Every Wednesday, I get together with some women writer friends to, well, write. Although, to be honest, we tend to spend a lot of the time talking. Often we talk about our families or politics or funny YouTube videos, but sometimes we chat about the industry, writing process, and our own sense of what it means to "be" a writer.
Yesterday the theme was career arcs. Each of us is in a very different place. One of the women is "established." She wouldn't say so, but she's a NAME in science fiction/fantasy and has been writing and publishing since I was in diapers. There's me, a moderately successful mid-list author, and my other friend whose career is in a kind of crises. Like a lot of us, she started out strong with a number of well-received, NY published fantasy novels, and then the contract didn't get renewed, and it's been some time since she's had quantifiable success. She's written steadily despite the vote of no confidence, and is, quite understandably, reaching a breaking point.
I bring this up not to embarrass my friend, but because one of the things we all talked about is the importance of hearing other professionals tell their stories. I don't mean their fictional ones, but the ones about how they broke in, how they overcame career obstacles, and how they keep writing despite it all, you know?
There's a tendency when writers get together to have b*tch sessions about how the publishing industry screwed us, how stupid our editors are when they don't recognize our genius, etc. But I know that one of the most valuable things I did when I was desperate to break in, was find places where I could sit at the feet of professional writers and LISTEN.
In some ways, just knowing someone who has actually published professionally and seeing that they're a real, live person you can reach out and touch is HUGE. I know that when I was young, I thought that all writers lived places I'd never visit like in a Greenwich Village apartment in New York or in an artist's garret in Paris. One of the first time I met someone who wrote a book I'd read, it was at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival academy and I was wildly unimpressed (which, I actually think might have been a good thing, because, suddenly, I realized that real writers were real people and could be huge jerks and not just saints or otherwise untouchable heroes.) The second writer I met was the established writer mentioned above, when we both were members of the National Writers Union, and that meeting was similarly transformative but in a much more positive way. I had someone I could ask all those burning questions of (though I was scared to at first.)
Minnesota writers are lucky too, because we have so many local writers who attend the science fiction/fantasy conventions (which are also numerous) as well as strong romance and mystery writer organizations. There are readings all over for almost any flavor of writing -- including art/literary writing and poetry. There are so many resources in this town, it's easy for me to forget that a lot of other cities and towns don't have anywhere near what we have here.
But my point is (and I do have one), support during your career is critical. Having friends and colleagues to listen to (when you need to learn), complain with (when you need to vent), and strategize with (when your career hiccups -- and, believe me, it will) is incredibly valuable.
Make writer friends. Keep them. It's so important to survival.
I'm not sure, at the end of the day, we helped my friend. But we talked a lot of strategy and, probably more importantly, listened supportively. One thing I took away was that what we all could use in our profession is more stories about what to do when you hit speed bumps in your career.
Career stories always have something to teach us about the business. When you get a chance to -- listen. Hard.