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THE NOT-SO-OBVIOUS PROS OF PAYING IT FORWARD

by | Apr 16, 2024 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

I recently reconnected with an acquaintance I knew from a public pre-pandemic Barnes and Noble writers’ group. I hadn’t seen her in years and was excited when she invited me for coffee to catch up and discuss our latest writing projects. But when we started chatting after ordering our lattes, I quickly realized we were in different places in our writing/publishing journeys. She’d put writing on the back burner to focus on her teaching career and family obligations. Though I’d led a complex life, too, writing had remained an important part of my daily existence, and I was building a career as a novelist. I’d had an agent, just published my second novel, was writing a blog, had written five practice novels, and was an active part of two critique groups. My acquaintance was still working on her first novel. That said, she was eager to finish it and was seeking my support. I wanted to help her out as other writers had helped me, but my life was hectic, and I felt overwhelmed.

My husband, Richard, is a high school coach’s son, a former Division 1 college athlete(soccer), and a former nationally-ranked tennis player. He’s currently a corporate executive who considers business a sport. After my enjoyable friend coffee date, as I walked to my car, Richard’s words echoed in my mind. Your skills improve if you play with people who are better than you. Don’t waste your time playing down. My life philosophies don’t always synch up with my husband’s. But, because my time was limited, his words struck a chord with me.

A week later, when my acquaintance emailed and asked me to lunch, hoping I could help her with some plot issues with her novel, I hesitated before giving a response. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Ignoring my packed calendar, I decided to meet with her.

She became a friend, and we’ve gotten together weekly ever since. Through our interactions, I’ve learned that spending time with writers who aren’t in the same place as you, craft-wise and career-wise, has a ton of benefits. (I’m not just talking about the obvious: helping others makes you a better person and makes the world a more wonderful place.) I’m referring to less obvious benefits. I’ve listed some of these less evident gains below.

  1. For many of us, being a writer is a tough and emotional journey. Once we reach a certain level, we measure our success by our book sales, Goodreads and Amazon rankings and reviews, and our ability to snag an agent or editor. We forget that once upon a time, we weren’t even sure if we would finish our novel. We didn’t know how to set a scene, write believable dialogue, or edit and format a manuscript. But being around a new writer reminds us of just how far we’ve come. After that first lunch meeting with my friend, my Amazon ranking dipped. Instead of coming down on myself, I shrugged off the disappointment and gave myself much-needed grace.  Props to time spent with my newbie writing friend!
  2. Being around someone who’s still learning the craft makes you think about things you haven’t thought about in a long time…like the importance of showing and not telling, the value of conflict and tension in a scene, and the impact that a great POV choice can have on a story. After working with my friend and concentrating on the nuts and bolts of writing, I started to reconsider writing choices I normally made out of habit.  As a result, I began switching things up. My current writing projects, though still my voice, now feel fresher, and I love that!
  3. New writers are passionate, and passion is contagious. The friend I’ve reconnected with attended a writing conference. (Something I haven’t done since the pandemic.) She hired a developmental editor and recently joined a critique group. She is full of energy and her excitement has oozed onto me. I wake daily eager to write and rewrite.
  4. Through my friend, I’ve learned that the old adage “students are the best teachers” is true. Though my friend has just begun honing her novel-writing skills, her verbal communication and marketing skills are excellent. She can discuss and hype up her novel in progress like a seasoned pro.  Likely because I’ve adhered to the belief that my work should speak for itself, I often struggle to pump up and market my books.  Because of her, I’ve learned to be more open about my work, and this is definitely a good thing since writing is a business. My friend is also a great networker. She reaches out and follows up with almost everyone she meets in the publishing industry. I am following her lead and interacting more with my writing peers.

Bottom line: Giving back matters. If you choose to mentor someone, you’ll likely make a new friend in the process. But the truth is, though super helpful to the mentee and friendship aside, mentoring is a win for the mentor, too. And it’s not just because you’re helping someone inch closer to their publishing dream. Spending time with a new writer can make you a better seasoned writer. Think about it!

Please tell me your thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear them!

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