Monday, July 9, 2012

5 Things A Writer Can Do to Evolve

Today I have the lovely Angela Ackerman here as a guest. Angela is a Canadian who writes on the darker side of Middle Grade and Young Adult. A strong believer in writers helping writers, she blogs at the award winning resource, The Bookshelf Muse and is co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression. Angela is represented by Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency.
Take it away, Angela!


A difficult time for me was the moment I decided to pursue publication as opposed to writing for myself and wondering if I was talented enough to do it. It meant peeling off the rose colored glasses and admitting to my flaws. To become a professional writer, I had to come to terms with how much I didn’t know. Like many others, I knew zilch about the publishing industry, how to approach agents and editors, and most importantly, how to hone my writing to get it where it needed to be.

I’m still learning and growing, but looking back at what helped me evolve to the point I’m at now, five things stand out the most:

Embrace Learning: This is the hardest and most important ‘mind shift’ every writer needs to go through. We all come into the journey believing our writing is good, special, something that will become great with some polish. The truth is that we all need a lot more than a spit shine. Once we own up to that, we can begin to learn from others. Opening myself to learning allowed me to set my ego aside and start thinking long term for publication, rather than believing my writing was almost ‘there’ now. I read a ton--both on craft and fiction--and made a tower of notes!

Find a Critique Group/Partner: Making the decision to share one’s writing with others is a biggie. It can be scary to ask writers for honest feedback. You want them to love it and say it’s great, but what you NEED is for them to point out the problems. Accepting constructive criticism was a skill I needed to learn, and I found that by taking emotion out of it I was able to see that the feedback wasn’t personal. It took time to develop thick skin, but finding critique partners who were strong in areas I was weaker in was one of the smartest things I did! If you are looking for a safe and helpful critique sites, The Critique Circle is one of the best. I’ve been a member there for almost 10 years!

Conferences: Going to a writer’s conference is an excellent way to build relationships with other writers, interact & learn directly from professionals, and find out real information about how the publishing industry works. They can be expensive, unless you’re lucky enough to have one close by, but still worth it to save up to attend one or two as you are developing your career. The most important thing to do when choosing a conference is investigate. You want a conference that suits your current needs as a writer. If you are looking for an event that centers on writing craft improvement, going to a conference that is heavy on book marketing and industry information won’t help. Likewise, if you are a fantasy writer looking to connect with and pitch to editors and agents for your genre, attending a romance-focused conference will leave you dissatisfied. Attending a conference that is a perfect fit will leave you feeling rejuvenated, and give you the creative energy needed to go the distance.

Network: One of the best things about writers is this: they are EVERYWHERE! Connecting with other people who love to write will help you to build a support system that will help you at every turn. Search for writing forums, blogs, facebook groups and twitter hashtags (#writing #writersroad), and you’ll find writers looking to reach out to others for mutual support and knowledge sharing. A new place to check is WANA Tribe. If you feel intimidated by jumping into something when it seems like everyone already knows each other or you’re looking for something new that focuses on sharing, supporting & learning from other creatives, Kristen Lamb’s WANA Tribe is a great emerging community to try.

Find Freebies! Another beautiful thing about writing is that so much of what you need is FREE. Writing blogs, forums and websites are troves of useful help and info. There are a ton of great FREE writing opportunities out there , too! Organizations like Muse It Up and Write On Con offer free online conferences. Sites like Miss Snark’s First Victim and Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing offer free writing/critiquing workshops. There are free monthly opportunities to win critiques, pitching contests to mystery Agents and lovely free vlogs from incredible Writing Gurus like K.M Weiland & The Plot Whisperer. (The links I provided here are only a few of the great FREE resources out there, too!)

Tell me, what steps have you taken to evolve as a writer? What websites, groups or information sources do you recommend to writers? 

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression is a writer’s best friend, helping to navigate the challenging terrain of showing character emotion. This brainstorming tool explores seventy-five emotions and provides a large selection of body language, internal sensations, actions and thoughts associated with each. Written in an easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment.


58 comments:

  1. Excellent advice! These are each important steps, some that must be walked over and over again. For me the biggest thing has been reaching out to others and continuing to learn and improve.

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  2. Great advice here - thanks for sharing your thoughts, Angela! I think some writers underestimate the importance of critique partners, in particular!

