Find Your Tribe

By Laura D Bastian

I’m brand new in this world.

I’ve been a “writer” officially for just over five years. That’s when I decided that the little writing assignments for a class to renew my teaching license weren’t cutting it for me. A simple five page story turned into a two hundred plus page story. And it was awesome! To write. The finished result was very far from awesome, but the feeling of accomplishment when I completed that rough draft was beyond anything I’d felt before.

So of course after finishing it, I thought it would be a piece of cake to polish it up (read: double check for typos) and then send it out to a couple friends and family members to tell me how wonderful it was, and then look online to find a publishing house to get it ready for the world.

Yeah, I was that naïve.

But you know what. That’s okay. I learned from my own experience it wasn’t a great book. It was okay, had wonderful potential, but was just not ready. Don’t know if any of you have had a similar experience, but I would guess some of you have.

I was lucky enough to be flipping through a newspaper as I was getting ready to start a fire with it and I found an article about a local writers group just getting started up in my town. I set that page aside, started my fire, and then went right to the computer to email the contact given.  Cheri Chesley was starting a chapter of the League of Utah Writers in Tooele Utah. Funny side note, now I’m the chapter president of that same chapter 5 years later.

By finding my “tribe” I have blossomed and changed as a writer. I got involved in the monthly meetings with my chapter where we encouraged and supported one another. I found other writers online and made friends and connections with them. I started a critique group right away, and I learned so much about how unready my writing really was from those critique group members. They pointed out passive voice. Pointed out how I had little or no conflict, how nothing exciting was happening until way past the point any sane reader would have put the story down, how the characters were unlikeable or unrealistic, etc.  With that help, I could fix my story. If you do nothing else as a writer, GET A CRITIQUE GROUP. You have to find other people not your friends or family to look at your story and tell you what’s wrong with it. Some can give you exact reasons why it doesn’t work, some will just say, I was bored here, here, and here. But get someone to read your work.

And take your pride, put it in your pocket, and look at their advice. If it really doesn’t work for you, then don’t take it. However, if you find that more than one or two people are pointing out issues with the same thing, LISTEN to that advice.

In the five years I’ve been involved in the writing world, it has changed. When I first looked at it, Self Publishing was a horrible word to say, let alone think about doing. I wanted to go find an agent that would get me into one of the big publishing houses for that validation. And honestly I was a scaredy cat. I didn’t want to do it. I let my friends around me try it out. And by watching them brave this new world, I’ve learned a lot. They had the guts to go out there and make mistakes, but they learned from them and shared their experiences, then shared it with me and other writers in the world. Now, I have plans to go “indie” on a Young Adult urban fantasy series later this year and have a Young Adult Sci-fi coming out with a small press soon.

Now, I’m not saying either route of publishing is better. That decision is left to you to make, but look at your options. Get involved in discussions about it. There are tons of online writer support groups. Go to conferences, take classes, read books, sign up for newsletters from authors you like who give out advice, try new things, but whatever you do, don’t stay where you are. You will never learn and grow as a writer if you don’t make changes. The rough draft is never good enough. It took five years of reworking that story and writing a handful of other ones as I learned the craft to get that first book from horrible – but with potential, to something that was ready to see the world. It comes out next week.


About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.