Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bootstrapping, Group Style

At my sf/f critique group Sunday night, one of the members announced he had sold a story, his fifth. It was an exciting moment because a year ago he was still unpublished. Now, through his own efforts and those of the other critique group members, he had passed a tipping point: He now knew enough about writing to create a salable story.

Before starting this post, I looked up the origin of the term "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps." According to Wikipedia, it came from a tall tale and in the 1800s meant an impossible task. By the 1920s, a time of great optimism and belief in the ability of people to rise above their circumstances, it had taken on its current meaning of bettering oneself by one's own efforts.

Writers are the ultimate bootstrappers. Sure, there are classes and clubs and contests. But they don't come to the writer; the writer makes the decision to search them out, take part in them, and learn from them. Except for the lucky writer who attracts a mentor, every writer has to find or create opportunities to become better. Almost everyone, mentored or not, has to write for hundreds or thousands of hours before they produce anything that someone will pay money for.

A good critique group functions as a mutual bootstrapping association. Each member of a critique group still has to put in the pages and the hours. But each time one member takes a workshop or reads a good writing book or sells a story, all the others benefit and are a step closer to their own goals.

It sounds like a miracle, but it's the result of each person sharing their increasing knowledge of writing, markets, and the publishing industry with the others and using their increasing knowledge to give the others better critiques. The group bootstraps itself to a higher and higher level of proficiency.

I know of two critique groups that started with all unpublished members and ended after everyone had become a professional writer with a busy publishing schedule!

Few writers have too many successes to celebrate. By being part of a critique group, you can legitimately celebrate each success of each of your fellow members. After all, you contributed to that success, just as they contributed to yours.


I have a contest running at my personal blog, For Love of Words. To enter, go to this post and leave a comment. The winner receives their choice of a trade paperback copy of my historical novel Like Mayflies in a Stream or a $10 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com.


I'll be blogging at Novel Spaces again on October 5. Until then, I'm wishing you many successes to celebrate.

—Shauna Roberts


Charles Gramlich said...

Several members of my critique group have had some things published too so I know of what you speak. It's cool to be able to cheer on your friends and fellow toilers in the field.

KeVin K. said...

I am always heartened by stories of critique groups that help each other succeed. I was a member of an online group from late 1998 to early 2000 that was made up of intelligent, mutually supportive, unpublished writers -- each bent on helping every member make it. And we all did. In real life, however, I have not found such a group. (Emotional support groups and ego cage fighting groups, yes; honest group dedicated to the craft of writing, no.) I keep hoping I'll find one.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, I totally agree.

KEVIN, good luck in your quest for a live supportive critique group. I've heard a lot of tales about ego cage fighting groups—they seem unfortunately common.

Terri-Lynne said...

The nice thing about being part of HRB is that we're like one bit writing group cheering one another on from the sidelines. Very, very cool.

Great post! Thanks!

Farrah Rochon said...

What a great post, Shauna. I don't know where I would be without my critique group. They make my life easier and my writing better.

Shauna Roberts said...

TERRI-LYNNE, I've been surprised how much everyone associated with Hadley Rille has bonded. After meeting so many HRB authors on FB, I'm looking forward to seeing those who go to World Fantasy Con.

FARRAH, you must have one incredibly fantastic critique group. [g]

Liane Spicer said...

I'm yet to find a critique group, but I do have a critique partner and it's wonderful to be able to share each other's successes and setbacks.