“Moving ahead, though, this is a good time to talk about where to connect with other writers, how to use social media, the benefits/drawbacks of face-to-face, what to look for in a group, workshops — which ones, pitfalls, etc. And how to use technology like the internet and digital publishing (and why you shouldn’t). Any of these spark ideas?”
Doranna Durgin: I admit, the scope of this question was a little daunting. How many of us have really figured out the answer to all these questions on our own? Not me!
But I have an approach to figuring them out, which is maybe the next best thing.
Actually, it’s going to sound too simple: Figure out where you want to go. Figure out what you need to get there. Choose to do those things.
Ha ha ha ha!
Ask yourself ALL the questions! You may still have to do some eenie-meenie, but questions should winnow things out so it’s not all just one big overwhelming mass.
Also, there are many opportunities for connecting with others of a writerly bent. Do you want something local, or online? What are your goals for connecting—are they social, or are they educational? Can they be met by writers of any experience level, or only those well along their career path? Can they be met by gathering as a reader, with readers?
What are the downsides to any of those choices?
The thing is, sometimes we don’t know.
Social media platforms change. The software around engaging with them changes.
Writers’ groups wax and wane with the participants’ real life obligations and their evolving writing paths. The value of our choices (to us) changes. This can be hard to acknowledge once one has invested time, energy, and emotion into a situation—I for one am particularly guilty of lingering when I should move on—but it’s important to perceive when a thing that should be supporting your writing is actually taking from it.
So Part Two of the simple approach is this: Maintain reality checks to adjust outreach choices as your experience grows.
Our initial choices don’t need to be perfect—there’s no way that all of them are, no matter how thoughtfully we proceed, so the need to adjust a decision isn’t a fail. In fact, it might well be a nice indication of progress and growth. Cool!
So Part Three of the simple approach is a reminder that decisions made/actions taken count as moving forward even when they aren’t perfect. Endless sit and spin…well, that’s just sitting and spinning.
So figure out your personal goals—your goals, not what everyone says should be your goals or what they’ve all chosen as goals–and go for what meets them. And then pat yourself on the back.
Doranna Durgin is an award-winning (Compton Crook–best first SF/F/H of the year) whose quirky spirit has led to an extensive and eclectic publishing journey across genres, across publishers, and across publishing lines. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and highly accomplished competition dogs. She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…
Denise B. Tanaka: Do I still have what it takes?
Once I heard an anecdote about someone tearing down a spider’s web every day. The spider would come back to the same spot to recreate the web, and the person tore it down again and again. After a while, the spider rebuilt the web less perfectly, with gaps and irregularities, until finally the spider stopped rebuilding the web altogether.
As a writer, I have put my manuscripts through the meat grinder of critique groups and workshops at conventions. For a long time, I welcomed harsh comments because I believed it was necessary to develop a thick skin. I used to invite lengthy brainstorming sessions and I boldly gutted my manuscripts in rewrites. I endured the pounding because I assumed it would make my writing better.
For years, I was starry-eyed optimistic about getting published. Surely all the anguish of workshops and critique groups would pay off, right? I studied all the advice of how to write sparkling query letters. Before there were email submissions, I was a frequent visitor at the post office. And I stacked up piles of rejections. Small press. Big 5 houses. You name it, I’ve been rejected by it.
The meritocracy myth consumed me. I wrongly believed that if my writing was “good” that a publisher would snatch it up from the slush pile. I wrongly believed that all these rejection slips meant that my writing was “bad” or that I had no talent, that I did not deserve to be one of the chosen few. Disheartened but not entirely discouraged, I kept writing more and more manuscripts in my original universe. I told myself that if one book didn’t sell surely another character’s adventure could. I kept workshopping and writing and rewriting in a mad frenzy.
Then came the day when I got suckered by a predatory vanity press. Briefly I felt the euphoria that, at last, someone wanted to publish me! Until I learned there was a price to pay. I fought to rescue my manuscript from their clutches and managed to come out intact. But that unhappy experience wiped the glittery stars from my eyes. I glimpsed how marketing people at the vanity press and at big publishers alike view books as a product, and how they viewed authors as a marketable commodity as well. I started paying attention to marketing/promotion advice. I learned a harsh truth—that I wish I knew years ago—that publishers reject manuscripts for reasons other than the quality of the writing. I viewed an online seminar where a former slush pile reader for Penguin Books talked about her sadness at rejecting beautifully written books solely because the author did not have a social media platform. All the years I spent worrying about my adverbs and passive voice, I should have concentrated on increasing my number of Twitter followers?
Now I am at a crossroads. With a new perspective on today’s publishing landscape, I want to salvage the half a dozen novels that are gathering dust on my hard drive. I want to explore self-publishing as a means regain my sense of agency in achieving my lifelong goal of holding a published book in my hands.
My question is whether or not my writing sense has been battered by the years. Did I allow workshops and critique groups to chew my stories to a pulp when they may have been all right to begin with? Did I throw the baby out with the bathwater in my compulsion to rewrite, in the hopes of overcoming a slush reader’s rejection? Am I discouraged? Am I jaded? Am I ruined? Is it too late?
Denise B. Tanaka is a lifelong writer of magical beings and fantastic worlds. Her short stories have appeared in SQ Mag, New Realm, Once Upon A World, and her latest story will appear soon in the AlternaTEAS anthology edited by Elizabeth Gilligan. By day, she works as a paralegal in the challenging field of immigration law. In her spare time, she creates historical and fantasy-based costumes. Her live spin transformation Diana Prince-to-Wonder Woman costume won Honorable Mention (Journeyman) in the masquerade at Sasquan the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. Find her at www.drobarge.co/ and on Twitter as @DeniseBTanaka