Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Support groups for writers - Linda Strachan

As writers we tend to spend a lot of time on our own, unless you count the voices in our heads. Writing is generally a solitary occupation, those hours days and months wrestling with a plot, getting to know our characters and living through their lives, loves and difficulties as if they were our own.  

We find that friends and family who are not writers, however much they try to be accommodating, often do not seem to understand how we feel about being interrupted just at that point when we have finally managed to settle deep into the words and are living and breathing the story.   Even if that interruption is to offer a cup of coffee. 

They cannot see why it can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours of circling the desk, looking out of the window, procrastinating on social media, or playing with exciting stationery and possibly starting a new notebook ...

... before we actually get enticed by the ideas in our heads and settle down to become totally engrossed  in the story.

That is the point when we need to be left alone.  But when we have spent those hours pouring over a keyboard or notebook, this is when we need to get outside, to meet other people and get some exercise.  

A writer's life is a rollercoaster of emotion and only some of that ends up on the page!  We feel such elation when someone likes our new book, or praises our writing, and the flip side - the deep misery when there is a bad review or yet another rejection arrives, however nicely it is phrased. 

We try to control the green eyed monster that makes us feel a deep rage when others are doing well at a time when we  hit a bad patch and is the exact opposite to the need to have people celebrate with us when we are suddenly wanting to scream with delight and share that wonderful feeling of success.  

This is when true and trusted writer friends are what you need.  Friends who know how it feels, have been there and understand the nature of what we do. Most of the writers I know are kind and generous people and I am happy to be part of several different groups of writers who work as a support network for both good and bad times.  

The SAS (Scattered Authors Society), some of whom write on this blog, are a wonderful and diverse group of writers at all stages of their careers, writing many different genres -  all write for children and young adults.  

As the Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland part of my work is to organise events for our members, some of them purely social events, which are a great way of getting to know writers who operate in completely different circles, and sharing experiences and knowledge.
There is a need for trust in any group of people who work in the same industry and especially amongst writers because opening up to others about your writing can leave you feeling vulnerable, and sharp unthinking criticism can be very destructive. 

Sometimes old friends who are not writers struggle to understand what we do and make comments that can cut deeply.  Often delighted that they know a 'real published writer' at others they can be jealous because they are completely unaware of true nature of our business, and believe all the stereotypes portrayed by the media without questioning the reality. 
The idea that all writers are wealthy and sit about all day daydreaming (when we are not going to glitzy parties and signing books for adoring fans); that we get paid the cover price on the books and we just have to go on producing our books and the publishers will publish them, without question, because that is how it works - isn't it? 
No matter how much you try to explain the truth to be honest most people do not want to hear it.

So aside from personal friends who are writers I also belong to a small group of about 7 writers who communicate very regularly.  We share our troubles and our joys, understanding the need at times to state a goal for writing, or ask questions when struggling with a plot problem.  Most of all we trust each other with our hopes and dreams, applaud successes and support each other when things are not so great. 

Some writers get together to share work for criticism but that is something that has to be considered very carefully.  Honest and positive crits are great, but destructive comments can be crippling and unhelpful. When being honest we all need a little kindness even if the news is not good because as writers we are all learning all the time.

 The most important thing about a writers group is that it is supportive and I think it is imperative that there is a strict understanding of what the group is for and if that will work for you, at your particular stage of writing. That said it is one of the best things about being a writer, being able to share your enthusiasm with like minded people.

Do you belong to a writers' group?  If so how important is it to you, and what do you think are the positives and negatives? 


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - The Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 

She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

website:  www.lindastrachan.com
blog:  Bookwords 


Malaika Rose Stanley said...

Well said, Linda. I've recently re-joined the Islington Writers for Children group - some of whom are also Sassies - after a long hiatus and it already feels like a lifeline.

Susan Price said...

Good for you, Malaika! Writers are often so solitary that it takes great effort to actually join a group. But, as a member of the SAS, and one of the seven writers Linda mentions who are in frequent contact, I can vouch for it being a joy.

Lynne Benton said...

Quite agree, Linda. Great post, which will have most writers nodding sagely and agreeing with every word. Support groups of fellow-writers keep you sane (most especially the SAS!)

Linda Strachan said...

Thanks for the positive comments, would not be without them myself! I wonder if emerging writers realise how important it is to have that kind of support mechanism.

Joan Lennon said...

It's a strange profession, isn't it? Not surprising non-writers don't entirely understand. Here's to writerly friends!

Hilary said...

Enjoyed reading your post. So true about the support.