Jul 26 2010 5:17pm

Finding Your Writing Tribe

Earlier this month, I taught Writing Dark Fantasy at the University of Toronto. It was an intensive one-week course, all day, every day.  When I’d mentioned it to a fellow novelist, she declared she never teaches writing because she believes it sets up the false expectation that getting published is an easily attainable goal. Later, someone else asked me why I’d do it, when I didn’t “need the work.”

Whenever I teach anything longer than a brief workshop, I do pull out my stats to ensure students realize just how tough getting published is. If you’re writing to make money, you’re in the wrong business. If you’re writing because you love story-telling, then stick around, because it’s an amazing ride.

As for pay, it’s a distant consideration. When I’m asked to teach, I think of myself as a young writer, living in southwestern Ontario, where the only authors I saw were literary ones at readings. I would have loved the opportunity to learn from a published genre novelist. Even to be able to ask questions of someone who’d achieved my goal would have been an amazing experience.

I hope my students learned something in my course—ways to improve pacing, characterization, plot, etc. But what I consider even more important is that they found other writers like themselves. Others who are writing in the same genre, and not only know what a witch or vampire is, but can discuss the folklore of benandanti and wendigo.

What I loved seeing was the birth of a fledgling community of dark fantasy writers. They’d found their place, where no one was going to say “Werewolves? Oh, you’re trying to cash in on those Twilight movies, right?” When they shared their work, the excitement and enthusiasm was palpable. No one pouted or sulked over constructive criticism. They were happy to get feedback from people who understood the genre, and they were determined to eventually beat the odds and get published. And if they don’t? That’s okay too, because they realized what a blast they have telling these stories and exploring their own creativity.

By the time the course ended, my class had created their own Facebook group for socializing as writers, a Google Group for critiquing online and made plans for monthly in-person critiquing. Not everyone will stick with it. For some, the enthusiasm won’t outlast the first slew of rejections. But for others, they’ll have found their writing tribe and, maybe, a long-term critique partner who will help them achieve their goals (and never question why they’re writing about werewolves.)

Photo by Curtis Lantinga

Kelley Armstrong is the author of the New York Times bestselling Otherworld series, the young adult trilogy Darkest Powers, and many other titles. Her latest novel in the Otherworld series, Waking the Witch, comes out tomorrow, Tuesday, July 27th. She lives in rural Ontario with her husband and three children. With her first book, Bitten, Kelley introduced readers to her singular brand of sophisticated, fast-paced storytelling. The Otherworld, a place populated by a wide array of supernaturals with an even wider array of powers, continues to engage and enthrall readers all over the globe after more than a dozen books.

This article is part of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy Month: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Madeline Ashby
1. MadelineAshby
This post really speaks to my experience. When I came to Canada, I had a lot of ideas but not a lot of skill, and what I needed was a group of people who had been there before and who could share what they'd learned as well as empathize with the pains of rejection and agony of waiting. I was lucky enough to find that (also in Toronto!), but I think if you work at it, you can find or create it anywhere. If you have the opportunity to join a workshop or a class, do. Even if you decide that solitary effort is what's best for you, you'll know for sure after you've tried it with a group. And if you're lucky, you won't need to travel three thousand miles to find exactly what you need.
Jer Brown
2. designguybrown
What I would like to know is whether or not there are a great number of writers out there who are able to 'fit in' writing to an otherwise full life (full time job, family, etc.) Can an hour a day plus a few hours on weekends provide enough 'writing time' to develop into the writer that a person wants to be - even if being published is not a priority? When I compare this to learning an instrument or language, i would suggest yes and then add the caveat that it is only after many, many years of discipline, consistency, and a supportive environment. Perhaps an occasional workshop or discussion group to assess where a person is in their development. Writing as hobby - does it happen?
Christopher Johnstone
3. Christopher Johnstone
Although some people may not agree with me, some famous writing hobbyists include J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft and Jane Austin. None of these writers considered their writing a 'career' per se and generally speaking they had to fit the writing in around other things.
Alice Arneson
4. Wetlandernw
@3 - Several of those writers, and Tolkien in particular, found the critique of their fellow writers to be invaluable in helping their storytelling. Tolkien's group would read their stuff to one another, pick it apart, put it back together, point out strengths and weaknesses, and provide general encouragement in the process of writing - in their spare time. The beauty of not being tied to writing as a sole source of income is that you're not under so much pressure to hurry up and get it done; you can take the time to do it really well, if it takes time.
Christopher Johnstone
5. NikkiMc
I find that it helps me to critique others. I look at their work without the filter of knowing what it was supposed to say. That helps me catch different problems and I find that I can then go back to my own work and find similar problems, if they are there. I also really enjoy helping other writers when I feel like I have something to offer. That said, I have not yet found a group to write with, but that has more to do with spending most of my time writing instead of looking for that special group. :)
Christopher Johnstone
6. Diatryma
This is one of the great things about Alpha. Every year, twenty young writers come in and become Alphans, part of a bigger group that sticks together through the years. There's overlap between years, too, so everyone's connected to everyone else. The students are normal for Alpha.

I've been staff four years now, and it's so much fun to see it happen.
Ashe Armstrong
7. AsheSaoirse
I completely agree with any and all sentiments towards feedback and critiques being invaluable for growth. Once I started sharing my writing, I improved a great deal.

As far as a tribe goes, I'd love to get a Weird West tribe goin. It's really hard to find writers though.

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