(This is part II of a two-part series about keeping up your writing morale. Find Part I here.)
Critique groups are certainly double-edged swords: you can feel relentlessly beat down if the criticism is destructive rather than constructive. Even when the critiques are useful, honest, and diplomatically couched, you can feel irritated and depressed that you haven’t “nailed it” on your novel or poem.
Your first duty to yourself in this regard is to find and cultivate a critique group that is helpful and not abusive (and your duty to your fellow critiquers is to be helpful and not abusive…don’t be the problem). After that, put your big boy britches on and accept the criticism. If it’s substantial, honest, and thoughtfully expressed, it’s going to do one thing: help you grow as a writer.
But besides the obvious benefits of improving your writing, critique groups help with something less apparent: you’re entering the realm of the professional. Only very bad and very good writers toil by themselves. When you throw your hat into the ring by sharing your work with other writers, you’ve made the first leap from “hobbyist” to “writer”.
Sharing your time promoting writing and writers doesn’t help you accomplish your word quota for the day–in fact, can often sabotage it–but no man (or writer) is an island. Writers clubs and professional associations offer myriad benefits that have nothing to do with completing your novel: workshops, networking, publishing opportunities (in the form of anthologies), sharing writing challenges and burdens, critiquing (see above), and innovation (I got my first real glimpse into epublishing through a club-sponsored workshop).
The onus with clubs is that they don’t run themselves. If all the members take, take, take, the club withers on the vine; monthly meetings begin to resemble a late night poker game, with all the members glancing at each other shifty-eyed as they wonder what they can walk away with and not contribute. Don’t let it get to that stage: volunteer to help out, run for office, contribute to the website, man a table at a book fair, whatever it takes to inject energy into the club. You’ll often find that other members are ready to match your contributions with their own. Real synergy results and a thriving writers club is a powerful thing. See my post on Creative Tithing: The Old 80/20 for more.
Like writers clubs, conferences are not directly related to your writing nor your personal success, but the burst of energy you gain by attending the best conferences, workshops, and seminars will carry you through some dark days in front of the keyboard.
Like the rush you get from self-publishing, attending conferences (especially if you are ready and have the guts to pitch a novel or approach an agent) plunge you directly into the field of professional writing. You meet people–many people–who are doing this for a living: authors, agents, publishers, editors. They’re serious, driven, and competitive; by attending, you’re proving you are, too. Amateurs sit at home and whine about the two dozen unfinished novel ideas sitting in the drawer; professionals get off their ass and give it a shot. And I’m being intentional about the word professional: I don’t care if you haven’t made a dollar with your writing, being a professional is an attitude as much as a paycheck.
Besides this somewhat intangible benefit, there are many tangible features to conferences as well: pitching a novel (or meeting agents for the future if you aren’t ready yet), meeting other authors, de-mystifying processes and people, gaining concrete tips at workshops and keynote addresses. If the conference is a regional or local one (New England Crime Bake, Love is Murder, Murder and Mayhem), this is an excellent opportunity to strike up friendships and contacts that you can turn to consistently. The larger national conferences have less of this, but more star-power and perhaps more pie-in-the-sky inspiration.
Well, this entry is a little ironic, but still proves a point: my blog is an opportunity to write, to have that writing read, to promote my work, and to solicit feedback from readers. No one has editorial control over my work and there are no gatekeepers keeping my titles locked away forever.
Although I looked down on blogging at first, I’ve found the challenge of creating and executing two or three substantial posts a week to be immensely helpful to my writing. I think hard about giving value, about connecting to people and not just proselytizing, about making connections and being heard. It’s a distilled form of exactly what I’m trying to do with my novels and short stories.
And every comment, Like, re-Tweet, reblog, Face Book post, and positive mention I get fuels the fire. I don’t need a million followers to make me feel that I’m being heard (though that wouldn’t hurt), each one helps me.
Forget the blockbuster novels and bestseller lists. On the days when writing seems a chore and your enthusiasm has gone on vacation, take a hold of your own future and look for little wins…they’ll soon add up to something big.