When you nestle into a corner of your house or favorite coffee shop with your laptop, you probably think of writing as a solitary activity. After all, no one can finish a first draft for you (unless it’s a coauthored project), so the task isn’t a communal experience.
Or is it?
As a writer, Christian, and human being, your life is filled with both minor and major troubles. Whether you’re dealing with rejection letters, a computer crash, or kids screaming in the background, the problem that’s interfering with your dreams of publication might seem insurmountable.
And it will be if you try to face it alone.
Thankfully, you can find the strength you need within the writing community, which is why we’re centering a special event around the idea of writers uniting with each other. In this article, I’m going to outline specific struggles that fall into three categories (financial, personal, and physical) and explain how the writing community can help you overcome them.
1. Financial Struggles
Contrary to the opinion of bookworms, novels aren’t necessary for survival. Right now, people can barely pay bills, let alone splurge on books. That creates an unstable environment for people who are pursuing a writing career, especially with bookstores closing, Amazon’s effect on book selling, and the economic issues caused by COVID-19.
Have you ever wondered why many authors speak at conferences, teach courses, and offer coaching services? It’s because writing doesn’t always earn enough money to support a household. Even award-winning authors go through periods when they can’t afford to live off their royalties. Maddie Morrow, one of our former staff writers, interviewed a couple popular YA authors and discovered that they make only 5–30 percent of their family’s total income.
I’m not claiming that writers can’t profit from writing. They can—sometimes substantially. But even successful authors may have to supplement their income during hardships. As John Scalzi noted, authors like William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Cheever all needed to do so at one point or another.
How the Writing Community Can Help
The writing community can provide financial relief, but not in the way you might be envisioning. A few writing organizations do offer scholarships and money grants, but only a handful of applicants obtain those benefits, so the chances are slim that you’ll be one of them. However, regardless of whether you get lucky or not, philanthropy is not your largest asset within the writing community.
The main advantage you can tap into is cross-promotion. You’d be surprised what a bookstagram post can achieve. I can’t count how many times I bought a book because someone raved about it on Instagram! Have you done the same?
Word of mouth is powerful, and the writing community will speak the loudest about the triumphs of their own. Kara Swanson, author of Dust, says that “in theory, you could sell a book without community—but I think it plays a massive part in genuinely connecting with your audience, building a loyal group of readers, and being able to have an invested and excited group of people who not only buy your book but also tell others about it, simply because they believe in it.”
Mystery author Rachel McMillan reiterates the value of forming relationships with readers: “My upcoming release is a switch in genre for me—from historical mystery to historical romance—and while my publishing team has put a lot into this re-branding, I was really encouraged by the reviewers and bookstagrammers who jumped on board with this shift and gave me some wonderful early feedback when I was nervous about how my new book would be received. It made me feel validated. Community is the most powerful weapon an author has—because at the end of the day, word of mouth is still the most effective sales tool for an author. More than any marketing or publicity or launch teams, word of mouth—either in person or online—is what makes people pick up a book.”
2. Personal Struggles
Brandon Sanderson may not need to supplement his income, but even NYT best-selling authors like him suffer the blows of harsh reviews. Every profession involves criticism, but writing is especially rife with it because you’re putting your work in front of so many people. First comes beta readers. Then editors. Last, you’ll run the gauntlet of Amazon reviewers.
When Rachel McMillan received her first negative review, she’d already gotten rejections from publishers, so she’d accepted criticism as normal. As I interviewed her, I was surprised to learn that negative reviews don’t bother her because “the entire publishing trajectory sets you up for them. You get used to rejections by agents and editors, then you receive editorial feedback on a manuscript that often asks you to cut things you loved or criticizes certain scenes, so by the time you get negative reader or trade reviews, you realize it is part and parcel of the game.”
As a Christian writer, you’re even more likely to encounter backlash because your faith is in opposition with the world. You might offend readers who disagree with your convictions. Conversely, you may even get pushback within Christian circles because you poked their sensitivities. No wonder writers are often racked with self-doubt!
How the Writing Community Can Help
Remember a moment when you considered quitting writing. What inspired you to persevere? A friend who assured you that your story was worthwhile? Remember a moment when you were frustrated and unsure how to fix your latest draft. How did you move forward? Did a critique partner share tips? Did an editor identify the plot hole you couldn’t see?
Due to various circumstances, I’ve been a loner for most of my life. When I started writing at age fifteen, I didn’t know any writers in my area or online. Since my parents weren’t writers either, I basically had to fend for myself. After multiple (failed) attempts at crafting a novel, someone introduced me to a website for teenage writers. Soon after, I joined the team as an intern, which eventually led me to become the public relations director here at Story Embers. Slowly, I befriended members of the staff and audience. We exchanged advice and cheered each other on.
Finding and participating in a writing community changed my life—and my perspective. I grew exponentially, brainstormed new ideas, gained confidence, and fostered my love for fiction. The authors I talked to during my research for this article expressed similar joys.
J. J. Johnson appreciates having close friends who are both writers and parents. “Being able to vent, bounce frustrations off each other, talk with confidentiality to one another—these are priceless friendships. I doubt I would have ever had enough courage to write middle grade or Iggy & Oz if I didn’t have these friends.”
For Kara Swanson, the writing community gave her the courage to write what was on her heart. “That was incredibly empowering for me, and as I grew as a writer, I continued to pursue those connections with that community, and they continued to be a huge support. And now that I have a book and something more to say, they are continuing to rally and support me in that.”
