Monday, June 12, 2017

Team Building

A few weeks ago, there was a Daily Beast article that made the rounds on creative Twitter. I'm not going to name names, but this is what I typed into Google when I was trying to find when it was published.

Look, there are a lot of issues with this article. Most attention has been given to taking apart the premise that someone who isn't writing everyday should just hang it up and stop trying. I don't intend to retread that ground too much. Yes, having a writing habit is important--for me, it's crucial--but everyone works in different ways, and as long as you're getting the work done, it ultimately doesn't matter if you're writing every day or a few days a month.

There were a lot of smart people who gave some pretty excellent takes on that aspect of the article. Literary agent and blogger Eric Smith (who I had the pleasure of seeing at ALAWW back in February) gave one of my favorites.

The part of the article that bothered me--the part that convinced me to write this post--was the part where the author said that he hated other writers.

I'm not paraphrasing there. "What is certain is that on that same day [when I start writing my novel], whichever one it is, one thousand other people will start their novels. In order to publish mine, it has to be better than theirs. So, forgive me—I pretty much hate them."

I had two initial reactions to this statement.
1. Yikes.
2. That's the most self-sabotaging thing I've every heard.

The article's author isn't wrong on one point: thousands of people do start writing novels, and plenty of them don't finish. But where this goes awry is with the creation of this needless sense of competition. It flat out doesn't make sense. From a reader's point of view, reading one good book doesn't stop me from reading another. That I read one person's book doesn't mean that I won't read someone else's. In fact, good books usually make me hungry for more books. Someone else's success doesn't hurt your own chances, because it's not like there's a finite number of books that will be read. People will keep reading new books as long as there are new books to read.

From a writer's standpoint, I can't imagine viewing everyone else who's trying to write a novel as my enemy in no small part because working with and building friendships with other writers has been one of the biggest factors in my growth as a writer. I've written a couple of times about some of the ways that other writers have helped me. With longer projects, there's always a point where I can no longer see the forest for the trees, and there's nothing better than having another person who's familiar with storycraft to take a peek and see where things might have gone off the rails. Apart from reading and critiquing with writer friends, I've also found my local writer's group to be a boon.

It's not just about having someone else look through your work to help you improve it. Reading and critiquing others' work helps you figure out where some of the common pitfalls are (pretty much all of us in my local group have a hard time with beginning hooks, for example).

And other writers have different experiences. If I want to write a story with a military setting, I know three or four writers off the top of my head that I can go to for advice. I'm not limited to pulling from my knowledge and experience--there are other people who know how stories work who can help me cut through the material I find in research.

On top of that, there's value in listening to people with varying levels of publication experience. I can talk queries with people who've had success. I can hash out the costs and benefits of self-publication with people who have tried it out. I can compare experiences with small presses to find the best fits for my work. Being able to talk shop with other writers has encouraged me to try new things with my process. And some of those new things have made me a better writer than I ever would have been on my own.

Other writers aren't--and shouldn't be--the enemy. For me, writing has always been about community. Yeah, I do a lot of work by myself, but I rely on others that are in the trenches with me.

I guess what I'm saying is: if you want to write, do it. But don't view other writers as your competition--view them as a resource. They're people you can learn from and people you can teach. And that is what's great about it.

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