By Jennie Jarvis
Once upon a time, I was convinced that I had all the answers. I knew everything that I needed to know about getting my work out there for the world to see. Those other writer/directors out there were my competition, and they just needed to get out of my way. All I needed was someone to open up that golden door – buy my screenplay, fund my film, make me money!
Fortunately, that egomaniac grew up, and I learned the most important lesson that any human being over the age of twenty needs to be taught – none of us know everything. True, some of us know more than others (sometimes a LOT more than others), but no one can ever expect to make it on their own when trying to succeed in a creative industry.
At first, I came to understand this lesson in a very academic sense. I need an agent that can help me sell my work. I need a proofreader to help me find my typos. Other writers can introduce me to a new book or recommend a great writing conference. Other filmmakers can recommend a camera that I could use for my next independent feature that I am writing and directing, or they might recommend a great script consulting business.
Overtime, however, I realized that there is a much more important reason to reach out to other writers: Emotional support.
Whether we are writing screenplays, novels, comic books or whatever, the world of professional writing is a hard one. We will live the majority of our lives seeing our work rejected, regardless of how good we are. Even J.K. Rowling spent years on the British equivalent of welfare because of how long it took for the Boy Who Lived to make it to shelves. Regardless of how thick our skin is or how confident we are in our own abilities, sometimes, we just need to hear another writer say, “I know what you are going through because I’ve been there.”
“But-but-but,” you might think. “Aren’t those other writers just pretending to sympathize with you while secreting being grateful that your rejection means that there is one less writer out there that they have to compete with?!”
I may have thought that at one time, but I really don’t anymore. Sure, there may be the occasional over-competitive low self-esteemed jerk out there, but the majority of writers that I know are all looking for the same thing – someone to give them a hug and bring them a cup of tea when they start to doubt themselves.
Since transitioning into novel writing, I found this idea even truer. I’ve been attending a number of different writing conferences, and at each one I go to, I always find writers feeling the same emotions – they all want to be accepted as a professional writer and they all want validation of their ideas and dreams.
I was fortunate enough to find a group of ridiculously supportive writers here in the Orlando area. We meet once to twice a month, and we are always supporting each other’s work. We start each meeting talking about where we are, not only in terms of how far we have progressed in our work (some of us write faster than others, and that’s totally okay), but we also check in with each other emotionally. Do we doubt our abilities? Are we feeling really happy about something in our lives? Are we really impatient because it’s taking forever for our agent to sell our first novels (okay, that’s just me. I’m not a patient person and traditional publishing takes forever). We make sure that we are emotionally supporting each other as well as giving whatever feedback on our creative work.
We are never in competition with other. Even if three of us are working on YA novels, we never see each other as a threat (because there are enough editors out there to publish all three of our books!). The truth is that, even if all four of us sat down to write a story on vampires (none of us are, by the way), each story would be unique because we have three different voices and experiences to bring to our stories. They might be related, but they aren’t competition.
Once I found the love and support that I needed as a writer, I realized how important the idea of community over competition should be to all writers. Since finding that support, I’ve grown so much as a human being as well as an artist, and now I do everything in my power to help other writers as well. I may not have time to read everyone’s work, but I post articles on my Facebook page and Twitter feed almost every single day to help other writers grow and learn. When I attend a conference, I always try to be on the look out for a writer that looks a little lost or in need of a friend, and I try to greet them with a “hello, how are you?” I attend book readings of my colleagues work, and I recommend agents to fellow writers. I give free workshops at conventions, and I always give my personal email address to anyone that might want to ask me questions later.
Yes, I know I sound a bit Pollyanna here, but I think that it’s important to realize that, in being kind to others, you get something too. For one, when it comes time to sell your work, the more that you have given to others, the more that people will want to help you out in return. When I landed my agent, she asked me for my pitch because I was pitching another writer to her (“See this beautiful writer? She totally has a collection of short stories that you would be interested in!”). This led us all to sitting down at lunch, and me making my “lesbian sex” joke that landed me my agent (see my previous blog). Because I’ve taken so much time to develop my platform online in a way that helps other writers, I know that, whenever my book finally gets released, I have a community of people that will want to support me by buying my book.
But more importantly, because I reach out and help others, I know that, the next time I start to doubt myself, they will be there to give me hug (even if it’s just a cyber hug) and encourage me to keep writing. And at the end of the day, that’s what a writer’s community should be about.