The Importance of a Writer’s Support Network

Being a part of a writer’s support network is, I imagine, a bit like being a nurse back in the Sixties or Seventies. What I’m talking about is the popular misconception surrounding writers and doctors: that they should be held in high esteem because they alone are responsible for the work that goes into their respective professions.

The show Scrubs did an excellent job illustrating my point: it regularly emphasised just how unappreciated nurses are, particularly when it showed them being undermined by doctors with bigger egos and less experience.

Hopefully nurses today get more respect from peers and patients than their predecessors did. Unfortunately, I really wouldn’t know; I’ve been fortunate enough not to have had much experience with hospitals.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking, ‘Well, Dudemeister (sorry, still on Scrubs), a nurse and a writer’s support team aren’t the same things’. And it’s true. They aren’t. Nurses usually play a much more active supporting role than the spouse, brother or friend of a writer. But the point still stands: these are important, but largely thankless roles.

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My greatest weakness as a writer is my inability to plot (if loose, ambling stream of consciousness prose was in fashion, I’d be laughing), therefore I find discussing ideas with friends and my partner invaluable. Still, I’m much too stubborn to accept any major pieces of advice; I usually find they contradict the vague, undeveloped ideas that already exist in my head. Character nuances and logical insights are, on the other hand, extremely helpful. Having someone constructively point out a detail you’ve overlooked is a real boon. I know I would much rather have these kinks ironed out in the planning stages so I can avoid doing an even heavier redraft than necessary.

Even if you haven’t done something strictly wrong, it can still be helpful when someone points out a more effective way of doing something. (Well, at least it is to me; I can imagine some writers could get defensive about it. I usually get excited when an opportunity to make an improvement presents itself.)

Finally, unless you’re a real lone wolf (and why would you be? Why wear the burdens of such a solitary pursuit if you don’t have to?), it can be wonderful simply talking to someone about your writing plans. Articulating an idea will often help you discover more about it; if you exorcise it from your head, you’ll be able to assess it in a way you couldn’t before, and if you consider the feedback and interest levels of your listener, you’ll be able to gauge whether or not the idea has merit. This can be helpful in revealing your story’s potential demographic (though I wouldn’t sweat this kind of thing too much in these early stages).

Well, that’s it. Alfred Hitchcock famously relied on the advice and expertise of his wife, Alma. Stephen King similarly acknowledges that his career would not be what it is today without the input of his wife, Tabitha.

What I want to know is: who makes up your support network and how big a role do they play in your writing? Do you collaborate openly; building on each other’s plotting and character ideas until the end result is something wildly different to what was originally conceived? Do they read your works-in-progress and offer feedback? If so, do they expect recognition? Are they sensitive about having their suggestions knocked back? Do they tire of your need for their help? Or do they actively offer it?

Hit me with all those rich, nourishing answers.

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4 thoughts on “The Importance of a Writer’s Support Network

  1. Agreed! My critique partners are all aspiring writers, like me. They give me the honest feedback I’m looking for and often help me out of a jam when I don’t know where to go with something. I return critiques with the same enthusiasm.

  2. Hi Gwen. That’s great! I’m glad you have a network of trusted and understanding readers (not always as easy to come by as we’d like!). Returning the favour is something I didn’t touch on (saving that one for a more specific post about critiquing groups), but it’s very important in fostering long-lasting professional relationships with others, and of course it helps develop your ability to read critically.

    Sounds like you have a good system that works well for you. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Thanks for posting on this topic — it’s one I am greatly interested in; I’ve actually had a lot of trouble isolating a useful community of writers to network with. I had a great critique group I participated in while I was in high school but since undergraduate and graduate school, I haven’t been able to plug into a similar (however more advanced) community. I’m actually attempting to create a collaborative piece of writing on my blog currently — it’s an article about academic collaboration and copyright/authorship issues. I’d love your input there if you had the time/opportunity

    • Hi Katherine. Thanks for commenting (and sorry for my belated response).

      For sure, I’d be interested. Maybe you could shoot me an email (toconnell88@gmail.com) with more information.

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