Monday, March 23, 2015

Writing in Community and Writing Alone

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

The reason I wanted to create Go Teen Writers was because for years I was very alone as a writer. I had lots of supportive people in my life, thankfully, but they weren't people who had ever been in the trenches of story writing. They brought words of encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, or a sandwich, maybe, but I always went back to the trenches by myself.

Alone in your story can feel like a scary place at times. Not always, certainly. But on the days when the words don't seem quite right, the questions can come. Is this any good? Does it even matter? Will this ever amount to anything?

When I was in my season of being alone as a writer—which lasted during my teens and first few years of my twentiesI thought that once I had writing friends, I wouldn't have those questions anymore. I imagined that I would have my arms linked with my fellow writers buds, and with their help, I would be secure in my stories.

And if writing friends didn't help make those questions go away, then surely having an agent or an editor would do the trick. How could a writer be insecure if they had that kind of partnership?

But as you likely know, especially if you've spent much time hanging around writing blogs, all writers have insecurities. Even your mostest favoritest writer in the whole world doubted a time or two when they wrote that great book.

As I've thought about how I deal with insecurity and pushing through times of doubt, I've been surprised to find that it isn't so much my writing community—as amazing and dear as they are to me—that sees me through, but rather lessons I learned during my season of being alone.

Here are several things I learned while doing this writing thing alone:

I learned to not need immediate gratification.

Writing and selling a novel is a long process. Honestly, there's not a lot of celebrating along the way. Just a lot of chipping away at a big project. Because I didn't have much of a choice, I grew used to working without anybody asking me to or without needing regular rewards.

I learned to spot and push through difficult places in my manuscript.

Because it was just me and my craft books, I had to figure out how to recognize when something in my manuscript wasn't working. Often this took a frustrating amount of time and distance. Then I would have to try and brainstorm the solution. These days I always choose to turn to critique partners for help, but there's still a lot of valuable in being able to spot problem areas and possible solutions in your own stories.

I wrote what I loved.

And I had no idea that it wasn't selling.

When I went to a conference in Floridawhere I made my first writing friend, Erica Vetsch—I was at lunch when a writer asked me what I wrote. I told them, "Young adult fiction."

As I said this, a literary agent was just joining our table. He said, "Young adult fiction? Who's buying that?" He went on to tell how he had several clients with great YA books that he couldn't sell.

If I'd been paying attention to the market, I would have known that publishers weren't buying my type of YA books, and that they hadn't been for a few years. Because I didn't know this, I had several YA books written right as publishers decided they wanted to try reviving teen fiction. 

I developed my voice.

Because no one was reading my work or influencing it with suggestions of change, my writing voice had room to grow. I won't expand too much on this since I recently talked about how to develop your author's voice.

I learned how to be productive on my own.

Writing communities, blessings though they are, can be a serious distraction. (Last year several people gave up Go Teen Writers for lent, and while we missed having them around, I totally understood.)

I remember being at a conference where I overheard one writer say to another that she was guilty of "riding the conference high" from one conference to another without doing much writing in-between. 

In my alone season, I was never guilty of spending more time talking about writing than actually writing, because I had no one to talk about writing with. I spent my time writing or researching how to get published, and for a while, nothing else really entered the mix.

I have no desire to romanticize the time I spent alone. I was making a lot of mistakes that I didn't know about until I went to a writer's conference. When I finished a book, I had no other writers who could look at it critically and tell me that my main character was completely unsympathetic. Instead, I had to be told that by contest judges and the agent I pitched it to. My life is much happier, richer, and rewarding with my writing friends by my side.

I need my writing community, but I also needed my time of isolation to become who I am. And on a day-to-day basis, I still need to pull back from the community to spend my time alone with my story.

What's something about writing that you've learned either from writing on your own or from the writing community (including writing friends, blogs, podcasts, etc.)?


