You’re a writer. Time may be your most precious commodity, but your strongest asset is… people. That’s right. Even the lone writer needs people to make things happen. We can’t do this on our own. So why is it that this valuable asset–this community of twin souls–is often the first thing writers ignore or let go by the wayside when the going gets tough? Here are five lessons I learned in my writing journey. I learned these lessons either the easy way (by following them) or the hard way (by trying to ignore… and failing miserably).
1) People like to help. Let them.
I’ve assembled the new DIY MFA team and will be introducing them soon. What blew me away this time around wasn’t just the sheer diversity of talent in this group, but the passion and excitement. These team members are volunteering their time to help me build DIY MFA, because they truly believe in the program. Every single one of them said something to the effect of: “I’m excited with how DIY MFA is growing and I want to be part of it.”
When you hit the wall on your book and you need “a little help from your friends,” just ask. Our culture seems to frown on this idea of asking for help, as if it goes against that sense of personal independence and individuality we hold so dear. Nonsense. The smartest people are the ones who recognize their flaws and surround themselves with people who fill those gaps.
2) Be alert. You never know when you might meet an ally.
I’ve met writing allies everywhere: at conferences, in writing classes, while volunteering with elementary school kids… the list goes on. I once met writer at a candle store, who became my student. I asked her for an opinion between two candle scents and the rest is history. I met my mentor at a conference because I went up to him after he gave his talk and asked a question. You never know when you might meet someone who will be a huge asset to your writing life, so be on the alert.
When I meet people and have a conversation, I always ask for a business card. Often, I’ll jot down a note or two on the card of things I talked about with the person and ideas for following up. I store my business cards in a notebook and always have it handy by my desk.
3) You don’t need a ton of people to champion your work. You just need the right people.
I recently read a blog post by someone who was thanking the people who unsubscribed to his list. The logic was that if people who weren’t truly engaged unsubscribed, that made it so that the list was more likely to consist of people who were engaged and reading the newsletter. Don’t get me wrong. I always get that tiny pang when someone unsubscribes (the way I’ll probably always get a tiny pang when I get rejection letter of any kind) but I see that author’s point.
In the end, it’s better to have one true fan than a dozen so-so fans. Why? Because that one true fan is the one who’s going to tweet and Facebook share and write an Amazon review and otherwise champion your book. The same way that when I believe in someone’s work, I want to share it. I want to tell people how awesome it was because then I’ll seem awesome for just knowing about it. It’s win-win really. Find those true fans to champion your work, and the rest of them… live and let live.
4) Be passionate about your work and others will be passionate too.
Right now it’s 3:45 AM and I haven’t gone to sleep yet. Part of it is a feverish baby who’s been fussing off and on all night long. But mostly it’s because the idea for this post lodged itself in my brain just as I was drifting off to sleep and suddenly I was wide awake, writing the words in my head. I finally gave in, came to the office and got them down on the computer, if anything so I could quiet that monologue in my brain.
I don’t usually share my more eccentric work patterns. But if you look carefully, a lot of my Facebook action happens between 2-4 AM, or I respond to emails at the crack of dawn. Most people don’t notice, but the truth is, my brain is wired with DIY MFA 24/7. The truth is, I’m never happier or more excited than when I talk about this project, and in the end, that passion is contagious.
Be passionate about your book. Don’t tell people how hard it was to write it or how long it took, or how the publishing industry is out to get you because no one has responded to your submission yet. Instead, talk about what made you fall in love with your book in the first place. Share the things that make you passionate about the project. Your excitement will infect your listeners and they’ll be dying to learn more.
5) Do not underestimate the power of positive energy.
I attended BEA (Book Expo America) in June, and observed a few interesting trends. The large sprawling booths (mostly Big 6) were a zoo, so it was enough just for me to get in, say my pitch, get some business cards of key publicists and get out of there. The smaller booths were quieter and it was in those booths that I was able to have an actual conversation with authors, editors and publicists. In these conversations, there was a lot of “how can DIY MFA work with your imprint so we can help each other?”
All but one of the booths I approached were friendly, open and exuded positive energy. That energy was infectious so I picked up on it and responded in kind, leading to exciting connections. My interaction at the one negative energy booth led to my getting screamed at because I had the gall to inquire after the possibility of doing an author interview. I cut the conversation short as graciously as possible and walked away. I realized later, as I walked down the aisle past that booth again, that there was a reason that booth was often empty of customers. Negative energy is like people repellant.
It’s all about building community.
In traditional MFA Programs, the community is already laid out. You have your workshops, your readings, your meet-and-greet mixers. The community is already there and all you have to do is join. When you’re doing a DIY MFA, it’s a little trickier. There is no cookie-cutter, tried-and-true model. You have to figure out the community part for yourself.
The advantage of this is that you have the freedom to build a community that works for you. For years I was part of a critique group where everyone was from a different walk of life and wrote very different genres. I found feedback from this group to be far more useful than any workshop I did during my MFA studies. At the same time, other writers might prefer a group of colleagues who write a similar genre or style. It all comes down to personal taste, but the beauty of building your own community is that if you assembled it yourself, it will always be the right fit.