Friday, 5 May 2017

The Value of Community - no writer is an island

We're accustomed to think of writing as a solitary occupation, and so, of course, it is. No one is going to write your words for you, or even tell you what to write. You're up the pointy end every moment.

And yet, membership of a community can have a massive impact on your working life. It is your fellow writers who will share their tips for getting unstuck, their techniques for this and that. It's also your fellow writers who will, hopefully, dish out the tough love when you need it, and call you out on your bullshit. And only your fellow writers understand the particular lonely trials you face. 

But there's more to a community of writers than this, and sometimes, if you're lucky, another writer will start you on a path that works out really well.

This is my own story - a couple of years ago I was writing various short fiction and experimenting with new things. I wrote a short novella called Operation Tomcat; the story was based on a dream I'd had, and I used it to dip a toe into the waters of romantic comedy. I'd always avoided romance like the plague, so this was a big departure for me, and when it was finished, I sent it to my friend Georgie for a beta read. Georgie is a colleague who writes rom-coms, and does it very well; her book,  When Love Feels Like a Pocketful of Snails,  is an absolute delight. 

So far so good. Georgie liked it and was very encouraging, so I felt okay to go ahead and publish. But that wasn't the end of it. I had never envisaged going any further with it; originally, I'd intended it to be a short story, but the story grew into a novella, and that, as far as I was concerned, was that. Georgie believed the book should be the start of a series. And she nagged me and nagged me until I saw her vision. Last year I published the second book in the series, Operation Camilla, and it was very well received, and Operation Badger, the third book, will release on 1 June.

I'm not really a series writer; I've two books in a series which will conclude with the third (the Fiona MacDougall series), but that, as far as I was concerned, was a one-off. But the Operation Tomcat series is great to have. The books are short, as I've stuck with the novella length, so I can comfortably write one in a month, and they're easy and fun to do. This gives me something to fill in the gaps with, between bigger projects, and having an ongoing series is nice for my readership too. It's given me a new dimension in my work, and I truly bless the day I listened to Georgie.

This is, for me, the value of writers' groups. I'm not a fan of spending much time in them; in my experience they can be a dreadful time sink, and moreover, the biggest posters in them tend not to be doing much actual writing, and there's a lot of snark, and a lot of self-promotion, and a LOT of whining. BUT - over against all that, they are a place where one meets some really amazing people. 

So, cherish your writing community, whether it's a Facebook group, a local group, or just a miscellaneous collection of colleagues with whom you're in touch. And contribute. In groups, as in life, one tends to get out about as much as one puts in. Take some time to review that new writer's book. Take some time to critique a passage, or offer a suggestion, or prop up someone's failing courage. The people you help probably won't repay you; life doesn't work like that. But you will see the benefits, nevertheless. And one day, someone like Georgie, with a little well-placed nagging, just might give you something wonderful.

Operation Badger will be available at AMAZON and  SMASHWORDS, and can be pre-ordered from either site.

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