Writers, how often do you read book acknowledgments? No, not the dedication tucked into the front matter. Turn to the back matter. That’s where you’ll find Oscars-level gushing about all the people who made the author’s success possible.
She thanks those who took her manuscript from a Word document to an endcap display. The agent, the editor, the publisher, and the marketing team made her dreams come true. But before any of these professionals even glanced at her work, she had a writing community. They beta read and brainstormed, giving her all the necessary coffee and encouragement.
A good writing community makes all the difference. For prime back matter bragging, your writing needs four people: a cheerleader, a critic, a competitor, and a pacesetter.
Writing is an emotional aerobatic show, complete with flamethrowers and nosedives. This is why the literary cheerleader is so valuable. He’s an unabashedly biased fan base of one. He refreshes you when you’re bogged down. He begs for new chapters, ships a romantic subplot, and gushes over your new story idea.
Here’s the caveat: sharing new ideas can be risky. Even J. K. Rowling is quoted as saying, “I find that discussing an idea out loud is often the way to kill it stone dead.” Many writers have difficulty sharing their ideas, maybe because they took Rowling’s words to heart, or maybe because they learned the hard way and confided in the wrong person. Trust can take time to build, but a good cheerleader recognizes the sparks of adventure. He is there to play catch with ideas to see if they stick. He gives you freedom to play with potential.A good writing community makes all the difference, says @sarahlyoon, especially if it includes these four types of people. #writingcommunity Click To Tweet
As you adjust to the thrill of encouragement, you’ll find a familiar feeling sneaking in. You’ll ask, “Is my work actually any good?” You’ll need to process these doubts in a healthy way, but cheerleaders aren’t asked to analyze. You need another form of feedback. To see your work clearly, flaws and all, you need a critic.
We all have inner critics whom we train to shut up or speak up on cue, but even the most introspective writer needs help finding perspective. A trusted critic exposes your blind spots, hunts your weaknesses, and challenges your darlings.
Giving and receiving critiques takes a lot of practice; you’ll need to test out a variety of readers with small sections of your work. Savvy friends might impose their vision on you, and timid friends might undermine their own judgment with disclaimers. Your critique partners might not jibe immediately, but don’t worry—they need perspective on their feedback just like you need perspective on your story. It’s normal to get critiques that aren’t right for your work. Over time, you’ll learn to discern which edits are worth keeping.
Before you respectfully set edits aside, look closely. Your reader’s comments can tell you a lot about the preferences, habits, tastes, skill levels, and communication styles of both of you. While not all critiques are worth applying, they are all enlightening. Build your storytelling skill set with whatever insights you can glean. And when friends aren’t able to challenge you enough, professional editors can help you find a better way forward.
While cheerleaders and critics shout from the margins, a competitor races through the adventure with you. This role offers drive. Competition helps procrastinators find focus and busy writers find time.
Stakes aren’t only a plotting tool—they’re a writing tool. Competitors hold a very flexible role in your writing community. You can jump into a Twitter word sprint with online strangers, or you can struggle through NaNoWriMo with friends in real life. Opportunities to establish accountability are everywhere. You don’t even need to verbalize the competition; just working alongside a fellow writer can be enough. When you compete together, you get to celebrate successes together.Giving and receiving critiques takes a lot of practice; you’ll need to test out a variety of readers with small sections of your work. #writingcommunity Click To Tweet
Comparing yourself to others is a common hurdle, even in the friendliest competition. So remember: success takes many forms. Measure progress by your own standards. And when you can’t keep up with those around you, there’s no guilt in taking a breather. If you ever watch a marathon, you’ll see people stop to stretch a stitch in their side. You’ll only make it to the finish line if you take care of yourself along the way.
No matter how hard you work, some competitors will pass you by. Though it’s never fun to be left behind, take heart. You have gained a pacesetter, a writer who races ahead into uncharted territory. Maybe she is querying her novel while you’re toiling through yet another draft. Maybe she signed with an agent. Maybe she is gearing up for a book launch. She is the vanguard, battling through an unfamiliar set of struggles while you learn vicariously.
Are you harboring some professional jealousy? You aren’t alone there. And you can’t leave the jealousy to fester. Before it poisons the relationship, close your computer and stop scrolling through her flashy Instagram announcements. Refocus on your own work. Find new competitors. Set new goals. Appreciate the progress you’ve made. But don’t ever forget about the pacesetter.
When you’ve regained enough confidence in your own work to set your jealousy aside, check in with her. Look beyond social media, where she humblebrags about unboxings and signings, and ask how she is handling the stress. Maybe even offer to be a sounding board. If you pay attention, you’ll be ready for any challenge that comes your way.
Be a Community Member
The cheerleaders, critics, competitors, and pacesetters in your community will look different from the examples above, because all four types mix and match. Pacesetters can be cheerleaders, and critics can be competitors. Your cheerleader might even turn into a critic as he practices giving insightful feedback alongside those hearts he draws in the margins. Communities need space to grow and change so the writers can hone their skills and reach new levels of professionalism.
In the mess of it all, writers help writers. You can fill an essential role for the friends around you. Keep the generosity flowing, and you’ll fill the back matter with bragging.
Do you need a cheerleader or a critic to encourage and challenge you in your writing? The Scribe Source has a great team of editors with a wide variety of expertise. Let us help you find the perfect match to bring out the best in your work.
About the Author
Sarah L. Yoon lives in a whirlwind. While her husband, son, and Airedale terrier dig holes in the backyard, she forms creative communities, writes interior design articles for Engaged Media, and pushes her stories to the next level. Her work has appeared in Fathom Magazine and Every Day Fiction. She received honorable mention from Glimmer Train Press’s Very Short Fiction March/April 2018. Find Sarah on Twitter @sarahlyoon and Instagram @slywriter.