When I sold my first novel, Dope Thief, I barely knew any working writers. I’d been in some good writing groups, but I found that writing groups or workshops weren’t for me, and I’d been in some really good ones, with compassionate, very professional writers who knew what they were doing. By the time I sold my book I’d been out of touch with anyone from the local writing community for a few years.
As my friend Jonathan Maberry says, “Writers need to know other writers.” It’s absolutely true, and it’s something I’d wish I’d known earlier in the process. I can easily think of two solid reasons to spend time in the company of writers. One is the obvious, craven motive; that other writers can help us in our careers. Reviews, referrals, new opportunities for work or promotion, all of those things come from other writers. The other is subtler, but no less important and ultimately much more satisfying: for fellowship. Inevitably, no matter what the occasion I find myself with other working writers, I find I can relax and enjoy myself more than in just about any other company.
We have the same kinds of experiences, with agents, editors, publishers and readers, we’ve made the same kinds of mistakes and we share a common language. We know the difference between the perception of the writer’s life and the reality, and we know how much effort and time go into all of that ancillary work that isn’t ‘writing’ but is still absolutely necessary. We also know how much personal risk is involved in showing your work to thousands of strangers and then sitting back and accepting their judgment about your abilities. That last part goes pretty much unspoken, but I think it informs a lot of the sense of shared experience.
So, inevitably, when I’m approached by aspiring writers, most of whom work alone and almost in secret (as I did for many years), I tell them to find a community of other writers. It’s a way to get reactions to your work, to talk out the difficulties balancing the day job, family responsibilities and time for writing, and it’s also a way to meet smart, passionate and compassionate people whose reinforcement and support will be meaningful. Sure, it can be an eventual pathway to getting your work into print, but for most of us, having a beer with other people from our tribe is its own reward.
Dennis Tafoya, author of Dope Thief, and The Wolves of Fairmount Park, coming June 2010, from Minotaur Books
Dennis’ post is part of an ongoing series, where Liars each chime in on a burning question about publishing. To read answers other Liars have already given to “what we wish we knew,” click on Marie’s post, Don’s post and Merry’s post. And check back on this site daily for more Liar responses!