Wednesday, April 22, 2015

REACHING UP by Joanna Roddy

Photo by Charles Sharp, courtesy of wikimedia commons

You've heard it before: writing is a solitary endeavor. 

Except that it doesn't have to be.

I mean it's true--no one but you can sit in that chair (or walk on that treadmill, if you're Paul) and write all the words. But don't the great story-tellers sit vigil with us when we do? Don't great lines, great moments in treasured stories echo back to us, even as we create something new?

Yet there's something to be said for reaching out to flesh and blood writers who are further along the path. Call it reaching up. 

My first experience of this was when a member of my writing group met a local author and pitch expert and invited her to meet with us. The author did a pitching clinic, shared her writing journey, and offered writerly advice. We paid her for her time and brought yummy snacks, but we definitely got the better end of the deal. We've done this several times now with local authors who've crossed our paths. They've always been thrilled to do it and the experience has always been invaluable.

When I hit a wall with my first novel, I gathered my courage and asked a couple of authors I know (one a friend, the other an acquaintance) if they would be willing to point me toward good resources. Both kindly offered to meet with me and talk things out, and both took time to close read some of my manuscript. I was blown away by their generosity. The perspective they offered both from their own journey as well as the experiences of other authors they knew set me off in new directions that breathed life into my work and my discouraged writer's soul.

I know that these examples sound a little like lucky happenstance, but I think you can cultivate these opportunities. How?

-Keep your eyes open:  Brainstorm the sage wisdom you already have around you. A beloved writing professor from college? A local author? A friend of a friend? What about the worthy organizations in your area, like SCBWI or a local Writer's Association? Not only do many of these groups offer critique circles, they have seasoned writers at the helm who are passionate about bringing writers together! Even Craigslist can have writing group opportunities.

Joy had an article a few weeks ago discussing the power of mentorship and the willingness of this Middle Grade community to support each other. Don't underestimate the power of your online world to connect you to people willing to take a personal interest in your work. Look for places you might be able to submit your query or first page for critique, or reach out to a favorite blogger. 

-Be ready, be brave: The second step is being open to reach out to these people when the opportunity or the need arises. The danger for many of us is to assume that we would be a drain on the other person, so we shut down the idea before we've even asked. We must be brave and mentally open before the chance meeting or the deep dark funk, otherwise we'll hesitate and miss it. 

-Don't act entitled: On the other side of things, we need to be careful not to accost someone for their expertise. Utilize tact and respect for their time. Don't assume, demand, or make the other person feel obligated. A key phrase to use: "Can you point me to a resource who could help me with ___?" (whatever your need may be). This gives them a chance to offer to help you if they can, or to kick the ball down the field a bit, but still get you closer to someone who can help you.

-Be willing to pay: It should go without saying that people like literary agents, book doctors, and professional editors should not be approached for personal input unless you are their client--be willing to pay them or query them through their preferred channels. 

Writing is hard and often lonely, but most successful writers will tell you they had key players who helped them along the way. You won't know who yours are until you're willing to reach out and find them. 

I'd love to know: Have you experienced helpful input from other writers and how? 

What kind of help would you most like to see our community offer? Query/ first page critiques? Mentoring opportunities? Local meet-ups? We'd love your ideas! 


  1. There have been so many authors farther down the path who have been generous to me. I hope my small efforts with others have been half as meaningful.

  2. I have received so much help and support from other authors. The generosity of the writing community is, quite frankly, mind-blowing/gob-smacking.

    My dedication page, when I finally get published, will need to be as long as my novel itself!

  3. Joanna, I truly believe we can write alone but we can't get published alone. I am so lucky to live in an area rich with writers and authors who have mentored me. There is such a camaraderie amongst writers I have found and a pay-it-forward mentality. I was just asked to endorse my first book and was so honored to be able to pay-it-forward for another writer. Even creating your own writing group can be a way to share a brain collective. I meet with a group each week. We write alongside each other and share advice on craft and industry as needed. Your post list great ways to connect and grow!

    1. Thanks Donna! Being asked to do an endorsement must feel so rewarding!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!