It’s Not What You Know…

In the process of cleaning out my closet today(so far there aren’t many skeletons), I came across a business card from one Mary Robinette Kowal. My wife and I were lucky enough to meet her at the first ever NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis in 2015. We shared a cab with her, talked about reading and writing, found out she is a Hugo award winning short story writer and novelist, and just had an all around good time. We traveled by train, and on the way back we had a stop in Chicago. Mary asked if we would like to go see the museum of art with her (which gave me the idea to make my writer an artist in my first completed manuscript, so thanks, Mary). The best part was talking about the writing process. We talked names, dialogue, and setting. We later learned that she actually teaches a class and is one of the participants of the amazing podcast Writing Excuses. All in all, it was a cool trip.

That year, I won Nanowrimo and finished my manuscript a couple of months later. Even though I did the work of sitting down and typing, I chalk it up to that convention and, more specifically, those interactions with Mary. This isn’t because she’s a great writer or a great teacher, though she is and she is. I attribute this to my lack of contact with the writing world.

I attended a university for professional writing for three years before it closed and I changed my major to education. Most of the other people there were not necessarily that good (though I’m sure I wasn’t, either). The value of the experience came in being around other writers, other people who are as passionate about writing as I am. I realized in Minneapolis that in the interim years since that school closed, I had been longing for, hungry for that connection. Instead, I got six years of working with people who think writing is a hobby. Anyone who writes seriously is familiar with the “advice” other people can give. The one I get the most is, “Oh, you should write about your experience working here.” I also cannot avoid an inevitable eye roll on my part when I hear, “I could write, but I don’t have time/don’t want to/etc.” Writing isn’t taken seriously by non-writers.

Fast forward to October of 2016. A year had passed since the first NerdCon, and my wife and I couldn’t afford to go this year. The advice and community we had received the year before were great, but their effectiveness was starting to fade. Earlier this year I started my second novel, began the revision process of the first, and wrote a few different query letters. I was still missing something, though: community. So I set out to start a writing group. I wanted to get together with other writers and share and comment on what we had written. I wanted to create a community. Instead, I found one: The Fort Wayne Fiction Writers Guild. I attended meetings and started sharing my work and getting feedback, and my writing has improved. Not just the quality, but the quantity, as well. Because writing is the one place where quantity begets quality.

I teach high school English, and I’ve been writing for many years now. I consider myself to be pretty good at writing. What I discovered was that I needed help with writing well. A slew of unique voices help me out every two weeks to become better. And we are a support group. We critique each other, yes, but we also praise each other. We tell each other what works and what doesn’t. We encourage each other. And together, we take the most solitary of tasks, writing, and turn it into a group event. Could I get published if I didn’t have this group of writers? I’m sure that eventually I could. Would I be as good? Probably not. But even if I would, it wouldn’t be worth it. Because, in writing, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And I know some pretty amazing people.

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