How to Build A Writer’s Support Network

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a million times: every writer writes alone, but no writer succeeds that way.

The world is not necessarily kind or understanding when it comes to writers.  We’re not even kind to ourselves.  The best way to survive is to build a support team.  Without this team, you can of course continuing writing, make sales, even be successful.

That said, I’ll wager it’s more difficult, more painful, and a hell of a lot less satisfying.  Just sayin’.

Accountability partners.

If you’ve gone through NaNo, you probably know what a difference it makes to have people expect something from you, and to watch other people working.  While the NaNo experience might be traumatic for some (the time frame, the competition, the public word count) the idea of checking in with other people in order to goose your own production is a tested one, and can be very valuable.

The trick is to get like-minded authors — one or two at least — and then set up a time to check in. By like minded, I mean authors who are just as committed to writing as you are.  If only one of you is writing on a consistent basis (or promoting, or whatever) then there tends to be resentments as one person does the work and the other feels gradually more and more pressure.  Better to be “in the same boat.”

As for the check-in themselves, once a week is good.  In a check-in, say what you managed to get done the week before, and what you’d like to get done the next week.  It makes a difference!

Critique Partners vs. Beta Readers.

A critique partner is someone you work with on a continual basis, swapping stories and exchanging critiques.  You can bounce solutions and brainstorm with a critique partner, generally because he will already be familiar with both your story and your style.  The tricky part there is again, to find someone like-minded.

If you get a critique partner, make sure they’re familiar with your genre. I’ve seen too many people get sunk in depression by bad critique advice… like the helpful reader who suggests that a happy ending in a romance is ‘too cliche” and then suggests something more dramatic. Like a death. (Yes, I have had this happen.)

Your critique partners can be your accountability partners, especially if you’re meeting once a week, which can be a good exercise.

Beta readers are simply fresh eyes.  You don’t really brainstorm with them, or necessarily ask for in-depth critiques.  A beta reader is there to help you get perspective.  And I can almost guarantee that at some point in your book, you’re going to need this.

The Crap Continuum.

In teaching my writing classes, and in my own writing, I’ve discovered a very strange phenomenon.   Most writers will go along swimmingly.  Then, somewhere between the midpoint and the end, a strange thing happens.

Suddenly, the writer is completely convinced that the story sucks. Either the premise is stale and cliche, or the plot is disjointed and weak. The characters are cardboard, the words are flat, and the whole thing is, as Anne Lamott would say, “a boring, sentimental, self indulgent sack of spider puke.”

The whole point of beta readers is to act as a “crazy check” when you lose your mind.  Your readers are going to be the canaries in your coal mine.  If they all say your work is craptacular and should be burned…

Well, maybe then, you check in with your final group.

Writing Cheerleaders.

Writing is a weird profession.  As well-meaning as friends and family can be, if they’re not writers, let’s face it… they don’t get it.

Which is why I strongly recommend meeting with writing cheerleaders once a month.  These are fellow writers — whether they’re in your genre or not — who love you and who love writing.

These are friends.  They believe in you, and you believe in them.  Meeting with them at least once a month is a method of self-care.  You feel better, energized, when you meet them.

Note: if you’re meeting with a writer’s group, or a chapter of a national writing organization, and you find yourself feeling depressed and drained afterward — you’re in the wrong group.  Seriously.  Whatever they’re teaching can be learned somewhere that isn’t sucking out your soul one hour at a time.

The Supporting Cast.

There’s the professional cast of characters that act as a support team, as well: if you’re indie published, you’ll want an editor (both high level and copy); you’ll probably work with people on design and promotion; if you’re not technically inclined, it’s worth it to shell out for a formatting person.

If you’re traditionally published, you’ll probably have an agent, a publisher’s editor, possibly a publicist.  These are also very valuable.

But no matter how you’re published, or even if you’re not published yet, the crucial network of accountability, beta readers and cheerleaders can be a game changer.  If you don’t have them, I’d start looking for them now.

If you found this helpful — please share the love.  Re-tweet or post on Facebook.  Thanks!

 

17 Replies to “How to Build A Writer’s Support Network”

  1. My issue as of late has been finding a writer who shares my genre and wants to go over my book, critiquing or beta-ing. Here’s hoping fantasy is close enough to sci-fi for this to go well.
    Enough about me, though. I like the perspective you’ve put on having others involved in your work; a writer really will fare better with support.