To cope with scathing reviews, Rachel McMillan turns to sympathetic ears. “Having people that we can rant to behind the scenes definitely helps. I recently had a trade review (a professional review in a major publication) where it was obvious that the reviewer hadn’t read my book, so her negative comments about it were unfounded. In this case, I was able to talk to my editor and have a little off-the-record vent session.”
No matter what stage of writing you’re in, surrounding yourself with a community will develop your skills as well as character. And when you’re feeling disheartened, those people will bring you hope.
3. Physical Struggles
Writers tend to have unhealthy habits, such as sitting and staring at a screen for six hours straight. Or staying up till 2 a.m. wrestling with an uncooperative scene. Creativity is mentally straining, and over time it takes a toll.
Plus, many writers have chronic conditions that hamper their productivity. Aleigha Israel, who has POTS and EDS, is one such warrior. “My health issues have caused crippling brain fog, and I haven’t written much in the last year or so because of it. It’s been difficult at times, feeling like I’m a bit excluded from the writing world. I often feel like I’m the only one who’s not writing.”
Furthermore, as I already mentioned, writers may need a second job to make a sustainable income. But the busier a writer’s schedule is, the less time he has to finish drafting or revising a manuscript. He may have to skip sleep or relaxation just to squeeze any writing in. Prioritizing daily tasks will be a juggling act.
Middle-grade author J. J. Johnson estimates that 80 percent of authors are working parents, which forces them to write when they can instead of waiting for the mood to strike. “When I do get around to writing, I’m sometimes very exhausted. The creativity just isn’t flowing. We as authors sometimes want to sit around and wait for the inspiration. We want the mood, the environment, a hot cup of coffee, everything to be right. As a parent who writes, I don’t have time for that. Sometimes the coffee gets cold and I’m interrupted by two rambunctious little boys who just want their dad’s attention.”
How the Writing Community Can Help
If you’re a writer, you’re probably tired. If you’re a writer and a parent, you’re definitely tired. The writing community won’t babysit your kids or prescribe sleeping pills, but it can be a shoulder to lean on during times of stress or illness. As Rachel McMillan points out, even a simple gesture like a note can lift someone up: “Seriously, if you’ve been putting off messaging your favorite author because you’re nervous or shy, remember that it often makes our day! We love hearing how our book touched you or how much you love the cover.”
Aleigha Israel describes the writing community as “a strong tribe of fellow writers and warriors all gathering around each other and supporting each other through thick and thin. They’ve helped me realize that putting words on paper and publishing books aren’t the only things that make me a writer but also encouraging others through the gift of words. From prayers and kind messages to offers of beta reading and editing, they’ve embraced me for who I am and what I can do during this current season of my life.”
Why You Should Support the Writing Community
You may be wondering who the writing community is. Your local writing group that meets every Saturday? An organization such as ACFW or Story Embers? All the writers in the world? The writing community is all those definitions and more—but it’s also you. You are what makes it thrive (or die). You are what makes it strong (or weak). You are what makes it a community (or a clique).
Our Christian Storytellers Manifesto states that one of our goals is to “[build] a rapport with fellow authors.” As writers, shouldn’t we be the first to support the writing community? And as Christians, don’t we have a double responsibility to spread kindness? “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11).
Nothing great can ever be accomplished alone. Story Embers wouldn’t have been founded (or continue to run!) if only one person were behind it. But with the passion and ambition of each of our staff members, our website has flourished. As Solomon declared, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecc. 4:9–10)
Scripture overflows with verses on serving others. That’s one of the trademarks of a Christian. You care. But, more importantly, you care through actions and not just words. I know you have a novel to write and a hundred tasks on your to-do list. But I’m sure you’ll discover that occasionally sacrificing a writing session to contribute to the writing community is as rewarding as crafting a riveting climax.
So how do you support the writing community? The options are endless! Many of you are already invested—you read our articles and participate in our forum, for instance. But we want to show you small, meaningful actions you can take that have a big impact on the writing community.
This is why we’re launching the Support the Writing Community Challenge, a fourteen-day event to build up fellow writers. In addition to the daily activity prompts, next Monday we’ll be releasing an article about the opportunities you miss if you seclude yourself from the writing community. Also be on the lookout for an announcement about the live panel discussion we’ll be hosting with Lindsay Franklin, author of the Weaver Trilogy. And on August 13–17, you’ll have a chance to nominate a friend in a care package giveaway!
I earnestly hope you’ll join us in this event (I think it’s going to be heaps of fun) so we can reach as many writers as possible.
Are you ready to make a difference?
Mariposa Aristeo is a writer of quirky characters and fantastical adventures filled with heart, humor, hope, and, very often, dinosaurs. If you can’t find her in one of her own imaginary worlds, try combing the pages of a great middle-grade fantasy novel.
At Story Embers, igniting (and sometimes imploding) ideas is her favorite pastime, so she often uses her creativity to make graphics for articles and writing quotes, as well as implement new strategies for SE’s social media channels. Explosions aside, she loves getting to know each and every writer here at SE by running the popular #embersgram hashtag on Instagram and responding to your questions and emails.
Besides being a co-owner of Story Embers, Mariposa is a member of ACFW, a children’s book illustrator, and the host of the IGTV series #middlegrademagicwithmari. You can check out her book recommendations (and shenanigans) on her Instagram page or her character sketches on her art account.