This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on being part of the writing/publishing community – wanting it, finding it, what it taught me, and some brief commentary on how it affects the number of female vs. male YA writers.
I remember the moment I knew I was a writer.
I’d suspected for a while that there was something different about my approach to writing. My friends liked to create, and we all liked to read, but writing always seemed like my inevitable career choice. I’d been writing fan fiction for a year or so, and was just getting into my first, real novel. I had these feelings inside no one around me understood, a sort of magic that didn’t fit in with what my school said writing was like.
I thought for a long time I was just being pretentious, or crazy (growing up as the only INTJ I knew certainly made me feel broken a lot of the time). And yet these feelings existed, I knew they did! Was I the only one like this in the world? Wasn’t there another creature out there like me?
And then I found one.
In the back of a tiny little book called Fahrenheit 451, there was a scholarly interview with Ray Bradbury. In it, Ray mentioned feeling like he just followed his characters around and wrote down what they did.
It was a simple statement. I read it in a normal classroom, in a normal school. But everything had changed.
I stared at the words on the page, read them over and over. Here was someone who understood. Here was someone who had experienced what I had. I wasn’t alone. No, in fact one of my worst fears has been completely dissolved. Not only was there someone like me out there, but it turns out I was a real writer! These feelings inside, this weird craziness that made writing feel like talking to other people inside my brain, it was all normal, and beyond that, it was evidence that I was legit!
(And so I understand why it’s a cliche in querying that lots of writers talk about how much they feel they belong to writing, instead of telling the agent about the story. For someone with no publishing credits, often the only ‘proof’ they have that they’re the real deal is those feelings inside that whisper or shout that this is what they’re supposed to be doing with their life.)
It wasn’t until later I realized I was still alone. All throughout high school I never met another ‘real’ writer. Sometimes new friends would give me hope, but ultimately writing wasn’t their greatest talent or their passion, let alone their call in life. I felt like an endangered species – special and rare, and incredibly, incredibly lonely.
I tried to find companionship in books, which helped, obviously. I sought out writers’ autobiographies, just to feel connected. But you can’t ask a book your questions, and googling was hopeless. I couldn’t vocalize what I was looking for. I was a member of FictionPress and FanFiction.net, but those didn’t make me feel connected. Writing forums online were full of pleas to read badly-written first chapters and hard-and-fast rules I didn’t want to follow. Publishing was a vague, intimidating idea in the future someone; I’d never heard of a literary agent.
How do you find what you’re looking for when you don’t even know what it is? When there’s not a word in any language you know for that feeling you get? When all you want is someone to shriek with and say ‘OMG me too!’
Even when I eventually found out about literary agents and signed with one, the only guiding source I had was agentquery.com. My agency sisters didn’t write in my genre (at the time), and I still felt like an outsider. Imagine that; even signing with an agent didn’t give me the sense of home I desired.
But in the end, community found me.
It came in the form of an invitation to join Let The Words Flow. Over the course of a few days I became connected to girls my age who felt what I did, who were serious about their writing, and out there making it happen! It was mind-blowing! For the first time since Ray Bradbury I didn’t feel so alone.
As LTWF expanded so did my sense of community. I started to feel out its shape, learning the ins and outs of industry and where various sub-communities overlapped or pulled away from each other. I started to learn about the lives of other writers, and finally all my old questions were answered: What are your favorite books? Where do you work? What do you wear? Do you write like me? Do you use the same methods I do? Programs? Laptop brands?! What do you eat for breakfast?! 1% or 2%???
To this day I can’t get enough of writers and their lives. I guess I still haven’t gotten over those years when all I wanted was the companionship of other writers. And that’s also why I’m so open about my own writing and why I try to be open about my life (when it’s not incredibly boring). That’s why I love telling my stories and reaching out to young writers, because I remember that loneliness, and the desire to belong.
Even if I never got published, holding onto this sense of belonging would be enough. Because it validates my internal purpose. Because when I’m here I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. Because writing is home, and I am there.
What about you? Where is your desire to belong? Where is the place, virtual or real, that you go when you want to feel home?
NEXT POST: How to plug into the writing community, and what being a part of it has taught me!
POST AFTER THAT: How community helps you succeed – and why it might be a contributor to the gender-gap in publishing.