Monday, June 9, 2008
Back to the Beginning
June may seem a strange time to talk about beginnings. After all, we’re in the middle of the year, not the beginning—whether we’re talking about a school year or a calendar year. Okay, maybe it is the beginning of the fiscal year for many, but I’d rather not talk about money:)
Instead, I want to talk about two different types of beginnings that are very appropriate to discuss at this time of year…going back to those goals you set in January (you did, didn’t you) and going all the way back to whenever you might have started your writing career. The first won’t take long and won’t be painful (I hope). Remember those goals you set for yourself at New Year’s? So many people fail, give up, and that’s the end. It doesn’t have to be…think of this as forgiveness month, feel free to start back on the path toward your goals--whether in writing or losing weight. Look back over your list—I always write mine in my day planner on a separate page and actually check off the long-terms when I reach them.
Okay, now to the second type of beginning. I joined RWA in 2002. I took creative writing courses in college, wrote a manuscript, sent it in cold, received a form rejection letter, and stopped. I had no idea how the business worked. To be truthful, my college classes—at a school well known for its writing program—didn’t even teach us how to write anything longer than a short story. I was lost.
So, I didn’t write other than poems between the years 1986 and 2002. I joined RWA when my children were both in school, I was established in my day job, and ready to go. I’ve attended my local chapter meetings regularly, have served on the board, and attended one Nationals. Oh, and I’ve attended many local master classes.
I still don’t believe I know what I’m doing. Therefore, I want to start a discussion about how writers can better mentor other writers. First, if I were to start all over again, I’d have a reading list for new authors in order of digestibility. The book I remember hearing about first was The Writer’s Journey. I think it’s too esoteric for a beginner. There’s also Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, Deb Dixon’s GMC, and Donald Maas’s Writing the Breakout Novel. All of these may belong to an advance class. To be honest, I only read Deb Dixon two years ago, and the others THIS year. I didn’t see a future in this field so I only wrote and went to meetings. AT changed that for me.
I think it would be helpful for RWA chapters to have a New Members notebook, or maybe even files available on the Yahoo groups lists we all seem to have. The first page would be reading materials—and start with something simple like, “Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies.” I’m not kidding—I found that the most helpful for an overview of the writer’s process.
Next, I would include a timeline—not of things out of the writers’ control, but things within his/her control. For example, the writer could have a goal for writing a chapter, three chapters, finish a manuscript. Analyze novels in his/her chosen genre. Research agents in his/her genre. Research publishers in his/her genre. These tasks may seem simple, but to someone just walking in to a meeting wanting to write a book, knowing where to begin is overwhelming. Not only that, smaller chapters like the LowCountry RWA need to tailor their meetings toward all members—some of whom have published in the double digits.
Finally, for now:), I just attended a Congregational Meeting at my church where several new members stood up and said, I’ve never been in a church—how do I get started? The church assigns new members a shepherd, someone to help the new people steer their way through the tough parts. I propose that RWA chapters assign new members a mentor. Not a critique partner (I haven’t had one stick yet, the ones I have had are now sick, pregnant, or the wrong genre), those are too personal. A mentor would simply be available for questions. I understand how busy we all are and many just want to write, but… Chapters everywhere are struggling to get their work done. Contests are closing because they can’t find judges.
Just think—if you make the new members feel welcome, they’ll stick around, and if they stick around, you can get out of some work!
So…what do you think (I may have sidestepped into chapter business, sorry)? If you were going to advise someone at the beginning of their writing career, what would you say?