Jilly: Find Your Tribe

Who’s on your team?

About a year ago I had a discussion with a very kind US-based agent about how to find the best home for my UK-set contemporary romance. Among other things we talked about my writing process and my long-term goals. Several of her questions began: “Do you know anyone who…?” or “Do any of your writing friends…?” I managed to scrape up the occasional “yes,” but mostly the answer was “no.” After a while she said, “I see. You haven’t found your tribe yet.”

She was right.

Some of the other 8 Ladies have been at this writing gig much longer than I have, and their networks are much wider, deeper and stronger than mine, but I think I’m finally starting to get there. In my previous life I was in business for more than 30 years and I built up a support team of like-minded people whose advice I trusted, no questions asked. I’d forgotten how long it took me to find those ‘keeper’ friends and advisers.

Writing is a solitary process, but behind every finished book is an entire support network – hence the need for an acknowledgements page. I’ve been reading those for most of my life, but I never really understood them until now.

YTMV (Your Tribe May Vary), but here’s a progress report on mine.

However positive and motivated you are, it’s natural to have down periods. Sometimes I hit a road block, or find a gaping plot hole or suddenly decide that my story is dreck and nobody is going to want to read it. That’s when I need people who are on my side, no matter what. People who don’t need to read my book, because they believe in me. I’m glad to report that my husband, my family and almost all my friends fall into this camp.

Stephen King recommends that a first draft should be written with the door closed, but I find it incredibly helpful to have one or two fellow writers who are willing to act as sounding boards as I’m developing the story. It’s up to me to ask for the kind of feedback I need – sometimes it’s just to listen and ask the odd challenging question while I babble on, other times it’s to offer high level directional feedback that’s going to make my story stronger but not discourage me or knock me out of the groove. This is working extremely well for me right now. Long may it last!

Life is short. It saves an awful lot of time and heartache if you can find somebody who’s already really, really good at the skill you want to acquire and who’s willing to share their knowledge. We Ladies were lucky enough to study romance writing with Jenny Crusie. Best decision I ever made.

Research Partners
Whatever you write, it’s likely to require research. Sometimes you need more than an online fact-checker. That’s when you search through your nearest and dearest to see if you can track down somebody with the know-how. This year I’ve quizzed my hairdresser and a waitress at my favorite restaurant about how to maintain a shaved head; a friend (at length) about martial arts and my fight scenes; my brother-in-law about alternative energy; the manager of a remote, privately owned Highland estate about the present-day successors to the Scottish lairds of historical romance fame; and a man I met on vacation about rare breeds of sheep.

Critique Partners
Fellow writers, who will review your story from a craft perspective and help you to identify its strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy to find CPs, hard to find the right ones – writers who share your understanding of craft, who will make you feel good about your writing while pointing out where it needs work, who will point out the flaws but leave you to figure out the solution, and who will be sympathetic to your voice instead of trying to impose their voice on your work. Again, I’m so thankful for the McDaniel Romance Writing Program, because we learned to critique together so we have a shared understanding of what constitutes a good critique. The Ladies are rock-solid, and I have a couple of other writer connections who seem to be on my wavelength and well-suited to help with my fantasy WIP. I’m hoping I can persuade them to critique my current WIP, and if things work well, maybe over time they will become part of my tribe.

Beta Readers
Enthusiastic readers who are familiar with, and enjoy, the sub-genre I’m writing. Ideally ones who enjoy my voice and story-telling style, but who will be honest enough to tell me what works for them and what doesn’t. Readers like Jennifer P (hi, Jennifer!) who read an early draft of my Stories for Homes short and told me the ending was wrong (it was; I changed it). Great beta readers are worth their weight in gold. I’ve been slowly collecting mine – I have a potential pool of ten/twelve gems now. I hope I can hang on to them and over time add a few more.

Professional Advisers
This is the big item still on my wish list. Right at the top is an editor who enjoys my work and can help me keep all the stuff that makes the story mine, but make it better – as good as it can be. Finding and working with that person will be one of my biggest challenges for 2017.

So – who’s in your tribe? Who’s invaluable? And do you still have any open places?

9 thoughts on “Jilly: Find Your Tribe

  1. I have, I think, sufficient folks in most of these categories, with the exception (like you) of professional folks–editors, cover artists, etc. The other thing I lack is a street team–a crowd of enthusiastic fans who will trumpet new releases. Since I plan to self-pub, that may be single the most important one.

    • I’m planning to self-pub, so street team should be on my shopping list, too. I have a lot to learn about marketing, but first I have to get the book(s) done and packaged, which means editing, covers, formatting etc. I’m expecting 2017 to be the beginning of a steep learning curve. I think the challenge will be good for me!

  2. My tribe is pretty small . . . . Something I need to work on in the coming year! I’m kind of thinking about taking another class just so I can build up more contacts in the SFF field.

    I thought Twitter would be a lot more useful for finding research partners and fellow writers who are on the same path, but it’s not turning out great in that respect. I do like it for the celebrities who share their thoughts and interests — I can turn what I read in some of those links into story.

    • I know your stories aren’t primarily romances, but maybe it might be worth joining RWA for the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter, especially if you take some of their workshops. That might be a nice, friendly first step towards growing your tribe. Maybe a safer place to start than the SFWA, which seems from the outside to be dogged with all kinds of controversy 😉 .

      • I think the big thing about SFWA is that they want pros in their group, and I don’t qualify yet. RWA does a great job with community, though. I’m just afraid that I might be pushed in directions I don’t want to go with the romance thing — then again, I’m afraid that non-romance groups won’t take human relationships seriously. (-: Sitting on a fence. Well, maybe it’s something to look into for the new year.

        I wish I had a local chapter. (-: I do have a writing buddy here in the neighborhood, so that’s a start.

  3. Great that you have a fairly robust tribe in place. My own is smaller due, in part, to my introvert-tendency to avoid reaching out to others. I’m also a “first draft with the door closed” type, so not a lot of brainstorming with others on my own work, though I have found that brainstorming with others on *their* work can often result in new ideas for me.

    • That’s exactly what I meant by Your Tribe May Vary. It sounds as though your closed-door, self-contained process suits you very well.

    • Oh, this! Yes, helping others really makes me take a different look at my own work. Or, if I brainstorm with my writing buddy, I find that what I come up with doesn’t work so much for her, but works great for me . . . .

  4. I don’t think I have a tribe as much as a bridge group, or maybe even a Mozart string trio, and I’m feeling a little shorthanded in the tribe department. But there’s always a balance to be found between having too much input and having too little. So far, I’m just muddling along!

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