The Importance of Finding Your Writing Tribe
Writing is often a solitary pursuit. It involves months, sometimes years, of research, planning, and plotting. Hunched over our keyboards like women and men possessed, we tap out entire worlds, oblivious to the one around us. We edit, query, and pitch; a process that can take a few additional years.
I embarked on this writing journey several years ago, finally putting the stories bouncing around my head to paper. After six months, a draft of my very first manuscript was complete, and I was eager to pass it around to readers for feedback. I tried friends and family. All reluctantly flipped through it, saying polite things about the first couple chapters before casting it aside. My neighbor, an aspiring romance author, offered to take a look. Whether it was her southern charm or her desire to keep the neighborly peace, her feedback was overwhelmingly positive, not the harsh critique I desperately needed at the time. True to her romance roots, her feedback also revolved around the love story, a side plot in my sci-fi thriller. Unable to find the feedback I needed, I tidied the manuscript as much as possible myself, and decided to dive straight into the querying process.
This was a terrible mistake.
Often, my queries were ignored. Some received rejection letters. And every once in a while, I’d receive a rejection that explained exactly what was wrong with my manuscript, in painful, heart-wrenching detail. (Treasure these letters. Once the pain subsides, they’re incredibly useful.) It was clear I needed some help, but I was clueless how to find it. Luckily, PitchWars was right around the corner.
PitchWars is a yearly competition where writers compete for a mentorship with published authors. Thousands of hopefuls polish their manuscripts and queries in the hope of being chosen, often partnering with other writers for critiques. Browsing through the #PitchWars feed on Twitter, another thriller writer caught my eye. He was searching for a critique partner to add to his small writing group. Desperate for any writing companionship (and assistance) I could find, I signed on.
Our quartet of writers, which we soon dubbed The Dark Scribblers for our morbid plotlines, was a godsend. I was finally working alongside fellow thriller writers, sharing our ideas and feedback on each other’s manuscripts. I’ve always been partial to quartets, especially those that evoke the four classic personalities, as seen in everything from Sex in the City to Harry Potter to The Ninja Turtles. Our group made use of everyone’s unique strengths. Chris, our youngest member, could turn any ugly, clunky sentence into a masterpiece. Well-traveled and well-read, Katie had a penchant for realistic dialogue and characters that spanned cultures. Glen, our fantasy buff, could tease out world-building details that added a richness and depth to scenes. Collectively, our stories began to blossom.
My own manuscript, battered and bruised from those early rejections, was reshaped into a marketable story. The writing was tightened, the dialogue sharpened, and every character was given a distinct voice. Each Dark Scribbler left their mark on the story, helping to mold it in their own way. All thriller writers, they shared my enthusiasm for action and thrills, and helped me enhance these scenes in ways that appeal to aficionados of the genre. As a fan of Tarantino-style action, one of the greatest joys of joining this group was finding Katie, the one person in the world who seems to love guts and gore as much as I do. We delighted in our scenes of mass destruction, excitedly passing chapters back and forth. The boys’ edits kept us from going off the deep end.
With their feedback implemented into my new manuscript, I headed back into the soul-crushing world of querying, this time armed with the confidence that I was giving my story the best effort I could possibly manage. Within a couple months, I’d received my first offers for representation. I signed with Sky Forest Press, and my debut novel will be published this coming spring.
Without the help of my writing group, I have no doubt that I would still be in the querying trenches, wondering what exactly where I was going wrong. Partners help us see the flaws that our exhausted eyes gloss over, and can point out unexpected ways to make our work shine. Even writers, solitary as we are, need friends.
I'm so grateful for mine.