Writing is Lonely. Join a Group…

By Marlena Fiol

Jennifer Harris recently reminded us in Warrior Writers that “Writers Need Community.” Writing is a lonely act and being part of a community reminds us that we’re not alone, she said. Beyond that, she reminded us that writing communities provide opportunities to learn and grow, work together and find new readers. No one can argue with that.

She concludes with “There are many writing communities out there, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one.” Indeed, they are not hard to find. I’m fortunate to be a member of numerous online writing groups on Facebook and Medium. I have also been part of smaller writing groups that I was responsible for establishing and maintaining. I’ll refer to the former as a network and the latter as a community. Both provide opportunities to “learn and grow, work together and find new readers.” But they differ in ways that matter.

Community-Building versus Networking

Definition of Network:

  1. An arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines.
  2. A group or system of interconnected people or things.

Definition of Community:

  1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

To put it succinctly, one promotes an arrangement for intersecting. The other promotes a feeling of fellowship. Both have their place, but confusing them is likely to lead to frustration and disappointment.

We writers are not inherently community-oriented.

I recently read that many people perceive us writers as selfish, ego-driven navel-gazers. And how often have you heard writers complain that other writers are trying to do the same thing they are, and getting a lot more ‘Claps’ for it? In the September 9, 2018 Book Review section of the NYT, Kate Atkinson, author of the forthcoming novel Transcription, was said to recoil at the idea of a literary dinner party: “Oh, lord, I would never invite writers,” she is quoted as saying. ”They’re so competitive.” If we are as competitive as she claims, we’ll naturally be drawn to largely anonymous arrangements of intersecting networks that can help us get ahead, yet reveal only those parts of us that we’re willing to share with our fellow writers and no more. But will that really get us what we want and need?

Three Characteristics of Networks

  1. Exposure: Most of the online writing networks available to us today are vast and highly populated. This means we can gain nearly instant exposure of our little writing gems, something unheard of even a decade ago.
  2. Ease: All we have to do to join an online network is submit a request to an unknown person and wait a few days for the invitation (which might be an automated computerized response). Done.
  3. Safety: Ah, here’s a big one. We risk putting out there only what feels safe to us, and no one will ask for more. We don’t have to really trust any of our fellow writers on the network.

I’m not surprised that writing networks have become as popular as they are today. I love ‘Claps’ just as much as you do. They are an easy and safe way for us to gauge the extent to which we’re reaching our readers across a vast population. But let’s not confuse these intersections with what I’m calling community. Nicole Bianchi began her call for writers to create writing groups with “Writing can be a lonely activity.”

She argues that Mastermind groups give writers a sense of community and a sense of belonging. Nicole suggests that they should only include members who are serious about challenging and learning from each other. And people must trust each other since they’ll be sharing deep stuff. Does this kind of community sound just a bit scary?

Three characteristics of communities

  1. Limited Size: A community is usually limited in size because members need the time to devote to giving individualized feedback to each other. So they are prepared to work hard to keep their community alive. Unlike a network, if a community doesn’t stop growing, its members disengage, no longer feeling like they belong, and eventually it dies.
  2. Common Purpose: It’s usually best if members of a writing community all have a similar purpose in mind. Otherwise, people will be seriously committed to move in disparate directions, which will tear the group apart.
  3. Vulnerability: This is one of my soapboxes and I’ve written about it elsewhere, so I won’t belabor it too much here. We offer only the smallest of glimpses into our real selves on our various mammoth networks. And sometimes it can get to feel a bit artificial: You ‘Clap’ for me and I’ll ‘Clap’ for you. There’s not a thing wrong with this, as long as we don’t imagine that it’s something more personal and meaningful than it actually is.

People on my LinkedIn network see only one tiny slice of my life, while my Facebook friends see quite another. Neither one is really me with all of my good, my bad and my ugly. Only people in my more intimate communities get a closer look at who I really am and what my struggles are.

Communities and networks aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather, they lie on a continuum. Some of the groups I belong to are more like networks; others more like communities. Again, I repeat. Both communities and networks serve valuable purposes. The real problem lies in our frequent inability to distinguish between them and hold realistic expectations about what they can do for us. If you long for deep connectedness with others who share your writing interests, you’re not likely to find it on most online networks. Joining vast networks provides great slices of intersection, but probably not the feeling of community.