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    1. I totally agree that the value of critique partners is often underestimated. They truly are brilliant--even for established writers.

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  3. These are great steps. I'm fortunate to have a yearly conference 27 miles from me every year that does a decent job of bringing us together, and critique partners that help balance me out. I also can't imagine doing all this in the time before we were all on the internet! I don't think I want to imagine that.

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  4. Heather, I agree--the support of other writers has gotten me through so many difficult bumps in the road. And the ability to share knowledge and grow together makes writing feel like a team effort. I love cheering others on and an grateful when others cheer me on, too!

    Trisha, I would send my critique partner Becca a gold plated Mountain Dew (her beverage addiction) if I could. the insight of others is gold beyond measure.

    Hildred, I am so happy you can access a great event like that year after year! And yes to the internet. I don't know how writers did it before. I mean typewriters is part of the horror, but more than that, writing would be so solitary, I just can't imagine it!

    Thanks everyone for the comments, and Lynda for being so wonderful and inviting me to hang out in her blog. :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Angela, for the honour of having you post here with this great article.

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  5. Thanks for the advice and the links!~

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  6. As always, Angela has offered up fabulous advice! Thank you.

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  7. Angela's advice is spot on. I think I'm doing most of these things. The writer's life is certainly fraught!

    Lynda, thanks for hosting such a great guest.

    Denise

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  8. Excellent advice! Great writing tips are everywhere online. Elizabeth Craig's Writer's Knowledge Database is a good source.

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  9. I'm not as far into the process as Angela, but I can definitely relate to what she said and what she went through when she first exposed her work to others. Great post and great advice! :)

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  10. Excellent tips. Evolution is essential for writers or we would keep writing the same story over and over again.

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  11. ooh, we do love all things Canadian!

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  12. Hi Angela, hi Lynda! These are great tips to help our writerly journey! A couple of years ago, I enrolled in an Open University writing course and enjoyed every moment of it! Will do so again soon! Take care
    x

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  13. Great post. I'm definitely going to do a conference next year.

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  14. I love when you said "set your ego aside." It's so true that when we're starting out we think our work is SO much better than it is, but it's out of ignorance that we believe it. We really do have to learn to be humble and take criticism in order to grow. Great advice.

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    1. yep, we definitely have blinders on when it comes to our own work.

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  15. Wonderful Angela. One of the biggest steps I ever took was starting a blog, meeting you and winning a mentorship with you. I learned how to learn, something I continue to do.

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  16. Wonderful advice, Angela,
    I'm big on learning, which provides opportunities to grow each day. Networking has been a lifeline for me and I've learned so much from other writers. As to critiquing, I joined www.thenextbigwriter when it opened and it was the best investment I ever made. Many of the writers who were there at the time were so much better than I, but took time to teach me how to write. One of the biggest assets each writer has is other writers.

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  17. Fabulous advice. The best thing that happened to me as a writer was when I stumbled onto Agent Query and Agent Query Connect. I found out how little I knew - but I found it out from people who welcomed me, treated me kindly and with respect and all kinds of fabulous advice. Awesome community :)

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  18. Thank you Elizabeth & S.A. Happy to help!

    Denise, you are too sweet. Sounds like you are right on track!

    Alex, I love the Writer's Knowledge Base--such an excellent way to find info on the topic you need! It was a brilliant way to 'collect' everything ont he #amwriting hashtag :)

    Melissa, it's all a process and happens in stages. When we're ready to add a bit more to our plate, we do, and that's the best part I think. Trying to do everything at once would be too stressful and discouraging. Sounds like you've found your pace, and that's great!

    S.P., exactly! And we never stop evolving. There is always more to learn!

    Dezmond, LOL. I think a lot of people are surprised to find out I'm Canadian. Most assume I live in the US. :)

    Old Kitty, that is great. I took a course as well, back when I first started. It was a 2 year writing for beginners course (or you could take that long to complete it.) It took me a while to finish it, but it was really what spurred me to write consistently and so I've very grateful I did it.

    Tonja, I have only been to two, but they were so incredibly worthwhile. I think too, when we make that $$$ investment, it helps to reinforce within ourselves that we really do believe in ourselves, and we're treating this not as a hobby, but as a profession. I hope you find a great conference!

