a few characters ahead, figure out your conflict, and if possible make a list of a dozen or so scenes you know you want to write. They may get cut in your second draft or your fifth draft, but for the purposes of that fast first draft, everything goes in.
  2. Stock up on some healthy munchies. Coffee and leftover Halloween candy will only get you so far. Make sure you’ve got some nice crunchy veggies and dip, fresh fruit, nuts, etc. to grab when you’re running low on mental energy. Also, some easy-to-prepare dinners are great, too, for those nights you’re loathe to step away from the computer. Pick up the fixings for a couple of crock-pot meals, or make a few batches of soup or chili ahead and freeze in individual portions for easy nuking.
  3. Check out the NaNo site and see if there are write-ins local to your area. If you’re the type to do well with a bit of cheerleading, these gatherings for group writing sessions will be right up your alley. You also might meet some new writing friends or pick up a potential critique partner in the process.
  4. Tell people what you’re planning to do. Even if your friends and family are used to you mumbling to yourself about your characters, they might find you vastly different under the pressures of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Let them know you’re signing up for NaNo and that you will likely be pretty busy during November, so they should not count on you for casual cocktails after work or lengthy Sunday brunches.
  5. Do some research ahead. Have you picked some fun settings for your characters? Given them intriguing careers? Hit the library and gather information that will let  you flesh out your descriptions and bring your characters’ experiences to life while you write.
  6. Turn off that editorial brain. Try not to polish any projects those last few days of October leading into NaNo. Get yourself used to just writing full speed ahead. Maybe hang a little sign over your computer or in your writing space to remind you not to edit, and especially not to delete. Plenty of time for that come December.


Friday Links: Readathons, Reading Recs, and More


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Happy Friday! I hope everyone’s had a good week and is raring to go for the weekend. I’m actually in the process of unpacking my schedule a bit, as I feel a potential cold creeping up on me and I absolutely do not have time to get sick. So rather than my current triple-booked weekend, I’m going to tone it down and do something logical, like sleep.

That doesn’t mean the rest of you can’t whoop it up on my behalf, however. One thing I was excited about for the weekend was Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon, which takes place tomorrow, October 17th, starting at 7am Central Time. Those of you who have been reading here for a while know I’ve fallen hard for the readathon concept. As someone who does tons of reading, but frequently can’t carve out time to read purely for pleasure, I adore the idea of setting aside a chunk of time just for that purpose, and a readathon gives me a ready excuse. I learned about this one just yesterday and was all set to put in my full 24-hours, but now I’m planning to be more sensible and just read part of the day. Anyone interested should definitely check it out, though, because it’s a fun way to plow through a bit of your TBR stack.

With that in mind, I’ve got some great bookish links for you this week, along with everything else, and given the time of year, some might just have a slightly spooky slant. There’s something for everyone, so check them out, and have a fabulous weekend!

Why Autumn Belongs to Ray Bradbury – A look at the prolific author and his love of all things October.

10 Female-Written Short Stories Everyone Should Read – A companion to the list of more general short fiction (though mostly by men) that made the rounds a while back. Great selections, including some with a definite Halloween flavor.

What Every Successful Novel Opening Must Do: Myth vs. Reality – A look at some commonly held beliefs about those first precious pages, and some ideas regarding exceptions to the rules.

Man Booker Winner’s Debut Novel Rejected Nearly 80 Times – Marlon James, who just won the Man Booker Prize for his book A Brief History of Seven Killings, talks about his long road to publication with an earlier work.

Why the Printed Book Will Last Another 500 Years – Don’t know if it’s true, but I’m crossing my fingers. Much as I love the convenience of reading on my iPad, I still prefer reading on paper. I’m a fan of books as objects just as much as for what’s between their covers.

Ursula K. LeGuin: Steering the Craft – On writing. The author discusses the new revised version of her classic writing guide, geared especially for the needs of the 21st century.

Should You Be Using a Pen Name? – Great discussion of the whys and the hows, with helpful supplementary links to additional resources.

2015 National Book Award Shortlists Announced – Pretty much what it says on the label. Some of these have been on my TBR for a while. Need to get reading…

Fast and Furious: On Writing the Lousy First Draft


, , , , , ,

I see a lot of struggling writers. I mean that literally. Living in the Los Angeles area means I cannot walk into a coffee shop without tripping over a half-dozen or so aspiring writers pounding away at their keyboards or, more often, staring into space with a slightly pained expression on their face. Many of them are writing screenplays, but a good number are working on novels or short stories or some sort of nonfiction project. They all, however, share that general aura of one who suffers.