So what do you want from your writing networks or communities? If what you want is a safe arena to expose your writing to as many readers as possible, think about energetically interacting on some of the many available online writing networks such as Facebook, Medium and the like. If a deep feeling of connectedness is what you long for, think smaller, think about forming a group with a common purpose, and think about opening yourself up more vulnerably. And if you want both, become a member of both. But know that you will need to show up differently in each one. And each will provide very different benefits.

 

Marlena Fiol, PhD, is a storyteller, scholar, speaker and spiritual seeker whose writing explores the depths of who we are and what’s possible in our lives. Her most recent essays have appeared in The Summerset Review, Under the Sun and The Furious Gazelle, among others. A sampling of her publications on identity and learning are available at marlenafiol.com.

Featured Member Interview – Susan Allison

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

In this interview, Dr. Susan Allison shares her wisdom about “writing what you know” and her publishing experiences with large publishers (Random House), smaller presses, and, self-publishing.

“What has worked for me in writing Conscious Divorce and the books that followed, is to write about what I am deeply experiencing, and what I feel compelled to share with others. I’ve written about how to end a relationship amicably, create a new life as a single woman, heal physically or emotionally, find one’s soul mate, cope with a partner’s passing, and connect with loved ones in spirit realms. Every book has its seed in my own life-journey.”

“In 2001 when I published Conscious Divorce, Ending a Marriage with Integrity, I was going through a divorce and couldn’t find anything helpful, so I wrote my own book.”

We asked how this book came to be published by a division of Random House.

“I found a great agent, Anne Edelstein, in New York, and within two weeks of sending it out, it was picked up by Harmony Books/Three Rivers Press.”

“What I found, and have experienced since, is finding an agent and publisher is about connections. I called a friend’s sister in New York who had been an editor at Bantam and she gave me the names of five agents.”

“When I called Anne Edelstein, she said, “Oh, how is Nancy and the new baby?” We talked about my book, and then she said, “Oh my gosh, I have to go pick up my kids! Call me in the morning.” I loved how real she was. Anne taught me about editing and publishing, as well how to get a great advance and contract. My editor at Harmony had gone through a difficult divorce and they had just lost Spiritual Divorce to HarperCollins. It was perfect timing for my book.”

“I then met Bill Gladstone at a conference and he became my agent at Waterside. However, even with an agent, finding a publisher for Empowered Healer, Gain the Confidence, Power and Ability to Heal Yourself (2012), proved difficult, and I ended up self-publishing with Balboa Press. It was a mixed experience, and I still prefer a traditional publisher for the levels of support.”

“In some ways it doesn’t matter what sort of publisher it is because the author does most of the marketing. Neither Random House nor Balboa Press did a great job of marketing my books.”

“My poetry books, Breathing Room and Our Spirits Dance, were published by small presses. I have found that unless you are a well-known poet, it is difficult to get a traditional publisher and any sort of advance. I feel good knowing that Breathing Room has helped women going through a breakup, and Our Spirits Dance lets readers know that soul mates are real, and loving someone is worth the risk of losing them.”

“My husband Tom passed away in 2013. Our spiritual connection and my heartbreak propelled me to write two books, Our Spirits Dance (2014) and You Don’t Have to Die to Go to Heaven (Weiser Books, 2015).”

“Again, I followed my intuition and connected with others. I emailed Brenda Knight, whom I had met while having many of her authors on my radio show. She liked the concept of my book, You Don’t Have to Die…., but said that Jan Johnson at Red Wheel/Weiser would be the perfect publisher.”

“I contacted Jan and she loved the book, decided that she would edit it herself and we agreed on a contract. I loved my experience at Weiser and with Jan (now retired), who is an amazing person as well as a gifted editor and publisher.”

“Currently, I just finished Silver Sex, a book about finding love and passion as you age. Even though it’s done, so am I! I feel burned out and can’t seem to find the energy to publish it. I had started a new book, Good-Bye Good Girl, but can’t seem to work on it either. I need a break and am taking it!”

“I used to feel afraid of “writer’s block” until a local poet, Maude Meehan, said, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you are composting, all the ideas and words germinating inside you.” So, I guess I’m composting, which consists of traveling, walking my dog on the beach, gardening, reading, and spending time with those I love.”