  1. This is so true! Before I had a writing community and learned all the rules I was breaking, I really thought I could do anything with words. I could write any story, any character, make you LOVE any character. When I realized how much I had wrong, it was a serious ding to my confidence, and it took me a while to get to a place that was a happy medium between I-can-do-anything and I-can-do-nothing-right. But I needed both lessons to really hit a good balance. To learn humility AND confidence.

    1. I had a very similar experience, Roseanna. It's not fun at all to learn about all the mistakes you've been making, but the strength I needed to write alone all those years helped me to push through the weight of that and find confidence that I could fix this.

  2. Something I've learned is to never give up! Even when I'm having trouble with my story, I may have to step away from it and take a deep breath, but it's important to get back to it.

    And I just thought I'd say that a new Go Teen Writer's post is one of the things that I look forward to every Monday. Thanks Stephanie, Jill and everyone else who pitches in. What you guys do is really a great encouragement! :]


    1. I'm so glad that we're something you look forward to, Deborah :)

  3. You describe it so well in this article, Stephanie. I learned most writing by myself as well, and only in the last 3 years or so found a lovely bunch of writing readers. In the alone time, I learned two key things: self-discipline (sitting down to write without outside motivation) and a killer gut instinct (to know when something's working or not working). I still very much need and depend on my beta readers, but it did help me realize that being faithful all by myself could still produce good harvest.

    Thanks so much for investing in us here! You don't know how much I love and appreciate this blog.


    1. So well stated, Schuyler! I'm glad you've found writing friends, but I'm glad you had the time on your own as well.

  4. Reading other people's successes or passion for their books/characters gives me the drive to match their enthusiasm. Normally I am on my own. I've had to learn to push myself past hard points and how to know when something just isn't going to happen. No one gets to take a peek until I've been through several drafts, and to me that is okay. It means I have to really figure out my direction before I let the words see the light of day.

    Thank you for making GTW for everyone and all the time you invest in it. It's such a great place to engage in or sit back and nod at, because I know this is a great community to look over.

    1. I'm so glad you've found Go Teen Writers to be a valuable place, Kelsey. I'm very similar to you in that I also need my alone time with a manuscript before I'll let others read it.Too many voices too early make it very difficult for me to write.

  5. It seems that I've dropped back in at an opportune time. I'm signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for this April, and right now I'm scrambling to get things in place before I start the rough draft. I have my storyline developed, and my characters are, from one extend to another, well-developed. But my fantasy world is extremely weak. I was hoping that some of you would have some suggestions as to books that might help? I thought that I had seen one on here before, but I don't see it anymore.

    1. You could try Storyworld First by Jill Williamson. It's probably the book you've seen on here

    2. There are a few very helpful links on the website such as this one:
      If you click on 'Looking for Something Specific?' at the top of the web page, scroll down, and there is a section with links all about creating fantasy worlds. Hope this helps!

    3. Wow, I have no idea what happened with the typing in my previous comment. :)

    4. Thank you, Melissa and Anonymous! I'll go check these out! :-)

    5. Jill's storyworld series that Melissa linked to is a great place to start. Jill's Storyworld First book is amazing as well.

  6. Before I found writing friends this year from my blog, GTW and other writing blogs, I was completely alone in my writing, and I agree that it definitely helped me. I was mostly writing short stories then-with the exception of one novel-and I learned a lot about finishing what I start even when no one was holding me accountable. I also got comfortable with plotting, which has really helped me with novel writing. Still, I don't think I would have gotten through my first novel without the writer community. I wouldn't have the motivation or the strength to just push through the whole thing and finish it. I'm so glad that I have this community to encourage me.

    1. Learning how to write without needing someone to hold you accountable is a skill that you'll need as a professional writer. My agent never checks in to see if I'm doing what I'm supposed to. That's my responsibility, and agents/editors have too many authors on their hands to babysit anyone who doesn't know how to be productive on their own.

  7. Ha! This is so me... Never really knew there was such a thing as a writing community until a little while ago, now I face the challenge of figuring out how to worm my way into it:)