No one said writing was easy. This is not an industry that promises overnight success and a hefty bank balance. However, it’s also not digging ditches or lugging heavy platters of food out to grumpy diners or scraping gum off the bottom of chairs at the local elementary school. It is not strenuous manual labor, nor does anyone’s life depend upon it. On the overall career spectrum, this definitely lands closer to the fun end of things.

Writing allows you to mine your creativity, delve deep into your imagination, research intriguing and sometimes bizarre subjects, talk to interesting people, and visit new places, if only in your head. So while you certainly want to take your writing seriously, assuming you’re either aiming for publication or already have a deadline looming, you also want to enjoy yourself.

Take the pressure off that first draft and just write. Get it down however it flows from your mind. Write quickly. Let your fingers fly over the keyboard or scribble with your favorite pen. No one’s first draft is gold; no one’s first effort comes out perfectly worded. Allow yourself to suck. You’ll be in excellent company. And remember that a first draft is just that — a draft. It’s a mind dump. A way for you to figure out what you might be talking about, who your characters are, what the deal is. There’s plenty of time to revise later, to move things around and add and delete, to ramp up the tension, to make the prose sing. Later. Second draft, third, fourth. Don’t worry about those yet.

First draft. Fast and furious. Just write. And smile while you’re doing it. The other writers will wonder what you’ve figured out…

Amy Stewart on Storytelling and Reinvention


, , , , , , ,

Author Amy Stewart got her start writing about gardens with a twist, titles such as Wicked Gardens: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities and The Drunken Botanist. But during her research for the latter title, she came across a story so compelling that she just knew she had to turn it into a novel. The result, Girl Waits with Gun, is her first work of fiction and marks a huge shift in her writing career.

What’s the risk for a bestselling author to switch genres so completely? How did she get started writing about plants and bugs? Stewart answers these and many other questions about craft and the importance of storytelling in her recent interview with Jonathan Fields. This runs nearly an hour, so be sure to set aside some time to settle in for a nice long listen.

Friday Links: Messing with Shakespeare and Other Rewrites


, , , , , , , , , , ,

TGIF! I hope you’ve all had a terrific week, and that you have some excellent weekend plans lined up. I’ll be a the Writer’s Conference of Los Angeles tomorrow, and then Sunday I’ve got some more work ahead of me, but I’m also looking forward to a few hours with my TBR pile.

But first, I have links for you! I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about what makes a story. How much can you change or subtract from a work without making it into something new? If I were to give a thousand writers the same prompt, they’d come up with a thousand different stories. We go to the movies and see adaptations of novels all the time. There’s a recent resurgence of transforming fairy tales into modern novels and movies, giving the old stories a twist or simply updating them for a current (or future) setting. I’ve read a few articles about translating works, and the importance of adhering to not just the writer’s original story but the mood and feel of the language if possible, so the reader-in-translation has as much of the intended experience as can be managed.

All this of course is a lead in to the recent declaration by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that they’ll be getting 36 playwrights to rework the plays of Shakespeare into more modern, understandable language, an announcement that resulted in quite a backlash in both traditional and social media. What makes those plays Shakespeare’s work? Is it the story or the language? After all, many of those tales were reworked from old myths and history and other source material.

This week also saw the tenth anniversary of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, and the release of a new gender-switched version of the book. Many fans are excited about this, but I can’t really say I am all that worked up over the chance to read about Edward and Bella as Edythe and Beau. Does it really make it a fresh story? Someone else will have to decide.

But enough rattling on. I hope I’ve given you a few things to ponder. In the meantime, enjoy the links below, and have a wonderful, productive weekend. Happy writing!

Why We (Mostly) Stopped Messing with Shakespeare’s Language – A review of the history of rewriting the Bard, and why it’s not necessary.

Twilight Surprise – Announcing Stephenie Meyer’s gender-swapped rewrite.

A New Chapter in the World’s Oldest Story – Researchers discovered twenty additional lines to The Epic of Gilgamesh, a small piece of good news in the turmoil taking place in Iraq and Syria.

Before You Launch Your Author Website: How to Avoid Long-Term Mistakes – A few excellent tips.

Fantasy Calendar Generator – Creating a fantasy world for your novel? Use this fabulous calendar to help keep your world-building consistent.

The Writer I Was: Six Authors Look Back on their First Novels The Millions interviews six now-established authors on what it was like for them starting out.

The Uses of Orphans – Why orphans make such wonderful protagonists, and a look at a few of the more popular orphans in literature.

