When I was in high school, I heard the cliché “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know” so many times that I vowed to disprove it. I always felt it was important to obtain skills and knowledge. The world wouldn’t be fair if someone without knowledge could climb the ladder of success, right?
And to an extent, it’s true. One must obtain skills in order to succeed. But networking turned out to be more important than I realized.
When I think about writing, it’s a largely solitary activity. When I started out, it was just me, a pen, and a notebook. Sure, there was the amorphous “reader” implied in the mix, but until the writing got out there and got published, it was just me and my lonesome. In fact, I seemed to share in a misperception that famous writers simply became famous overnight. Almost like the New York Times would call them up and say, “We’ve decided we’d like you to write a novel that we’ll put on our bestsellers list!”
I kind of thought things would just happen. For a long, long time, I wrote and wrote and entered a few contests and … never got anywhere.
Then I decided to take an adult enrichment class at a local community college. It was a small group—about five of us, I think. And it was work I submitted during that course and shortly after that became my first published pieces. It wasn’t that my cover letters magically stated that I now “knew” some other writers, but it was the skills brought to me by the other writers that helped my writing rise to a new level.
See, when I was writing all by myself, it turned out I was “overwriting.” I was using all the skills I had as a writer, but my language was flowery and long-winded. When I got to the enrichment class, we had an assignment: use a picture from a magazine as the start of a story. I chose a magazine ad for a grandiose staircase. Much of my story described what the rest of the mansion would look like.
The feedback I received from others in the class, including the instructor, was helpful. They told me that based on just a sentence or two, they could picture the rest of the house. I had only to provide an outline and trust the reader to fill in the rest. Instantly, they had given me the power to cut wordiness from my writing and leave room for more relevant character development and plot.
During this class, the instructor shared some “secrets” about places to look when seeking publication. It was using his resources that earned me my first two publishing credits.
So in the case of the adult enrichment class, it wasn’t that I didn’t have skills; it was that I needed other people to help develop those skills and apply them to the marketplace. Since then, I have gone on to publish dozens and dozens of short stories, essays, and novels.
In fact, through networking at various conferences, classes, and presentations, I have forged many relationships with other writers. And with the Internet, it’s easy to keep in touch even if we don’t live close by.
I try to attend one or two writing enrichment activities each year (at the least!) in addition to attending my writer’s group twice each month. I also like sharing my experiences with others, which is why I signed up for two events happening soon in the Greater Washington, DC area.
The first is the Pennwriters Area 7 Conference taking place on Saturday (April 2, 2016). I’ll be presenting five strategies I use for improving writing. These strategies, working in tandem, are what helped me become a published writer.
The second event is one being organized by the Loudoun County Library system. It will take place April 23 at the Purcellville Library. I’ll be speaking about writing and publishing for young adults, referencing my novel The Scarred Letter. (Stay tuned here for details)
If you’re in the area, consider attending one of the events. If you live somewhere else and are an aspiring writer, consider making it your goal to attend at least one event this year. Although you need skills to succeed as a writer, you should never underestimate the power of other people.