“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die … My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.”

-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Company You Keep

I've written before about the importance of community for writers, but until the last few months, I haven't been taking my own advice.  I do have a few writer friends, try to stay up on blog posts from my favorite writers/agents, and always want to attend all of the fantastic conferences and events from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Writers League of Texas.  But, the truth is that I haven't been part of a real community of writers since I attended graduate school (gasp!) ten years ago.  How did I let this happen?  There's the usual list of excuses: I have a family now and a full-time job.  I have family and friends I don't see enough.  The truth is, however, that just like anything else, building a community of writers takes effort.

This winter, I took the plunge and signed up for a class at The Writing Barn (an awesome resource for writers in the Austin area.  It's an oasis smack dab in the middle of south Austin that boasts 7.5 wooded acres and offers classes, retreats, Write Away days, etc.  While taking the class, I was working on a scene outside when a group of deer came vaulting over a nearby fence and bounded right by me into the trees...).  The class was titled How to Captivate Young Readers and was taught by Shana Burg, a talented and relatable middle grade writer and teacher.  It was thrilling to be back in a writing class after such a long hiatus, and Shana did not disappoint.  We had a great group, and everyone gave insightful and helpful feedback in the workshops.

After the class, a few of us decided to form our own writing critique group.  I was part of another group a few years ago, but we only met online and it quickly fizzled out.  Meeting in person with these women has already made an impact on my writing.  For one thing, it's so helpful to have firm deadlines.  They keep me in check, and I feel more inspired to get that chapter finished when I'm not just writing in a vacuum.  But more than that, it's such a relief to have others to talk to who are in the same boat.  I've always struggled to discuss my writing with people who don't do so themselves, and having this group of women in my life makes a huge difference.  There's also few enough of us that we are submitting large chunks for each meeting, and we're each becoming invested in the others' novels.

I've been working on a draft of a young adult novel, and the feedback from this group has been critical in working toward a polished manuscript.  I have yet another big life-changing event coming up in November.  While I would love to have the novel ready to go for submissions to agents by then, I'm not sure if it's realistic.  However, with the help of this group, my chances have increased exponentially.

What I'm Reading Now: I've just started the third installment in The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness.  The author is a professor of European History at the University of Southern California.  Her scholarly background certainly comes in handy in this ambitious series about witch and vampire academics who fall in love, thereby breaking the rules of their underground society, travel back in time to Elizabethan London, and work to solve the mystery behind The Book of Life, a Bible-like text that possibly explains the origins of creatures of their kind (also the name of the last book in the series).  I can't wait to see how she wraps up their supernatural love story.  

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