The World of Writing is a big, scary place. There are more "rules to follow" than "rules to break." Articles are posted online every day, from reputable organizations like Writer's Digest, all the way down to personal blogs or websites. How To books clog up your Amazon feed; you do not know which ones to buy, which ones you need. There is a sea of places to begin - agents, literary journals, literary magazines, and presses or publishers marvelously made to order (small to medium to large, oh my!) - often, one does not know where to start. Where to begin to wade through the slush, rather than be the slush.
My goal in this column is to create a space where writers - of any kind and caliber - can discuss a variety of topics and, hopefully, take something with them. We all have our start somewhere: the back of English class, in the confines of our bedroom, deep online in the World Wide Internet. There are so many places to begin, but few tell you where to go from there. Why? Every journey is different. Unique to that writer. Sometimes, telling your story sparks something in someone. Sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes, they feel just as lost as before they asked you, "How did you do it? How did you get started?"
The song, "With a Little Help from My Friends," by The Beatles comes to mind. For me, I began writing in the unusual, pimply sixth grade. What a wonderful time to be a writer: already so full of pre-teenage angst. I wrote in my notebook first, but then, I found a little corner online called Quizazz - now, called Quotev - where I read and read and read. But one day, I wasn't so happy with what I was reading, and decided to post something I might enjoy, that others might enjoy.
Looking back, the pieces I wrote during that time were not good (OK, you caught me, they were absolutely terrible), but I gained something so much more precious than just my start: I learned the value of a writing community. Quizazz was not the only website out there that fostered writers; there was also: Quizlet, Inkpop (now shut down), FictionPress, Scribofile, and many others. Today, the largest and most successful one that comes to mind is Wattpad. They started much the same as the others, with low members and minimal quality stories. Now, I see polished versions of the drafts I used to see online perched on actual shelves at Barnes and Noble or Target. Amazing.
Whether publishing is your goal or not, a writing community - or group - can be beneficial. I found a space within Quizazz when I was young and knew nothing. Members of the website gave me feedback and encouraged me to continue writing; it was almost like a fiction workshop, though often, not as detailed. Nowadays, although I am still a member of Quotev, I am no longer active on the website like I used to be. I am a member of three different writing groups through Facebook - two exclusive, one not - and know, cherish, rather, the value of perspectives. A well of advice - experience - to drink from. Sometimes, these people can help you figure out your next step.
When you read your own writing, you see it as you intended it, but when others read your writing, they see it for what it is. What is on the page is what the reader gets. If you hope to publish, when you send your work out there, you will not be hovering over your audience explaining that, "Oh, this sentence actually shows how..." or "Well, what it really means is..." Again: what they see is what they get. Those books on the Best Sellers list? They aren't first drafts. Far from it, in fact. Those works took others' eyes, took shaping, re-configuring, editing upon editing upon finally rewriting the damn thing. But without another set of eyes - another perspective - that piece might not have become the work of art is it regarded as.
Writing groups and communities are a tremendous help. They can help amateur and seasoned writers see something within their work they did not realize was there. I know, many times, this has been the case for myself. I am forever thankful for the push, the fostering, and the confidence that Quizazz equipped me with. In a way, it was like a crutch on the bad days - because we all have them - that made continuing on, plowing forward, into the World of Writing, that much easier.
Please, share your experience with writing groups or communities with everyone in the comments below! What worked for you? What didn't? And if there is any writerly topic or subject you would like to see discussed, please don't be shy!