I’m not writing today’s post just for the DIY MFA community. I’m writing it for me, because I need to be reminded of this topic every day of my life. Just looking at the title gets my hackles up. What do you mean, I can’t do it alone? Never say CAN’T to me! I can do anything! If I don’t have help, I’ll figure it out! I’m a WRITER! I’ll probably always wish that I could be a lone wolf, accomplishing things and reaching goals on my own. But I’ve learned that even on a journey as solitary as writing, it’s impossible to accomplish everything we desire without help. Seek assistance from:
Whether you live alone or with a partner, five kids and a menagerie of animals, you probably have some responsibility to your family. It’s up to you to balance their needs against the needs of your work, and then it’s up to them to understand when you need your time and space to retreat. Be clear with your partner, parents and children when it’s time for you to walk away from your care-taking duties and put on your writing hat.
This is a hard one for a lot of people, because we may feel depended upon for our parenting and housekeeping duties, or because we feel guilty asking for help when we should be able to “do it all.” You can’t do it all. You need to ask for help, and you’re entitled to it. After all, the novel you eventually sell will be paying for your family’s Disney vacation, right? So it’s okay if your children have bath time with Dad instead of Mom occasionally, or if they have a few extra chores to do while you work.
Writing Friends and Peers
We become very close to our work, because our work is close to our hearts. We need other people to read and evaluate our writing on a regular basis to point us toward areas of growth. This is where peer writing groups, workshops and online buddies come in. Ask to exchange work. Take time to consider what you want out of their critiques, and request specific feedback. Nurture those relationships and pay them back in kind, so that you always have someone to turn to when you’re not sure what’s off with your work or why a piece isn’t selling.
Teachers and Mentors
It can be very hard to ask for help from someone you look up to. You can hold yourself back from reaching out by telling yourself “that person is too busy to help me,” or “they have more important things to do.” But if they once served as a positive role model for you, that means they value teaching and mentoring, and would likely love to be helpful.
After I finished my first manuscript, I emailed a former writing workshop teacher to say thank you. I genuinely wanted to share my appreciation for his early encouragement and didn’t want to be presumptuous, so I said nothing about asking for help with getting the manuscript published, although I certainly needed it.
I was ecstatic when he wrote back and offered to help. He gave me the push I needed to start sending the book out to agents by introducing me to his own agent. He also admonished me for not actually requesting his help. He told me that the only way people succeed in such a tough business is by helping each other up the ladder. If you’re on a lower rung, you need to stretch out your hand to someone higher up. If you’re a few steps along, it’s your responsibility to take the hand of someone below.
Community of Writers
You can be the best writer in the world, but unless you’re connecting with other members of the writing community, it’s going to be all but impossible to get your work noticed. Go to conferences and meet other writers face-to-face. Read the blogs of other writers, both aspiring and successful. Engage with people in online communities, like DIY MFA. Try to make connections both in-person and via social media.
I can trace getting my agent back to reading a fellow writer’s blog post about the Twitter hashtag #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List). I would probably not have queried my agent with my manuscript if I hadn’t learned about this hashtag and website, because her usual request list didn’t include my category. But she had just decided to branch out into something new and posted on #MSWL that she wanted a “sweeping historical.” So I queried her, referencing the tweet, and within two weeks I had a request for the manuscript, and shortly after that she offered me representation. I would never have known to query her if I hadn’t been following that other writer’s blog.
Likewise, if I hadn’t attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in 2014, I wouldn’t have seen Gabriela Periera speak, I wouldn’t have been super-impressed and later emailed her to say thank you, and I wouldn’t have ended up doing guest posts and then a column for this very website.
Take a moment to think. Are there areas of your writing life where you’re trying to go it alone? Can you reach out and ask for help in those areas? What’s holding you back?
Leanne Sowul needs this advice. Without help, there’s no way she’d be able to teach music full-time, edit her first novel, draft her second novel, maintain her blog Words From The Sowul and write this “Be Well, Write Well” column for DIY MFA, all while expecting her second baby in mid-October. Connect with her at leannesowul(at)gmail(dot)com, or on Twitter @sowulwords.