A Solitary Profession?

Writing AdviceSo the other day my crit partners and I were talking about odd, encouraging, and discouraging things our editors have said to us over the years. It was a wide range from super-cheerleading to “if you don’t make the changes I’m telling you to make (even though they go against your instincts) then you will never sell another book again ever!” That one shocked me. It shocked us all, and we commiserated about it for the length of several emails.

Then one of my crit partners made the observation that writing has such a reputation for being a solitary pursuit, but there we were, interacting and talking about things. It made us all stop and wonder if the stereotype is still valid.

My opinion? No. In all honestly, it’s not.

Sure, only one person can sit down at a computer, click-clack on the keys, and produce a work of fiction. Only one person can germinate that spark of an idea in their imagination and create a story based on it. But that’s where the solitary pursuit ends.

It takes a village to write a novel. These days everyone from the NYT bestsellers to newbie Indies just starting out know that you need to create a strong social media presence to sell books. Readers have millions of choices of reading material these days and the only way they’re going to find your book is if you go out there and find them. And so we all fumble around with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Instagram, and the social media du jour. We figure out what works for us and what doesn’t to reach that world of readers. In the words of the fabulous Kristen Lamb, we are not alone.

That is, of course, the obvious answer. The rest of the truth digs far deeper than our social media veneer.

Writing a book is hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your fiftieth, it’s a grind. Deadlines, rewrites, and critiques abound. But here’s the thing, it’s not a one-sided conversation. Maybe it was back in the day when people wrote with quills on parchment then sent their beloved manuscript off to a publisher for consideration. Maybe. But even then I suspect there were copyist, consultants, and encouraging family members involved (I’m thinking of the Brontes).

The world moves faster nowadays. It’s easier to fly a story from one beta-reader to another, to get opinions from everyone from family members to old teachers to hired editors. There are a lot more people who slap their eyes on a story these days before it makes its way to readers. Personally, I think this is a good thing. We’re past the days of one or two judges of quality forming an author’s work into something that suits their tastes before putting it out on the market. I think that this makes for a much more varied pool of reading material for people to choose from.

But I still think that the social interconnectedness of authors runs much deeper than that.

Me and one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Boyle, at the RWA Nationals back in July.

Me and one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Boyle, at the RWA Nationals back in July.

I’m not sure how much readers are aware of this, but a large number of the authors in any given genre out there know and talk to each other. We read each other’s work and give opinions, true, but we also sit and chat on a social level. We share ideas—and in some cases pics of hot guys. We exchange inspiration and keep each other informed on the latest trends in everything from genres to jewelry. If the world was one big coffee shop, we’d all be sitting in the cushy chairs in the corner laughing with each other over naughty jokes.

We also pick each other up when we’re down. Yes, negative reviews hurt us, but since we all get them we can all be empathetic with each other when we get them. We also rejoice with each other when an accolade, achievement, or award comes our way. Sure, there’s always a level of professional jealousy—we’re only human, after all—but overall we love each other and will help each other to do better with every books.

We are not solitary creatures. And that’s the way it should be. Sure, a story is a very personal thing, but a career is a shared experience. It’s more possible now than ever before, thanks to the internet, for us to stay connected with each other. The days of the eccentric writer bent over their desk scribbling away in silence are way over. I can’t think of many professions that are more social than writing.

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4 thoughts on “A Solitary Profession?

  1. *Long applause* I agree wholeheartedly! I timidly stepped into the writer community, but now I don’t know how I ever thought I could do this without them.

    And I’m HORRIFIED at the words of that editor. I hope they are no longer in the profession.

    • Not gonna lie, I was a little horrified too. I’ve seen such a wide spectrum of editors though, from those who over-edit to those who under-edit, so I wasn’t really surprised. And yes, writer communities are amazing!

  2. Ha Merry, you literally took the words right out of the dedication I planned for my book. It takes a village to write a novel. Truer words have never been spoken.
    And someone saying you’d never get published again? Ridiculous

    • I know! I’m so alarmed at the things that are told to budding writers these days. All it takes is one look around to know that the publishing, writing, and reading worlds have changed. I think we’re going to see much more variety in the future, all of it selling. But that’s a whole other blog post!

      And I’m happy you’re in my village, Nancy! 😉

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