Learn to be a Writer, Part 1 – It Takes a Tribe

So you wanna be a writer? Can you be a writer? Yes, you can learn to be a writer, especially if, like me, you’ve had an underlying feeling for a while that you are meant to be a writer. Of course, it helps if you can write, too, and are an avid reader as well.

Learn to be a Writer – It takes a tribe

This was the theme of this year’s Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference (2019), in Colorado Springs. This is one of the things any writer starting to get serious about their writing does – they seek out their tribe. This means joining a local writer’s group (or two or three), being around your people who are also writing and who can help you along your journey, learning the ins and outs of writing and publishing, etc. I’ve learned more practical, professional information about becoming a writer from my writer’s groups than anything I remember from being an English Major in college. (Of course, it was a long time ago.)

I started in one writer’s group, from which I learned a lot and made vital friendships (which later translated into me being introduced to my future agent), then switched to a different writer’s group which met my immediate needs as a writer. Their focus is for all of us to get our stories finished. This was exactly what I needed – a structure and group of writers to hold me accountable to actually getting my first novel finished. They meet every other week, and in the off weeks we each submit around 2,000 words, to get feedback on at the next meeting. This way we each receive good feedback from readers of our first draft while it’s being written – helping to make it better and shape our story. This group is my Alpha Readers, if you will.

Studying the Craft of Writing

Then there’s actually studying the craft of writing. I highly recommend you connect with writing friends by going to writer’s conferences. Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference is one of the best, but there are many others – there’s an annual conference in Denver, one in Salt Lake City, the Romance Writers of America hold their conference in a different city each year. Speaking of which, be sure to join these groups. Joining Pike’s Peak Writers is free (and they hold monthly workshops, meetings, critiques, etc.) and they offer scholarships to their conference. Some writing organizations have an annual fee, like the Rocky Mountain Writers in Denver.

You will learn to be a writer as you take the workshops and classes at these events. There are so many class choices offered at conference, you can go to whichever topics you are most needing in your writing life. Last year I took classes on Writing the Perfect Monster, Techniques of the Advanced Novelist, Writing to Theme, All About Magick, How to Make Money as a Writer, How to Build an Author Platform, and Getting into the Hot Middle Grade Market, to name a few. I also learned, after professionals advised me two years in a row, that my novel, written for the Young Adult market, really is a Middle Grade novel – big changes in the revision process, like having to trim a 90,000 word novel to 50,000 words or so – yowza!

This year I attended many classes on the business of being a professional writer (from sources of income as a writer to building your marketing plan), as well as classes on going deep with your character, the resonance of writing, outlining your plot, customizing Scrivener, etc. (Scrivener is a writing software program that works great for drafting novels or other writing projects – even nonfiction.)

The point is, no matter where you are on becoming a writer (or being a writer), there will be classes that are exactly what you need to propel you forward.

Connecting with your TribeJerilyn Winstead with Rachel Howzell Hall

Besides the awesome classes, at conference you get to hear inspiring talks from New York Times best-selling authors, and then meet them at BarCon in the evenings (or at the meal tables). This past conference I really liked Anne Bishop’s talk about tribes. She mentioned that our first tribe is with our own characters in our writing. We spend more time with them and in their lives than with any other tribe in our writing life.

Then you have the tribe of other authors and writers, published and unpublished, who you connect with in your writer’s groups, events and conferences. Then is your tribe of professionals – like when you get an agent, or work with pro editors, etc. Honing my novel with my agent has been so much fun – I now have a partner-in-crime, as invested in my story as I am, and together (with her set of objective, professional eyes) we are making my novel better and better. Soon she will be pitching it to publishers.

Can you be a writer?

Yes, you can learn to be a writer by starting to act as a writer – and joining your tribes is one way to get started. The tribe of your characters as you write, the tribe of your local writer’s groups, the bigger tribe of writers and professionals you meet at conferences, the professional tribe you develop as you get an agent or hire pros to help get your book published. Lastly, as you reach success, you’ll gain a wider tribe of readers and fans. Being a writer is an ongoing adventure with many ups and downs, and with our tribes we will make it together.

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