Guest Post: 25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published


, , , , , , , , , ,

Chuck Sambuchino_3covers

I’m delighted to welcome Chuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) of Writer’s Digest Books to the blog today. September 2015 saw the release of three of Chuck’s new books, the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents, the 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and his anti-clown humor book When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide. Chuck has generously offered to do a giveaway. In two weeks, he’ll pick a commenter from this thread at random, and the winner will receive their choice of any of his books. Must live within the US/Canada to receive a print book; those residing elsewhere will receive a PDF e-book. Beware clowns. 

GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED! The winner, as chosen through, is Jayne, who posted October 7th. Jayne, please watch your email for a note from Chuck Sambuchino with information on receiving your book. Congratulations! Thanks so much to everyone who commented, and to Chuck for his great guest post and generous giveaway.

Without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Chuck.

I love interviewing debut authors. I interview them for my Guide to Literary Agents Blog, and make sure to include at least a dozen such interviews in each edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, such as the new 2016 edition. These interviews are very helpful to aspiring writers, because the authors come clean about what they believe they did right, what the wish they would have done different, and other advice for writers.

So I went back to 25 debut author interviews of the past few years and focused on one single important question I asked them:

“Now that you’re done explaining your own journey to publication, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with writers?”

The results are inspiring and fascinating. See below, and learn from 25 writers who have come before you and succeeded.


“Never give up. Keep writing through the rejections, the revisions, the never-ending explanations to your friends about why you aren’t published yet. Keep writing when you hear that other people have gotten agents and book deals. Keep writing, even if it takes you years to finally accomplish your goal.”

          ~Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes

“To paraphrase Jay Asher [author of 13 Reasons Why]: ‘Don’t give up because that NY Times bestseller could be right around the corner!’”

~Constance Lombardo, author of Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars

“Don’t send out your novel before it’s ready. Take your time. If it’s as good as you think it is, everything will work out.”

~Lisa Freeman, author of Honey Girl

“I would say to do more thinking than writing. It’s really easy to get mired in language and sentence structure and sort of lose the forest for the trees. It’s important to really think about your idea inside and out and up and down and all around before penning a word so that you really know what you’re getting at and how you want to get at it.”

~Dev Petty, author of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog

“ ’Ass in Chair.’ Fingers above keyboard. Don’t talk about what you’re going to write—write it.”

~Jeff Anderson, author of Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth

“Find a trusted critique partner to give you honest feedback, and be sure to return the favor in critiquing their work. There is a lot to be learned about the art of writing from editing other people’s work.”

~Aisha Saeed, author of Written in the Stars

“Tenacity is everything. Don’t listen to the people who tell you can’t make money as a writer. They’re well meaning, but they lack imagination.”

~Max Wirestone, author of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss

“Write the book you want to read.”

~Amanda Linsmeier, author of Ditch Flowers

“Be stubborn. I tried 90 different agents before I landed one.”

~Adam Plantinga, author of 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman

“You can turn rejection and disappointment into a serious motivator if you’re determined enough to be published. But you must also understand why the work is not accepted. Have the discipline and subjectivity to look at your work and say, ‘Yeah, that’s not good enough,’ and then sit down and make it better. ”

~Jamie Kornegay, author of Soil

“Work hard, be patient, and become part of a writing community. Get involved in the industry in some capacity—even as a volunteer—to gain a better understanding as to how it all works.”

~Brooke Davis, author of Lost and Found

“‘Never give up; never surrender.’ Or, the longer version: Write. Edit. Polish. Find a competent critique group or writing partner and learn to take honest criticism. If your novel still doesn’t sell, write another one. And another. Write as many as it takes. And don’t be discouraged by other authors’ success—instead, let it encourage you to work harder, write better, and hang in there. Your turn will come.”

~Susan Spann, author of Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery

“Don’t be afraid to ask for advice: if you know someone who has successfully written a proposal, ask him or her if you could take a look at it; if you know someone who knows an agent, ditto.”

~Asher Price, author of Year of the Dunk: A Modest Defiance of Gravity

“Always use active verbs. Avoid passive voice if you can.”

~Thomas Lee, author of Rebuilding Empires: How Best Buy and Other Retailers are Transforming and Competing in the Digital Age of Retailing

“Choose enthusiasm. If you are lucky enough to have more than one agent or editor interested in your work, don’t automatically choose the bigger name or even the most money. Go with the person who loves your book and is dying to work with you.”

~Eliza Kennedy, author of I Take You: A Novel

“Write a great book. The publishing world may be hard to break in to, but if you have a great book, they’ll have no choice but to notice you. And on that note, edit. Edit like your life depends on it.”

