A Writer’s Life Lesson: Finding your Fellow Odballs
This post was originally published on Z. B. Simpson's website here, along with a bunch of other fantastic blog posts. Z. B. Simpson helped backstage & ran social media on the day at #Speculate18.
I have trouble updating this blog for a number of reasons – the main one being, time I spend writing it could be spent on my main Work in Progress (WIP). However, I have learned so much in the last six months that reviving the blog may be the best way to go about processing it all, instead of ranting in an incomprehensible fashion to my nearest and dearest. One massive lesson I’ve absorbed is this: Finding your Community is Important.
I’m serious. Humans are social creatures, and even us hermit writers need to push our noses out of our caves and interact with people who understand what we’re going through. When I was in kindergarten, my fellow peeps were the kids who loved running around pretending to be Captain Planet. In primary school it was the other nerdy kids who liked to read and make up stories. In high school it was the goth kids, and in university it was the other artists and creative types. All of these other kids were going through the same stuff as me, were interested in the same things and understood my obscure Red Dwarf references. So how do you find your circle as a creative adult?
While I still have many of the same friends from HS and Uni, very few of them are aspiring novelists. Thank goodness for Writers Victoria. If you are a writer of any stripe — novelist, short fiction, journalist, graphic novels, poetry, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult of any genre (YA is not a genre by itself, it contains multitudes!), Literary fiction, biography, history, creative non-fiction, LGBT+ of any genre or style… — find your local writer’s association. There is one in every Australian state and territory (to my knowledge) and there is also, on a national level, the Australian Society of Authors. I’m going out on a limb and assuming that many other countries, territories and capital cities have similar organisations in place, but they are some of the best ways to find your circle and hone your craft. On a more micro level, you may be able to find a small writers group that is local to your suburb or district. I know it can be tough, especially for the introverted among us, but the other authors I have met have been a goddamn lifeline. If it weren’t for them I probably would have quit years ago.
My story begins when I put the cart so far before the horse it was going backwards. I thought my book was about ready, so I signed up for a Writers Vic workshop on the publishing industry and how to pitch a novel. It was a two day intensive with people who actually knew what they were talking about, but it wasn’t until a year later that I realised the most valuable part of the course, for me, was making new friends. For the first time since I graduated Uni in 2011, I had been in a room with other writers. People who, when I said, “my protagonist is being a complete jerk” didn’t reply with “well, you’re the author, just make her do what you want!” but instead nodded knowingly in commiseration — they’d had the same issues. I am still friends with some of them to this day; they are part of my Glomp. What’s a Glomp? Della S Dawson explains here. Essentially, it’s a group of other writers at about the same level as you who you click with as friends and who support you through your journey. We don’t all write in the same genres or age groups — there are SFF, contemporary, YA and Adult authors among us — but we all get it. When one of us sends a message in the group chat that their family won’t leave them alone for a solid hour to finish a chapter, we know exactly how they feel because we’ve all struggled to get into a writing groove. When one of us is excited because we finally hit an elusive word count we all cheer and celebrate because we know how bloody hard they worked, while other friends give a well-meant “good for you”. When I have a knotty plot problem I just can’t unpick by myself, I go to them to for help untangling it. And when Ian Laking told us he was part of a team putting together Speculate, we volunteered to help him out.
Speculate was founded with the same goal I’ve been discussing for the last few paragraphs — finding your circle. Its specific aim was to bring together Speculative Fiction writers for a day of panels, discussion and most importantly MINGLING! There is a general feeling that genre fiction is overlooked in Australia, and that anything with a dragon or robots in it can’t be considered serious literature. But here was a venue full of writers discussing character development, narrative structure, the human condition and the future of fiction, proving that people don’t mind reading serious themes wrapped in an SFF jacket. In fact, most people in attendance preferred it that way! And here a bunch of them were in the same room, or mingling around the barbecue at lunchtime and oh look you’re reading that new Jay Kristoff book, how are you finding it? Are you working on anything of your own? Oh my gosh that concept of a human looking for love on a completely android planet sounds AMAZING can I be your beta reader? Sure, let’s grab a drink! I honestly felt as though I had volunteered for something so ground-breaking and necessary, and I can’t wait to get involved next year.
The next day I attended another Writer’s Vic workshop which ran in affiliation with Speculate. The topic was how to structure a Speculative Fiction novel, and it was run by the sensational Alison Goodman. Not only did I acquire valuable skills to fix what I had realised was a mess of a manuscript (thanks, WV manuscript assessment program!), but I met more people who not only had writer problems but more specific ones. I no longer felt odd saying, “so my protagonist is looking for a missing bomb in this dystopian city…”, because the friend I made sitting next to me was having mad-scientist-mentor plot issues.
My manuscript is a mess. I feel like I finally understand what my mother meant when she said re-stumping my childhood home had been “an ordeal.” Major restructures and rewrites fucking hurt, and I often feel like quitting. But my Glomp get it. The other writers in the crowd and on the stage at Speculate got it. And my Glomp won’t let me quit when I’m being a sook. They send me cheering-up gifs, interesting book recommendations and offers to beta read, and I do the same for them. We will will be sitting in the front row of each others first book launches. And when we become part of the new wave of Melbourne’s literati, and then the veterans at writing cons, we’ll be grateful that we had each other’s backs during our formative, fumbling years.
Other writers will understand you in a way few others ever will. Seek them out.