Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The importance of community

 Recent posts on Type M have explored the many aspects of being a writer. What we like about it, what we hate, why we do it (hint, it's not for the money), how and why do we research, and how we get people to read it when we're done. As I am currently at the "tearing-my-hair-out phase of a new first draft, I found myself smiling and nodding a lot as I read. Whether we "meet" virtually in the blogsphere, at mystery conferences, library readings, or in a pub, the sharing of experiences with book lovers and fellow writers is one of the surprising delights of this wacky career and one of the main things that keep me going.

I've been a writer all my life because, like so many writers, I feel driven to tell tales. They are always spinning in my head and they clamour to be written. In my younger years, I just dabbled, writing as long as a story appealed to me but abandoning it when it got too hard or I lost interest in it. My childhood desk was stuffed with discarded plays, TV scripts, and novels. Eventually I decided I had to finish something, no matter what, and stuck with a few (very bad) novels until the bitter end. However, once I wrote "The End", I thought I was done. I had no concept of editing, polishing, trying to make the thing better. Into the bottom drawer it went along with the earlier discards, while I was on to another project that sparked my interest.

Since I was very busy with my paying career and my three young children, I didn't take the stories seriously. They were a catharsis and a creative outlet, not something to share publicly.

All this changed when I discovered a community of fellow aspiring crime writers. They're a small group of local Ottawa writers intent on learning the craft and the knowledge base of crime writing. When I walked into my first meeting - a presentation by the local Chief of Detectives - I felt as if I had found my kindred souls. And so it began. The laughter, the networking, the critiquing, and the sharing of ideas and news. Encouraged by their feedback on a couple of short stories, I began to think about the possibility of getting something published. It didn't happen overnight, of course. I had a lot to learn not just about the four pillars of a good story – character, dialogue, plot, and setting – but about the importance of rewriting, rewriting, polishing, and not giving up until the story was the best I could make it. And about the importance of sticking with it even when you hate it, think it's junk, boring, etc. etc. 

All of this I learned not only by practice, practice, practice, but by meeting other writers, and readers too. From this local mystery writers' group, I went on to join Crime Writers of Canada, attend mystery conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. Not only do you learn how other writers do the craft and solve the inevitable problems, but you make connections with other book people: readers, bookstore owners, publishers, and librarians. Each personal connection extends your reach, but it also draws you into a community. A community that lifts you up and encourages you when times are grim, shares horror stories, and knows exactly what you're going through. 

Without that, it would be a very lonely job indeed, and I think I might still be stuck at the starting gate.

No comments: