Writing for the most part is a pretty solitary endeavor. It's all about putting your butt in a chair every day for as long as you're able and cranking out the words. Many times this means that I go days without talking to anyone else besides my husband and kids which can be enough to drive any person crazy. It's especially bad when I'm facing something about the process that I don't know much about or haven't come up against before. At first this was just trying to figure out how to write well, then it was how to polish my work/find agents/query, and just lately it's been navigating the publishing process. Every stage at some point has reduced me to tears, scared me to death, and threatened to paralyze me. The only things that helped get me over every bump in my writerly road were the circles of people I managed to join both locally and online. It is beyond important to cultivate relationships with people who are dealing with the exact same struggles that you are or who've dealt with them in the past and can be that voice of reason. So exactly what do my groups look like and how did I find them?
The First Group(The Locals): A local writer's group for poetry and short fiction. I knew that I wanted to write novels, but back then I had no idea how to find a novel group and hadn't seen many advertised near where I lived for YA writers like me...so I joined a short fiction group that was starting up at my local Barnes and Noble. Turns out it was one of the best things that I ever did. Writing one page shorts/poetry and getting them critiqued by a few local professors and other writers taught me how to write purposefully. Just sitting in a room with other writers for the first time made me realize how many others shared my dream and had the same passion for talking about writing.
Second Group(Crit Partners): Online critique partners.( I found mine through Maggie Stiefvater's blog and WriteOnCon, but there are literally dozens of other places to get connected.) I settled on three core critters, but the process of looking for someone who was a good fit led me to meeting people that ultimately became part of my next group.
Third Group (Recently Agented Authors): When I became agented, I emailed several people who I'd swapped work with in the past and stayed connected to. One of those people was also recently agented and knew about ten other writers who were newbies as well. We formed a support group for the recently agented and have been really tight ever since. Now these are the people I'm on retreat with along with about ten more who are ahead of us in the process and are very generously sharing their advice/experiences.
Fourth Group (THE LUCKIES): This is the group that I dreamed of joining back when I was reading the Apocalypsies blog and hoping that one day I'd get published. This group has been completely awesome for helping me adjust my expectations as I get closer to my book debuting and who are like my very own small town of writers--a community where I can safely vent, cry, laugh, and celebrate--not only my experiences, but theirs as well as we go through the crazy/unique experience of debuting as an author.
If I could give a new writer one piece of advice (beyond the "read a lot, write a lot" mantra) it would be to make it a point to connect with other writers at every stage of your journey.
So, to support that advice, I'm going to list a few links to places that will help get you started:
Maggie's site (she doesn't do a crit connection often, but when she does, there are good writers trying to connect here): http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com/
WriteOnCon: (I mean a free writer's conference every August, forums to post your work and make friends, COME ON, this one is a no-brainer): http://writeoncon.com/
Verla Kay Boards: (SO much great infor here and so many people to connect with.): http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php