    L.G., it really is about making that shift from believing we're awesome to knowing we're not...but retaining the belief that we could be with time and hard work. This mindset more so than any other will lead to success.

    Bish, you give me too much credit, but thank you. You are a wonderful writer with a lot of talent. If I helped you see that, then I am very glad. :)

    J.L., What I love the most about the writing community is the opportunity to learn together. When we do this, we all grow much faster and stronger. I count myself so lucky to be a writer and to know so many amazing writers that are happy to share what they know. :)

    Jemi, yes I so agree, the writing community has always been a welcoming, supportive force. We are all so lucky to be in this profession!

    Thanks everyone for the comments and for sharing what has really helped you grow and evolve!

    Angela

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  19. I'm so glad you added Find Freebies. It falls under the education category as well. I learn a lot from fellow writers.

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  20. Excellent advice! I need to do more with the "Find Freebies," though. I've learned a lot from fellow writers, but I've been rather lax with those online free conferences.

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  21. All great steps and advice! I agree with totally embrace the learning...so important. And with critique partners...another important part of the process. I always learn on both sides of the critique.

    Great to learn more about you, Angela! Thanks for hosting, Lynda!

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  22. These are excellent points. It wasn't until a few years ago that I began reaching out to others in person and online. I was very much alone in my teens and twenties when I was writing and querying. I'm so glad to have found people, organizations, and websites as part of my journey and to help other people in theirs.

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  23. Awesome advice! I've done the same things myself. It amazes me how many resources for writers there are out and how much they help us. We have a great and generous community.

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  24. Great advice. I especially love finding someone who can take a look at your work...honestly. I haven't had the need for that yet but one day maybe I will. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

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  25. Angela is a pro. Such good stuff here. I am working on attending a writer's conference. It's something I promised myself that I would do this year.

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  26. Great post! Thanks Angela, for highlighting these points. Thanks to you too, Lynda, for hosting. You make a good team. :)

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  27. I completely embrace your first point, and it is one that has no ending. I will never know it all. The day I think myself knowledgeable would not be a good day.

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  28. Terrific advice, all the way through. I'll add another: buy a copy of "The Emotion Thesaurus"! Got my copy last Friday, and love it. It's much easier to use an actual book as a reference, than try to navigate the same info on your blog. I hope you and Becca follow up with many more books like this in the future.

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  29. I agree so much with Angela. It's the coming to terms with yourself as a writer that's most challenging. First, admitting that you're not the greatest writer, then opening yourself to criticism by others are both major hurdles. Third is getting that skin very thick, but making each use of each rejection to learn more about your craft.

    Excellent post.

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  30. Emily, it's great to have so much free info at our fingertips!

    Cherie, I think WriteOnCon is in August, so maybe you'll be around to take advantage of that one :)

    Loree, thank you. I'm learning as I go!

    Medeia, I know what you mean. When I first started, I wasn't online and I didn't know about the support out there. I'm so glad some Yahoo searches helped me find my way to other writers!

    Christine, I agree--we're very lucky!

    Elsie, it is a great boon to find someone who can be honest and not let friendship get in the way. I know you'll find a perfect fit when you're ready to!

    Jay, you are way too kind, lol. I am excited for you, attending your first conference. It is so exciting--I hope you find a great one!

    Karen, thanks for stopping in! Lynda is awesome for letting me take over like this, isn't she?

    Mirka, I love to learn, so for me the first one is just a pleasure. There is no end to what we can accomplish if we keep stretching ourselves to become better.

    Susan, LOL. Thanks for that shout out. I am so happy you are enjoying the book and getting lots out of it. Becca and I hope to have the next book in the series out this next spring. :)

    Lee, perfect summary! This is exactly how we need to be. :)

    Hope everyone is having a terrific Monday! (Tuesday for Lynda!)

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  31. This is great advice!

    I find most of my information from blogs. It's easy to find tips on how to do something on the web these days.

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  32. I meet with two critique groups and the people in those groups are GREAT advisers to me! Thanks for this post. It made me feel good to know I'm on the right path. :)

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  33. Congratulations, Angela, on how very well you've done with your career, so far.

    Personally, I would love to attend more conferences. Nothing like getting out from behind the old laptop and moving about in the beautiful world with like minds.

    Lovely post, Lynnie.

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  34. great advice! and thanks for the links! thos was very helpful!