~Lindsey Cummings, author of The Murder Complex

“Don’t send your work out until it’s as good as your favorite book. Also, there is no one way to write. Many authors are long-winded and later have to chop a lot of words. I write sparingly from beginning to end and then go back and plump up all the chapters. Do what works for you.”

~Marcia Strykowski, author of Call Me Amy

“Read widely in the genre you’re writing in. And go easy on yourself. Everyone has their own pace. Persistence is as important as productivity.”

~Nancy Grossman, author of A World Away

“Do not give up. If you believe in your work, find ways to work around those impenetrable doors. There isn’t only one way to break in, so explore all avenues. And be kind to everyone.”

~Karolina Waclawiak, author of How to Get Into the Twin Palms

“Wait until there’s something you really want to say.”

~Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending

“It’s cliché, but read. A lot. Anything, but especially current stuff in the genre you write. Find out what’s selling—and why kids like it. Figure out what you like and why you like it. Then write something new.”

~W.H. Beck, author of Malcolm at Midnight

“Do your research. Knowing what kinds of books specific agents and editors like is incredibly helpful. Stay informed. Know what books everyone is talking about. Know what books you yourself love. And, just like any industry, being kind and pleasant to work with, and respectful takes you far. And in publishing, it’s not hard to be kind.”

~Cirey Ann Haydu, author of OCD Love Story

“Read, write, and stay informed. The only thing you can control is how hard you’re willing to work at becoming a better writer.”

~Claire Kells, author of Girl Underwater

“Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your writing out there. Take colossal risks. The publishing world rewards bravery.”

~Brandy Vallence, author of The Covered Deep

“Finish. Don’t keep tinkering with the same book for years. Put it aside and start another one. You won’t improve as a writer by writing the same book over and over.”

~Melissa Lenhardt, author of Stillwater: A Jack McBride Mystery

Thanks again to Chuck for sharing so much great advice. Don’t forget to leave a comment in order to enter the giveaway. A winner will be chosen in two weeks, and will get their choice of any of Chuck’s books. Must live in the US/Canada for a print edition; those residing elsewhere are eligible for a PDF e-book edition. Good luck to all!

Happy Book Release! ROCK REDEMPTION by Nalini Singh


, , , ,


A very happy book release day to Nalini Singh, whose latest novel in her Rock Kiss contemporary romance series, ROCK REDEMPTION, is now available. A bad boy guitarist and an up-and-coming actress. Sounds like a match made in heaven, right? Or at least in the media. But Noah St. John already crushed Kit Devigny’s heart once, stomping all over their friendship in the process. Can she survive another go? Buy ROCK REDEMPTION today and find out.

Friday Links: Setting Writing Goals and Leveling Up


, , , , , , , , ,

Happy Friday! It’s been a ridiculously busy week, as evidenced by the crickets chirping around here, but I have several things planned for next week that I hope will make up for the quiet.

As I mentioned last week and a few times on Twitter, we’re into the final quarter of the year now, so it’s a great time to reassess your writing goals if you haven’t had the chance yet. It doesn’t need to be a big deal. If you made goals for the year, pull them out and see how you’re doing, where you might need to focus more time or effort, or — if you’re ahead of the game — change things around a bit to give yourself a challenge in the coming months.

If you didn’t make goals for the year, even easier. Think about where you are with your writing and what you would like to achieve before 2016 rolls around. Keep in mind holidays and such make this time of year busy, but don’t just let yourself off the hook and think you can procrastinate on all the big stuff until January. Break things into bite-sized pieces and figure out what you can tackle now, even if it’s just an aim to write a little each day. And don’t forget that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming in November, a great way to recommit to your writing.

To help inspire you, I’ve got this week’s links, a broad range I hope you find intriguing and entertaining, and that might give you some ideas on how to level up with your writing. Enjoy, and have a wonderfully productive weekend!

Anatomy of a Discovery: How a Literary Magazine Editor Finds New Writers – Some food for thought for those of you submitting shorter work to the lit mags, or considering it.

53 Wonderfully Pointless Facts about the English Language – For a chuckle.

My Paradoxical Quest to Build a Personal Brand – More food for thought. Ever more pertinent, whether you’re writing novels or freelancing or just designing your blog.

Immigration, Dislocation, and the Search for Home – How immigration and the economy have affected one writer’s work, and outlook. Another good argument for reading diversely in a global sense.

Win a Writer’s Retreat in Iceland – Details for a scholarship covering flight and attendance to the April 2016 program.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 986 other followers