    1. That is a tough one. Have you tried ladieswhocritique.com? They’ve got a s/f/f forum, and I’m sure they’d have fantasy readers as well. Also Savvy Authors has a lot of great people, some of whom write fantasy. Or Writer Unboxed’s page on Facebook — I know there are fantasy writers there, I’m friends with at least one of them. And yes — support makes all the difference. Good luck!

      1. I am actually already a member on ladieswhocritique.com, but I’m going to checkout Savvy Authors and see who I can find. I haven’t heard of it before.
        Thanks!

    2. Hi, I am new to all this, but want to get in the game. I have written a ya fantasy and also looking for a supporter. Want the job? Contact me if you do.
      Bye now.

  2. Cathy, as always, great post! I’ve naturally gravitated to finding or creating these types of groups and support teams over the years, but good to see this so cogently presented. I can definitely attest to the accountability group working–and not working when everyone’s at a different place. That said, my accountability partners have morphed into my cheerleaders too and are some of my dearest friends. Same with critique partners. I’ve also found that as I’ve developed as a writer, my critique partners have changed. (Some have to stop writing for various reasons or we all change up what we’re doing, etc.) I’m curious if you have had a similar experience. Others I know have been with the same critique partners for years.
    Oh, and a tip for accountability groups. I would suggest setting up a rule about “no excuses allowed” and staying focused pure and simply on what’s been accomplished and what hasn’t.
    Also, for those needing an extra accountability group boost, I’d suggest this listserv: Club100writers-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Club100 challenge is writing 100 words a day for 100 days. Thanks so much for the post!

  3. Hey! I recognize a few of those groups…they look very, very familiar. 😉

    I would completely agree to the “wrong feeling/wrong group” idea. I think especially in critique partnership situations we may feel stuck just because we volunteered. But if your critique partner never has anything productive to say, or you don’t feel like you are becoming a better writer, you owe it to yourself to get the heck out.

    Great article, Cathy! Thanks for meeting so many of those support network categories for ME! 🙂

  4. It’s funny how these groups can evolve from one great group. You know I’m a big proponent of Writer Unboxed–it’s where we met, after all–but from that group I’ve gained betas, cheerleaders, and friends. Oh, and, last but not least, a great critique editor. 😉

    You’re so right, this crazy-making gig is so much less painful and so much more satisfying with the supporting cast! So glad to have you as a part of mine!

  5. This is a great post! My family is very supportive, but they don’t get it. I don’t know what I’d do without my network. They let me know I’m not crazy, most of the time, and that I can do this. As I’m currently in my ‘Crap Continuum’ stage, we’re having a nice long visit this weekend!

  6. I need all of these people, but I have no idea where to find them. I am just starting the editing process, and I’m basically completely on my own. I only have a MIL saying “but you finished the 1st draft last month. Why aren’t you published yet?” Friends have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ll check out some of the websites previous comments suggest, but I am yearning to find a support network of women’s fiction writers.

  7. So true Cathy! I couldn’t make it without my writing friends/network. Seriously. Only other writers get-it. WU offers a great gathering place for writers to share, learn and support each other, which is why I love it here. Thanks for the-sharing the love/support- post.

  8. That’s so immensely true.
    I adore my critique partners and know I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. And I’ve actually just gone through the – my work is crap – mode. I’ve hit the middle of my MS and readily agree that my plot has holes but I needed a few face-slaps ( not literally ) from my CP’s to get me back to the real world. 🙂
    Look forward to following 🙂
    Jade
    http://www.dreamwritepublish.blogspot.com/

  9. Don’t know what I’d do without my friends, and really, without social networking community – I live in a small mountain town (less than 1,000 full-time residents) and to boot, I’m tucked away in a cove with very few neighbors (and neighbors aren’t side-by-side- we’re scattery wonky). So, “reclusive” is about how I am 😀 . . .

    But there is such a great community of writers and readers out there – in fact, I came here by way of Writer Unboxed newsletter.

    I don’t have critique partners anymore, but I do use at least 2 beta-readers – couldn’t do without em!

  10. As an aspiring writer, thank you for your comments. Like Hiroko, I feel like I’m on my own right now. My novel is currently going through a major revision, so it will be awhile before I’m ready for beta readers or critiquing. I’m also having a hard time pinpointing my genre – romance or contemporary women’s fiction. Here’s hoping this revision will reveal itself and I can move forward with searching for the right support network.

  11. I have been writing for years. I have a manuscript that is at least 15 years old. I published my first book in 2009 through Publish America. I need to make some contacts. No one is buying my book and most would likely think it boring though I feel the content is important for those who enjoy that genre. I’m an open book, no pun intended. I love people. I love God. I want to chat- come see me, sign the guest book, let’s be friends 🙂

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