Back in 2013, I attended the University of Wisconsin’s Writers’ Institute for the first time as a bright-eyed, self-styled savant, ready for agent pitches and the success that would surely follow.
Things didn’t exactly work out as planned.
Though I walked away from every pitch with a request for pages, nothing ever came of those requests. How could the agents go from extraordinary enthusiasm during my pitches to radio silence over the course of mere weeks?
I let this plague me for months, with thoughts of what a waste it had all been pecking at me any time I returned to my chair to write.
It wasn’t until a year(!) later that I realized it had not, in fact, all been a waste. In my time at the Institute, the real value had been in meeting dozens of other authors and creatives, every one of them in some way a vibrant member of the greater literary community.
After attending some smaller writing events in the area, I trained myself to focus less on the almighty goal of securing an agent and more on forging friendships with writers at every stage of their journey to publication.
As it turns out, this more than anything else has helped me improve as a writer. How?
Those connections led me to my critique group, to mentorship programs, and, eventually to the founding of the Writescast Network. Even the opportunities I had to simply grab a cup of coffee with people I viewed as mentors meant the world to me, building my confidence and expanding my knowledge base.
After four years away, I decided to return to the Institute in 2017 to catch up with many of these newfound friends—and to pitch a new manuscript, one I’d been working on ever since the Institute in 2013.
This time, however, I focused more on striking up conversations with those seated near me in sessions, during lunches, and in the halls. In the end, I had a blast at this conference and managed to secure a number of requests from the agents I pitched! What a time to have been alive.
Oh, but nothing came of those pitches, either.
This was a bummer, but far less so than when the same thing happened in 2013. Instead of letting it get to me, I kept writing, incorporating input from the beta readers and other trusted confidants I’d met over the years. 2018 was going to be my year to get an agent at the Institute, dangit!
But guess what? It wasn’t.
Because I signed two publishing contracts before the 2018 Institute even came around, and I can confidently say this never would have happened had I not gotten myself more involved in the writing community online and in real life.
Even though I had nothing to pitch in 2018, I still attended the Institute to further my craft, and by 2019’s conference—which came and went this last weekend—I was an invited speaker, leading four sessions and speaking on its success panel.
Brag, brag, brag, you might say, but that’s not what this is about.
This is about how one’s journey will take a number of unexpected turns, sometimes leaving us feeling as though we’ve fallen off the map entirely.
These feelings are normal regardless of the approach one takes to writing and publication.
The important thing to know is we don’t need to go it alone.
Had I opted to sulk in silence for years and years, I’d still be shuffling words around on that first manuscript, which, if I’m honest, could have only ever gone somewhere if I razed it and started from scratch—something I never would have had the courage to do had I not been empowered by trusted members of my community.
So where is your community?
They’re out there waiting, I promise. Many of you are perhaps already actively participating in the writing community on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Some of you might even be attending local events put on at your community centers or nearby universities.
The point is there are so many ways to find folks who will support you—and whom you can support—both online and in real life. Writing a novel doesn’t happen in a day, and neither does building a community.
But you can begin building the first bridges to connect you to that community today. All you have to do is start laying planks. The rest will surely follow.
Thank you to author Kristin Oakley for this post’s featured image, which was taken before the 2019 Writers’ Institute success panel event.