I can credit my local writing group with a lot of things: Teaching me craft, encouraging me to write, critiquing my work, and convincing me to pitch my book. And now, I don’t think it’s too much to credit them with also getting me an agent.
Yes, I wrote the book. Yes, I edited it until I was so sick of my characters I wanted to kill them off. And yes, I braved the gauntlet and submitted it. But the support of my group has made those things possible. If my book were a car, they’ve been the mechanic and the fuel that has kept it going.
From basic craft to submission, they’ve given me the tools and the courage to cope with the basic fears inherent in birthing a novel.
The Fear of Grammar
When I started going to my writers group, I knew nothing about writing. Here are some amateur grammar and word choice mishaps from my early stages:
1) Writing Friend: “You have some misplaced modifiers.”
Writing Friend: “That phrase is modifying the wrong word. Your character just tossed her eyeballs.”
2) Writing Friend: “You should use fewer adverbs.”
Me: “What’s an adverb?”
Writing Friend: “Do a ‘find and search’ for ‘-ly’.”
Me: “My entire manuscript is littered with those!”
3) Writing Friend: “Synonyms for said slow down your prose. It’s a sign of amateur writing.”
Me: “My high school English teacher lied to me?”
Writing Friend: “You can’t use clichés.”
Me: “But I like clichés!”
My friends didn’t roll their eyes at me or call me naïve. They just let me figure out on my own that adverbs and said synonyms slow down prose, and clichés make for a dull, skimmable book.
The Fear of Learning More
They steered me toward craft sources that have improved my skill. They told me to check out DIY MFA and Margie Lawson. They taught me that Donald Maass is the master of tension. My immediate response to all of it was, “This will take months to learn!”
They said, “Yup. Let’s swap writing exercises.”
Learning some things came a little easier, like the Hero’s Journey. It helped sort out my plot problems, and I soaked it up like a sponge.
And there was always more. “Read your writing out loud,” they said.
“If I do all this, I’ll never finish my book!” I said. But months later, I did.
The Fear of Sharing My Writing
“You know, someday,” they said, “you’re going to have to let someone read your book.”
“Will you?” I said. Which was met with a flat, “Duh, of course we will.” The compassionate feedback from people who knew me so well was the perfect marriage of encouragement and critique.
The Fear of the Business
They forced me to branch out from our close-knit group to national organizations like Romance Writers of America. I joined Twitter. I followed my writer buddies to conferences where they told me I should pitch my book.
“I’m not ready,” I said.
“What do you have to lose?” they said. After weeks of nerves and gentle prodding from my friends, I did it. I pitched my book and got requests.
I heard from them about #Pitmad, pitching your book on Twitter. “It’s tomorrow?” I said. “No way.”
“We’ll do it together,” they said. I got two favorites from agents that day on Twitter. One of whom is now my agent.
The Fear of Saying “The End”
“I’ve been working on this book for months,” I said. “Four hours a day, seven days a week. And it still has issues!”
My friends said, “You need a break.”
I said, “Okay. I’ll take two weeks.”
“No. Take a month. Do NaNoWriMo again.”
I freaked. “Write a-whole-‘nother book? Are you crazy?” But I did it. I wrote an entire new novel in November and came back to my book in a month with fresh eyes.
The courage to submit my work came from my friends, too. “You’re going to have to declare it done soon,” they said. “You can’t work on this project forever.”
I said, “But what if everyone hates it?”
“They won’t hate it. You’ve worked hard, and you’ve written a good book.”
Then there was another round of fear. Before offering representation, my soon-to-be agent requested revisions after I sent her my full manuscript. She suggested I cut a series of backstory scenes that had been the inspiration for my entire story. I called my friends, terrified, “I can’t do it!”
They said, “Just try it. Cut the scenes. Read it through again. You might like it.” I did. My agent and my friends were right: it was a far better book without it.
I haven’t heeded all of their advice. I use a filter. Sometimes the best way to decipher what my gut is telling me is to hear the opposite from someone else. But I try my best to listen and pay attention to what my writing friends say. The people who know me best are often the ones who know what I need to hear, even when I don’t want to hear it.
Here’s hoping I can give back as good as I got on their writing projects. Heaven knows, I’m going to need them for the next stage. The process of submission is going to be a long haul, and I can’t imagine doing it without them.
My group is still meeting, still talking about writing every week. Agent or no, I have more writing to do. And I can’t wait to learn what my group will teach me next.
Robin Lovett, also known as S.A. Lovett, writes contemporary romance, and her debut novel, Racing To You, will be released July of 2016. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency and has a forthcoming series releasing with SMP Swerve in the summer of 2017.
She writes romance to avoid the more unsavory things in life, like day jobs and housework. To feed her coffee and chocolate addictions, she loves overdosing on mochas. When not writing with her cat, you can find her somewhere in the outdoors with a laptop in her bag. Feel free to chat with her on Twitter.