Even though they’ve never met each other face-to-face–indeed, they live in such far-flung places as Rochester, NY, Seoul, South Korea, and Mississauga, Ontario– Andrea Mack, Kate Fall, and Christina Farley have developed the kind of close bonds that usually form only after years of day-to-day friendships.
That’s because these writers belong to an online critique group called MiG Writers where they share their work with each other on a weekly basis, and offer the kind of generous support and encouragement that each writer relies on to boost self-confidence, gain expertise in their craft, deepen their determination, or simply remind one another about the joys of writing.
The writers who formed MiG Writers are dedicated to writing for middle graders and young adults. Kate started writing in 7th grade after a story that she’d written was read aloud to her class and her classmates laughed at all the right parts. Christina started her first critique group in 4th grade and has been writing stories ever since. And Andrea, who wrote stories and plays as a child, has dedicated herself to writing for children in earnest since her father’s death ten years ago.
At the moment there are six writers in the MiG Writers group, one who prefers to remain anonymous. Recently, Andrea, Kate, and Christina took some time from their work to share thoughts on writing and reflections on their bonds as friends and writers.
Wordswimmer: If writing is like swimming...how do you get into the water each day?
Christina: I'm not much for cold water, so if I stick my toe in, there's no way I'll be swimming! My motto is dive right in. In order to make this work, I prepare for my swim in advance. I daydream about sharks, outline my swim route, and even create a play-list for my backstrokes. If I have everything set up, there's no excuses.
Kate: This to me is the hardest part of being a writer, and I constantly have to find ways to renew my commitment to writing every day. Right now, I'm finding inspiration from Debbie Ridpath Ohi's 500-word-a-day challenge (http://www.inkygirl.com/500-words-a-day-challenge/). Basically, I trick myself into opening my Word file by telling myself it will just be for "a few minutes." Once I'm in the water, it's not that bad, honest.
Andrea: I try to write every day, but sometimes I just don’t get there. Part of it is procrastination, part of it is that my life is just plain busy. If I’ve decided to work on my novel, I usually open up a specific journal I have just for the novel and write about what needs to come next. That frees me to jump back in.
Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?
Christina: With work, kids, and running a household, it's hard to keep things afloat. My outlines and "goals" I set up keep me going, but I would have quit years ago if I didn't have my writing group. They keep me sharp and encourage, motivate, and inspire me.
Kate: My writing friends. I'm a social person and writing is solitary. My writing buddies keep me going by letting me talk through my plot problems and rejection discouragements. And I get a real lift from celebrating their successes.
Andrea: For my short work – stories for my Korean publisher – I have deadlines. I hate to let anyone down so I work hard to meet them. My novels tend to get pushed aside when my life gets busy. But I always go back. I’m determined and I have a lot of willpower.
Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?
Christina: I have about five solid, love it, dying to write it ideas at a time so a dry spell has never been an issue for me. It's time that I struggle with, which forces me to become a very fast swimmer. I work late at night or very early in the morning to make it work. If my husband wants to give me a gift, it's to take the kids out on a Saturday morning so I can work. Bliss!
Kate: I have more ideas than time, so for me, a dry spell is when I'm wondering why I bother with the hard work of internalizing criticism, inviting rejection, and searching my writing for its weaknesses instead of, let's say, playing Guitar Hero. I don't know exactly how I get out the other end of that, but somehow I always do. Again, my writing friends have a lot to do with it. And the shiny prettiness of a new story idea. And I suppose if I could quit, I would have by now.
Andrea: I don’t think I’ve ever really had writer’s block. I have notebooks full of ideas – for me the challenge is making the time to follow them up. I can’t write when I’m tired or after I get home from work, so I try to write early in the morning. I get some of my best ideas in the shower!
Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?
Christina: Rejection. You really need tough skin to keep those strokes going. And when I'm barely treading water, that's when my critique group swims on over. They give me ideas on how to make my manuscript stronger and challenge me to write better. They don't let me sink.
Kate: Getting in the water! It's so much easier to be lazy. I don't have anyone to tell me I have to get to work but me.
Andrea: Definitely finishing the first draft. The first novel I wrote took me years to finish. I tended to start each writing session by going back and revising what I had written the day before. Sometimes I never moved on to the new part! I’ve learned not to do that so much anymore.
Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?
Christina: I rarely feel alone, amazingly. Besides my brilliant critique partners, I'm part of an active blogging community, SCBWI group, a message board, and have a face-to-face critique group. My writing buddies are only a quick e-mail away and I love that.
Kate: Sometimes I have to put what I'm writing aside and admit I can't fix it right now. I move onto another chapter or another work-in-progress and trust that I'll figure out the answer someday. Like Dory said in Finding Nemo: Just keep swimming. Right?
Andrea: Lately I’ve been journaling about specific problems in the plot of my novel, and that helps. I also have two live-in critics, my daughters, who are always willing to give me their perspectives on something that isn’t working. Then there’s my fantastic critique group and http://www.critiquecircle.com, where I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about my writing.
Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?
Christina: The challenge of it and an avenue to express myself. The more I write, the more I realize I can never stop because I'm addicted to seeing a part of my creation on paper.
Kate: Reading over something I've written and truly liking it. It's such tangible evidence of having created something that wasn't in the world before.
Andrea: I love the challenge of putting words together to create feelings, personalities, other realities, and then the feeling I get when I’ve gotten it right. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment. A lovely bonus is that to improve my skill, I get to immerse myself in great books written by other writers.
For more info on Kate, Christina and Andrea, you can visit their websites or blogs:
Christina: http://www.christinafarley.com/ or http://Christinafarley.blogspot.com
Or take a look at the MiGWriters blog: http://www.migwriters.com/