Friday, August 12, 2016

Supporting a New Writer 1: Introduction

Recently, I received this letter from Wendy, a fan with whom I’d been corresponding. It spoke deeply to me, and rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. If you’ve been there, too, I hope you’ll follow along and offer your own wisdom.

I've been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life.  I've spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills.  Mom passed away in October. 
When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways.  That foundation you always relied on -- even as an adult -- is gone for good.  Whether you're ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence.  One of the most difficult aspects of my mother's final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life.  She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible.  
I'm 54 years old.  More than half of my life is over.  Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood.  My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don't want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing "career" never took off.  I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams.  I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well.  
How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long? 

Effie Seiberg: I hear you. Writing is such an inherently lonely business, spending that much time in your own head, that a good support group is critical. When I first started writing I went though wild mood swings ranging from "OMG this is the most hilarious thing ever" to "Why did I ever think I could English? This is total crap," and I began to fear that I wasn't emotionally stable enough to write. It was only after I found a community of supportive writers that I understood that this is just how writing works, and the only thing that improves is your ability to enjoy the highs and survive the lows. A good support group bolsters you through both.

Effie Seiberg is a fantasy and science fiction writer. Her stories can be found in the "Women Destroy
Science Fiction!" special edition of Lightspeed Magazine (winner of the 2015 British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology), Galaxy's Edge, Analog, Fireside Fiction, and PodCastle, amongst others. She is a graduate of Taos Toolbox 2013, a member of SFWA and Codex, and a reader at She lives in San Francisco, recently and upcoming (but not presently) near a giant sculpture of a pink bunny head with a skull in its mouth. She likes to make sculpted cakes and bad puns. You can follow her on twitter at @effies, or read more of her work at

Barb Caffrey: For now, though...I can say this much to Wendy. It's never too late to do what you feel you must, as a creative artist. I have often felt like it's too late for me due to how my husband passed away suddenly; I'm now trying to carry on his work, and mine, and sometimes this seems like an overly heavy weight.

The important thing is that I'm doing it. No matter how long it takes, no matter what is up against me -- bad health or family health issues or foreclosures or anything -- I keep on working. Some days, all I can do is look at my works-in-progress and say, "Hmmm," and do a little fiddling but add nothing tangible. The next day, or maybe the day after that, the dam bursts and I have more new words again.

The most important thing you can do -- and it unfortunately is also the hardest -- is to believe in yourself, and that what you are doing is valuable. No matter what anyone else says, no matter what anyone else does, you are going to do what you feel you must.

I wish I had a better answer, but persistence has mostly worked for me.

Barb Caffrey has written three novels, An Elfy On The Loose (2014), A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (2015), and Changing Faces (forthcoming), and is the co-writer of the Adventures of Joey Maverick series (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey) Previous stories and poems have appeared in Stars Of Darkover, First Contact Café, How Beer Saved The World, Bearing North, and Bedlam's Edge (with Michael B. Caffrey).

Alma Alexander: I'm roughly of an age with you, Wendy, and I think ours is now the generation which has to grapple with some of life's truths.  I’m technically only "half" an orphan at this point - my dad left us three years ago, my mother is still around, in her eighties now, frailer and more fragile than she's ever been before, both physically and psychologically, and it's something that it's up to me to deal with, I am in full defend and protect mode with her, often, and it takes up a huge swathe of mental and physical resources. But there will come a time when she too is gone and at this point it will be as you say - the foundation is gone. Until that moment you can always "go home". Afterwards, that first home, the foundation home, is gone, forever, and it takes a shift of thinking to adjust to it. So before anything else is said... there's that. There's the acknoledgment, and the understanding. We've been here, or we're coming up on that milestone, and we can look into that shadow and know exactly where you're coming from.

You haven't said if you've pursued your writing before in any focused way other than it having been a dream of yours - you use air quotes around your "career" so I don't know if you tried, and didn't meet with immediate success, and that was why you took the hiatus, or if your fears of not succeeding have prevented you from trying at all. But the first thing that needs to be said is something I've been telling people for a long time. If you want to be a writer, nobody can stop you. If you don't, then nobody can help you. The first impetus, the first urge, the first passion, the first demand, must come from within. If this is your dream, then even if you cannot lay aside your fears you must learn to write while juggling them with your other hand. Do you have stories whispering in your ear as you fall asleep at night, stories that desperately want to be told? Then tell them. At this point, pursuing your dream to the point of a "career" (and now I am using the air quotes) starts with the first step of actually sitting down, and writing. Something. Anything. Starting with an audience of one, yourself. THEN, you build out.

Alma Alexander is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. Born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, she has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), and the story of her life so far has included climbing mountains, diving in coral reefs, flying small planes, swimming with dolphins, touching two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. 

Pat Rice: After thirty plus years of publication, I’m here to tell you that doubt and negativity never go away. First, we have to accept that self-doubt is part of our process, decide our goals are more important than our fears, and push on to the next step. For most of us, the next step is to write. Write and write some more. Throw out the first efforts and start over, because we all have to learn somehow, and it’s fine not to be perfect.

Support groups can be useful, but they’re only what you make of them. You can go to meetings and talk about your goals and expectations and brainstorm your plots. You can listen to others speak of their failures and successes. The camaraderie and support is often necessary -- but it won’t get you to your goal unless you take that energy back to your computer and WRITE.

Thirty years ago when I was lost in the wilderness of doubt, I turned to Writers Market magazine for advice. These days, advice, critique groups, support groups, and everything you might need are all online. You can check Romance Writers of America’s website for the nearest chapter if you need to meet in person. The greater risk is that you’ll get lost in the mass of voices.

So my advice would be to support yourself first. Make the choice to write, find a time of day or grab whatever free minutes are available and scribble down your stories. Do it every day. Feel free to throw it out every night. You are building a habit that will build a career. When you are finally ready to invest in yourself, then look for others who can read what you’ve written and encourage you. And if they try to discourage you, go back and read what you have and decide for yourself whether they're right or not.

It takes a spine of steel and the perseverance of a saint to be a writer. It’s never too late to exercise and put those muscles into shape.

With several million books in print and New York Times and USA Today’s bestseller lists under her belt, former CPA Patricia Rice writes romance, mystery, and urban fantasy. Her books have won numerous awards, including the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice and Career Achievement Awards. She has also been honored as a Romance Writers of America RITA® finalist in the historical, regency and contemporary categories.

1 comment:

  1. From Wendy: Thanks everyone for your comments. A special thank you to Deborah for getting this started. I can feel a creative foundation taking shape beneath shaking legs. Now I'm going to write a bit before bed, then fall asleep dreaming big dreams.