Building your writer’s tribe

I was reminded the other day (after a massive bout of self-doubt) of the importance of surrounding yourself with other writers.  Aside from the companionship and understanding angle, a strong writer’s tribe can really help you move forward in your writing.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses as writers and people, but we can’t always see that.  Having someone there to not only look over your work, but to be a sounding board for problems and possibly a font of advice is a great help.

Build your writer’s tribe with care.  Find people who you like and whose work you like, and who like you and your work in turn.  It is important that your tribe likes what you do.  They don’t have to love it; in fact, blind love can do more harm than good.  But they should at least be on the same page as you.

Here are four essential members of your writer’s tribe.  You can certainly have more, but try and find at least one of each of these types.  Having all of one type of tribe member isn’t good for you.  Balance is the key.

The Overachiever is everything you would like to be.

The Overachiever

This is the person we all wish we could be.  She’s sold so many stories.  She has a novel out to agents and is just cranking out another one.  She’s driven and dedicated and sometimes she just bloody drives you nuts.  She’s perfectly nice but you can’t help but feel inadequate when faced with her productivity and success.

Knowing an Overachiever is good for you.  This person has done the things that you are just coming up to, and her experience could save you a lot of time and pain.  She’s also good as evidence of all you can achieve if you really work at it.  Reading her work should make you want to work harder, should inspire you to tackle something a bit tougher than you normally do.

Beware of the Overachiever who comes with an ego.  If they are constantly rubbing their success in your face, it can be demoralising.

The Nurturer will always be there for you.

The Nurturer

The Nurturer loves everything that you write.  They can see the promise in even the worst draft.  They listen to your woes with patience, and tell you that yes, it is okay to write a shitty first draft.  Above all, they tell you to keep writing, because you will get there someday.

Nurturers are wonderful people.  They may not even be writers.  They may be friends who read your work and love it.  They may be your mother.  Either way, they are your support crew when the whole writing gig becomes overwhelmingly difficult and you cannot seem to write a cohesive sentence.

Nurturers are important.  You have to have someone who loves your work, who sees your talent.  However beware of surrounding yourself only with nurturers.  While it’s lovely to have so much affirmation, you need a cold dose of reality now and then.  Otherwise if you do hit a setback and you have only Nurturers around you, you may be tempted to blame everything except your writing.  Critical analysis is as important as support.

The Lawyer has read every writing book known to man.

The Lawyer

Rules, rules, rules.  This person knows grammar and writing and structure like the back of their hand.  They know how to structure a query letter.  They know what agents like.  They know the hero’s journey AND all the variations.  They can tell you what should happen in each Act of your story.  They have read every writing book known to man, and can recite important passages to you on demand.

Lawyers are very useful people.  They can tell you what standard manuscript format is.  They can help you to understand what theme and motif are.  They are a veritable encyclopedia, and save you a lot of time and research.

The problem with the Lawyer is that he is often paralysed by all these rules, to the point where his creativity suffers.  Be grateful for their guidance, but don’t be afraid to step outside the boundaries in your quest for a good story.

The Destroyer will find the weakness in your story and kill it with fire.

The destroyer

No matter how small the flaw is, this person can see it and will point it out.  They’re not being malicious; they just have a sharp eye for things that feel off, and aren’t afraid to tell you.  They will take your perfect final draft and reduce it to a sea of red scribbles.  They may, on occasion, make you cry.

Agonising as it is to get a really critical review of your manuscript, it is the best thing you can do to yourself, at the right time.  At the wrong time, it can be a confidence breaker of epic proportions.  But at the right time, the Destroyer can really help you find the hidden problems in your manuscript.  They can help you to see where the story could be sharper, tighter, stronger, better.  They are an invaluable resource, mostly because they will always be truthful with you.

The important thing with a Destroyer in your tribe is that they still like your writing.  A Destroyer who doesn’t enjoy what you write, or one who is trying to rewrite your story they way they would write it is very damaging.  Find the right critical partner for you.

The Neophyte’s enthusiasm is contagious.

The neophyte

This person may be just starting out on their writing journey, or they may have just made the decision to submit stories, or they may have decided that they are going to take things seriously now and really learn the craft.  Either way, they are setting out on a magical journey and their enthusiasm is wonderful and infectious and inspiring.  They might look up to you as an Overachiever or just as someone else who is on this wonderful journey.

Don’t squash their enthusiasm.  The realities of the writing life will hit eventually.  Encourage them, enthuse with them, assist them when they ask for help.  It’s lovely to have a Neophyte in the group, to enjoy that precious innocence and joy, to remind you why you started writing in the first place.

And sometimes, it’s also nice to look back and see how far you have come.  The important thing is to guide them without trying to make them write like you, to recognise their talent as valid and different from yours.  To have the pleasure of watching that talent develop.

Your Tribe

You may not have five people who fit this exact mould.  You may have a couple of people in your tribe who take on multiple roles.  You may find some of these roles outside your personal writing tribe. You may have just one writing partner who is all of these things and more.

And don’t forget, you will be performing one or more of these roles for someone else.  Be aware of how you fit into your writer’s tribe.  Build lasting, long-term relationships and you will be happier writers.

Do you have a writing tribe? Are you missing any of these roles?  Can you think of another role you find valuable?

10 thoughts on “Building your writer’s tribe

  1. I have that deck of Tarot cards!

    I think I need to cultivate a nurturer for myself. My family has never given a shit about my writing and I doubt that’ll change even if I throw a bound book with my name on it at their collective heads. It’s frustrating to keep plodding along, kicking out the head voices, staying focused. :p

    And now I’m terrified that I’m a paralyzed Lawyer too. Thanks, Mez. :p

  2. I think I probably need something like that. Which means I need to try to get “out” more. Which means I need to improve my time manipulation.

  3. I have several of these types in my writing circle and it’s funny because I fit into several of them. In fact, I think most of my beta readers have several of these traits within them, though I can definitely pick out the predominate one. Great article.

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