“My best friend said recently, “Yeah, this will last until you’re bored. Then you’ll publish the book and write the next one. I know you.” Maybe she’s right. For now the worms of inspiration are quietly creating more space, more rich soil for new seeds.”

You can contact Susan via her website at drsusanallison.com

Susan is an Empowered Healer, Reiki Master, Transpersonal Psychologist and successful author has also hosted two radio shows – “The Empowered Healer Show” and “We Carry the Light.” Over several years she has interviewed such luminaries as Jack Canfield, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Bernie Siegel, Larry Dossey, and many others. She has been interviewed by radio and TV hosts across the country, and has been a keynote speaker at conferences in the United States and Europe, her favorite being “The Children of Light” Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. Her CD of original songs “We Carry the Light” was released at this event.

 

Featured Member Interview – M. Glenda Rosen (Marcia Rosen)

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Marcia Rosen

During her career as a consultant, motivational speaker, radio host, founder of CreativeBook Concepts, and business writer, Marcia Rosen has always advocated for women’s success and empowerment.

“My marketing agency, M. Rosen Consulting specialized in working with professional women, and I was at one point on the Boards of nine women’s organizations in New York City. I received an award for my work from the NYC Comptroller at the time and was later named ‘Women of the Year’ by East End Women’s group on Long Island, NY.”

She slowed down her agency business to get serious about her fiction writing about four years ago, although “I do still help some others develop their books and create marketing concepts for them.”

Author of My Memoir Workbook, and The Woman’s Business Therapist, she explains why she decided to focus on crime fiction including her “The Senior Sleuths” mystery series and “Dying To Be Beautiful” mystery series.

“I decided to write fiction years ago as my favorite books are mysteries and I love the PBS mysteries. Also, our history and experiences can define us, inspire our actions and as writers impact our words and stories.  Mine most definitely has – my father was a gangster.” 

“I grew up in an unusual, and sometimes outrageous, environment.  It wouldn’t take a genius, a psychiatrist or a palm reader to figure out the genesis of my fascination with crime and criminals. In my series, ‘The Senior Sleuths,’ Zero the Bookie is a version of my dad, and several other characters are based on his associates.”

I asked for Marcia’s advice on the specifics of writing for this genre.

“Your first sentence, moreover your first paragraph, should grab your reader… maybe even by the throat, like a good murder!

“Writing a mystery book or series is akin to putting together a puzzle with a thousand pieces. Where should you begin? Do you start the puzzle with the corner and edge pieces, providing details on the main characters including the heroes and criminals? Or do you start in the middle, revealing upfront the murder and complexity of the story plot?

“Whether you start with corners or centerpieces, what matters is sticking with your structure and then pacing the plot. You need to keep it moving forward by creating suspense with clues and mysterious happenings.

“You want your reader to become involved and interested in your story, so they follow the clues you leave, and they attempt to solve the crimes along with you. Don’t make it too easy: there should be many possible suspects. Enhance the plot with character conflict and red herrings that might confuse and steer the reader away from the real murderer. The bad guy can also lead the reader astray by placing suspicion and blame on someone else.

“A good mystery story includes an intriguing plot, interesting characters (often with unique characteristics), descriptive places and locations that set a mood, interesting and controversial dialogue, clues (real and false) leading to the bad guys (and gals), and a bit of humor. Be clear about your point of view. Is it from the perspective of the main character as in Sue Grafton novels or a third person as in Raymond Chandler mysteries?

“Ultimately, you want to be able to explain your characters’ motivation for their criminal behavior. Common sources are anger, hate, power, money and, of course, revenge. Revealing truths, secrets, and lies with stories of betrayal and vengeance with surprise endings leave your reading wanting more—especially in a series!”

Level Best Books has provided a three-book deal for “The Senior Sleuths,” Book One: Dead In Bed was published on February 6, 2018. Book Two: Dead in Seat 4-A is expected to be released in the fall of 2018, and Book Three: Dead on the 17th of the Month, in 2019.

“The process of getting published was persistence, refusal to give up or give in, determination and belief if it can happen to others, it can happen to me. I plan to keep writing mysteries and speaking, especially about the impact my father had on me and my life and now my writing.“

For more about Marcia and her work, go to her websites:

www.theseniorsleuths.com

www.dyingtobebeautiful.com

www.MRosenConsulting.com

www.creativebookconcepts.com