The long haul
For many writers, especially those who started seriously pursuing publication decades ago, the Holy Grail, the mark of being a “real” writer, is having a book published by one of the big New York publishing houses. Being a writer who’s been seriously pursuing this marker of success for twelve years, with a first attempt at it some twenty-five years ago, there have been many times along the way when I’ve felt like a failure. For the last four years people have been telling me I’m “so close.”
I doubt I would have stuck with it this long, no matter how strong the calling, if I hadn’t had critique groups along the way. I co-founded a group twenty years ago that offered primarily support and encouragement, as we were all beginning to learn our craft. Several years later, after finding the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI, I helped to start another group focused on children’s writing, which led me to the Wild Writers.
The Wild Writers offer critique that is no-holds-barred, sometimes very tough, and exhausting and/or exhilarating for the person in the hot seat. Receiving critique from these folks toughens the skin. Yet the intention is always to help the writer improve the story and hone the craft, and the underpinning of every critique is encouragement. Often the discussion evolves into brainstorms that may or may not give the writer the gem she needs, but always provides food for thought.
When any of us has a success to report, there’s cheering, toasting with sparkling juice, and sometimes guacamole. When possible, we attend award ceremonies to cheer each other on. We have room parties at conferences. We go to book signings. And when the news isn’t as good, there’s sympathy and understanding. The group’s belief in my abilities has buoyed me up when I’ve been lost in doubt, and I know I’m not the only one who has let the group carry my hope for me from time to time.
The real reward
Along the way, these wild writers and illustrators became part of my family, one clan in my writing tribe. They anchor my career. Because of my critique groups, I’ve stayed on the path. And because I stuck it out, I found the places I belong. Millions of years of evolution have selected for belonging. It’s just easier to survive in community. And writing as a vocation is all about surviving. No matter what happens with publishing, I have friends who will sympathize, who know my journey.
For years I’ve gotten the message through working with my dreams that the outcome is not what matters, it’s the path. I’ve wrestled with that, especially around with the question, “Why was I given this longing to be published if it’s never going to happen?”
It’s hard to have such single-minded focus in the face of the long slow uphill climb, but it turns out that the longing is itself the gift, because it drew me along this path where I sought out the support I needed and found it in critique groups, and the larger network of writers I see at schmoozes and conferences.
As I look back now over twenty years of building friendships I see that the path does matter more than the goal, and that walking the path brings unexpected rewards. The goal serves to light the way of the path, but achieving the goal won’t be the whole reward, nor even the most important part of it. When I see how the path has led me to community, I see how truly lucky I’ve been.