Joining a Writing Group


groupLast month in my Top Five Things This Writer Is Thankful For post, I mentioned two writers’ groups: the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. When I first began thinking seriously about this writing thing, I did some research. Ok, I did a LOT of research.

Much of the advice centered around finding others like you in various stages of the process: beginners with only a story running through their heads; people who had novels written but not yet published; those from both sides of the traditional publishing/self-publishing aisle–both brand new and seasoned professionals.

Great, I thought. I live in the middle of nowhere. How was I going to find these people? Twitter has a beyond-fabulous writing community that stretches all dimensions of personality and experience, but I wanted to find people I could connect with in real life too. I learned about the genre-specific groups, most of which have a national–even international–presence. However, that presence does not reach its tendrils to the middle of nowhere. The closest I was going to get was Chicago. Enter Mystery Writers of America-Midwest (MWA) and Sisters i(and Misters!) n Crime-Chicagoland (SinC). I signed up, considering the membership charges an investment in my goals.

A year ago, I was hesitant to attend any of their events. I didn’t even have a completed manuscript. I didn’t know Imposter’s Syndrome was a thing, but I was certainly in the throes of it. (An excellent guest post by Kassandra Lamb on Jami Gold’s blog can help you self-diagnose. *smile*) I finally attended the Chicago Writing Workshop. Several people–including a published author and a small press publisher–encouraged me to join MWA and SinC, explaining that they were helpful for people at any stage of the game.

They were so right.

I’ve since attended four events (two events for each group). All were free, I might add, provided you’re a member, but I can’t even put a price on the value. I’ve found a group of people who are at the same stage, and we stay connected via email. I’ve found two beta readers. I’ve learned about others’ struggles and successes, small presses, the worth of an agent, and the changing landscape of publishing. I’ve networked with published authors and publishers themselves. And I’ve found an incredibly supportive group of people–no matter their “station” in the writing world–who are encouraging and willing to help others along their journeys.

If you are suffering from Imposter’s Syndrome and are doubting your worth, your credibility, your ability, I hope that you seek out some writing groups, whether it’s a general group or genre-specific, whether it’s home-grown that meets at your local library or internationally-known. Don’t be afraid to step out of that comfort zone so many of us writers dwell in! You will likely be pleasantly surprised.

Yes! You Can Be a Writer!

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Who can be a writer? YOU can be a writer!

The first thing I learned from that half-done, now-shelved novel I mentioned earlier this week? 

WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE–and don’t be afraid to do it. Stop asking yourself “am I good enough to be a writer?” You’ll never know until you try, and, chances are, you’re already exhibiting signs. Not sure? Scott Kuttner discusses 12 of them. 

Everyone has probably heard the write-what-you-know mantra, but I’m talking about what books you love. Not just the relatable characters or the author’s unique voice, but the genre. From my ancient, well-loved Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory by J.A. Cuddon, genre is “a kind, a literary type, or class. The major classical genres were epic, tragedy, lyric, comedy and satire, to which would now be added novel and short story.”

Today, we can further break “novel” down: horror, upmarket women’s fiction, dystopian, steampunk, psychological thriller, historical fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, cozy mystery…I could go on and on and on…  

I was terrified to start writing in the genre that has always fascinated me: mystery. Why? I didn’t think I’d be good enough. I mean, when your favorite authors are P.D. James, Dennis Lehane, and Agatha Christie–those are some serious, red-herring-throwing heavy hitters. I’m lucky if I can beat my husband at a game of Clue. I love Sherlock Holmes, but could I even begin to think like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

And then it happened. The stars aligned and the concept for my current project nestled in my brain. I couldn’t dislodge it. I wished that Dennis Lehane would cross my path, so I could pitch him the idea and beg him to run with it.

Alas, Mr. Lehane never showed up in my rural Midwestern town. So I gave myself permission. Permission to try. Permission to acknowledge that while I may never be Agatha Christie, what harm could there by in trying to write a mystery?

What happened next was mind-blowing. I was much more invested in this idea than I ever was with my last project. I started plotting and researching and pantsing (more on this later) on some days. I was excited to write or research in some fashion every single day, despite having a demanding full-time job. It inspired me to finish my author website, to begin this blog, to reach out to others who are not yet published so that we can share our successes and our challenges, to reach out to future readers who would (gulp!) give me feedback.

Essentially, I gave myself permission to believe in myself.

Incredibly successful blogger and writer Jeff Goins pointed out that our hesitations may actually be because “we’re insecure, we don’t believe we have anything to offer, we think we’ll fail.” He also added that “no one’s going to give you permission to be yourself.”

And that’s the point: Give yourself permission. Permission to try. Permission to fail. Permission to succeed. (Need an extra kick in the pants? Read Elissa Altman’s guest post at Krista Tippett’s site, On Being.) 

Readers AND writers, have you ever had to go through this permission-giving process with yourselves, whether about writing or general life-events? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

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