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  35. Great post... I regularly take writing courses and enter contests... I'm always learning something new.

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  36. Wonderful advice, Angela. You are an amazing resource to so many of us. :)

    I have quite a few critique partners, love going to conferences, and have made some amazing connections online.

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  37. Lovely post, Angela. You're so spot on!

    And Lynda, I always look forward to your posts... they're always informative and relevant. Thank you for that! :D

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  38. For the last two years, I've attended every workshop and conference I could - so many I sometimes get muddled, but it's been well worth it. My writers' group has also been amazing for developing as a writer. I feel like it's been a great apprenticeship!

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  39. #1 is my favorite. We have at tendency to think/hope, at certain points, that we've arrived (when we finish the book, find an agent, get a book deal, etc.). But there's ALWAYS more to learn.

    For me, risk-taking is a big part of evolving. I wouldn't be in the position I am as a writer right now if I had only done what I felt comfortable doing. For me, that's a big one.

    Awesome post, Angela. Thanks, Lynda, for hosting her!

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    1. I agree that risk taking is a huge part of evolving. It made a huge difference to my work as well.

      You are both most welcome to guest here any time.

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  40. Excellent advice, Angela!! I'm so curious about the Critique Circle. Finding critique partners within my particular genre has been more difficult than I expected it to be.

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  41. That's a great post! The only waters I haven't dipped a toe in yet are conferences... There just don't seem to be that many local (in Montreal) ones :-(

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  42. Look at all those wonderful links! There really are so many opportunities to learn, grow, and share. I love this about the writing community and love that writers are always developing their skills. Everyone is a work in progress, no matter where he or she is on the journey.

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  43. Golden Eagle, I agree--there is so much great info on blogs!

    Diane, I have a few critique groups as well, and they are all so valuable! Congrats on finding good matches!

    Suze, thank you. I agree, I would love to get to more conferences. If they didn't cost so dang much, I would go to all of them. It's great being around writers for a whole weekend!

    Tara & Tf & Morgan, that's great--glad the post helped. Keep on learning!

    Sharon, I have as well. I don't know what I would do without the amazing support I've found both from writers online and in person.

    Charmaine--I like that word, apprenticeship. That's exactly what we're doing isn't it?

    Becca, risk taking is HUGE.

    Heather, the Critique Circle has 1000's of members of all genres. The membership is free, so I suggest signing up and having a look around. You can view stories up for critique and look at past critiques given so you can get an idea of the range of feedback. Too, there's an active forum and private areas as well!

    Deniz, a fellow Canadian! I know, it can be a challenge to find a good conference that is close by. I'm in the same boat.

    Cynthia, always nice to see you in the comment box. I love how you put that, every writer being a work in process. So true!

    Happy writing everyone!

    Angela

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  44. Aha! Good to know I'm doing it right. I have my first conference in October, right before my book comes out, but I'm good on everything else. Excellent article!

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  45. Great post. Wonderful advice! The Emotion Thesaurus is a must have for all writers.

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  46. Hi Lynda, its great to see Angela here. Her advice is wonderful. Angela is one of the most selfless writers I have ever come across. She is always ready to help other writers hone their craft. The Emotion Thesarus is super.

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  47. I'm bookmarking this page! So much of this info and the links is exactly what I need. Thank you for this post :)

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  48. The same as you, Angela. I agree that opening up to learning was the biggest step toward growth.

    Hi Lynda :)

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  49. Lynda - Thank you so much for displaying the button for Weighted!!

    The Emotional Thesaurus is a MUST have in your library. Love it!

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    1. No worries, Ciara. I'm looking forward to its release :)

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  50. This is a great list. I found blogging in general such a huge education. I took a 9 month writing course but didn't start maturing as a writer until I'd cut my teeth on a few challenges from microfiction to poetry to flash fiction to romance you name it I had a go. It was a great learning curve and the feedback is helpful from those who are honest without being cruel, of course. Finding a CP you can trust is also golden!

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  51. I agree with all of these- especially the one about embracing learning. I think its one of the most difficult things to do as a writer. However, once you open yourself up to it you really are opening yourself up to an entirely new world.

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  52. It's good to know that I am on the "write track" Lynda! Thanks for your links...especially the "Mystery Agent" Although I have not taken advantage of the site enough, http://cbiclubhouse.com is a comprehensive site for picture book writers.

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