Friday, 25 November 2011

Somebody to Lean On

Coming off the back of the 2011 SCBWI British Isles Conference, it isn't surprising that we've seen a lot of discussion about community. Candy Gourlay's wonderful Crystal Kite acceptance speech talked about how she was "looking for a way of life" as a children's writer, and found it in SCBWI. And it was Candy herself who took the lead in this, creating structures (both social and technological) that helped SCBWI-BI become a community. It's a pattern I've tried to follow – I specifically remember proclaiming: "I want to be the Candy Gourlay of Undiscovered Voices 2010" and I hope I've stayed true to that – though without the Carnegie nomination as yet.

Most writers – even if they work in isolation – are people people. To write well, it helps to have a fascination for the human condition. To write well - as Candy and I discovered - you need the help and support of your peers. Because writing isn't about putting words on the page, not really. Writing is about creating and sustaining the mental attitude that gets you to the page in the first place. Writing is about pushing through the blocks and believing in your own judgement, when so many others would seem to know better. Writing and getting published is a crazy, stupid, wonderful dream.

It's good to find others who share your dream. That stops it feeling quite so crazy.

Many writers, like myself, came from difficult family backgrounds. We crave a certain stability that was denied to us as children. What better way to deal with this, than to build our own support structures? That's what I realise I've been unconsciously doing for much of my adult life – getting married, staying married, having children. I do it in my writing life as well, trying to build groups like the Undiscovered Voices 2010 winners, so I've got someone to fall back on when life takes a wrong turn. Put like that, it sounds kind of selfish. But these groups quickly take on a life of their own.

There is a fragility to the writing community at times, though. Perhaps it's inevitable if you put a lot of people together who are all trying to work out their issues in public. Communication breaks down. Jealousy rages. I've seen a couple of writing friendships wrecked by random, unfathomable, even aggressive behaviour. And that's a scary thing because I wonder if it could happen to me. Could I misunderstand or resent someone enough that I'd want to hurt them in some way? Let's hope not!

By and large, we keep those frustrations at bay in the children's writing community. Perhaps being perpetually looked down on by "grown up" writers helps to give us a sense of perspective. When we come together – at events like the SCBWI conference – it's a joyous, life-affirming thing. I realise I have so many people that I can count on, that I can lean on in times of trouble. I hope they know that they can always lean back on me.



  1. Excellent post, Nick

    And oh so true. I never cease to be stunned at the supportiveness of SCBWI members, our ability to applaud and celebrate other's success when we are mired in our own failures. I've worked in other 'creative' environments and found nothing but back-biting and jealousy, not to mention mind-games. That's what I love about SCBWI and you are have expressed it beautifully here.

    Many thanks

  2. The world of children's books does seem to be mostly populated by warm-hearted people, as typified by SCBWI. Imagine being an actor!

    And yes, a sense of 'underdogness' probably helps. But as bunkers go, it's a pretty genial place to be:)

  3. I think that seeing more and more published authors at out events has made me realise that you never stop learning. And you're so right, it's a fantastic boost to have company along the way!

  4. Nice post Nick. I certainly felt the sense of community when I was there a couple of years ago. That's the same sense of community we're trying to build here in our local SCBWI. I love SCBWI b/c it feels like I'm in an international community of children's writers!

  5. Spot on Nick.
    You have my unconditional support such as it is.

  6. i think the wonderful thing about children's books is that we are not in competition - we are all on the same side. and me talking up a fellow author does not do me down, because it's about reading, isn't it? one or two of us might make a lot of money out of the business, but first and foremost, we want to tell stories and win young people to the magic of reading. nice post, nick ... hang in there.

  7. I can come over quite emotional at the warmth that radiates from SCBWI - so different from the sort of atmosphere many of us often encounter(ed) in our day jobs. And no, I can't see you ever falling out with anyone, Nick.

  8. SCBWI is the best thing I've ever joined. I can honestly say that without it I wouldn't still be writing. But not only do they keep me writing but have helped me improve my writing beyond recognition (for the good I hasten to add) AND given me a real sense of belief in myself. The support is so forthcoming you can't help but want to give some back.

    Last week at the conference, I walked into a room of people I had never met face to face before and knew they were already my friends. It was strange to see people and chat as if we did it every week.

    Thanks for chatting Nick :-)

  9. Such a lovely post, Nick, and so very very true! I was only thinking last night how much my life has changed since joining SCBWI almost exactly a year ago. I would never have met most of the people I call close friends now, never mind finished a novel I'm (almost) happy with!

    So kudos to SCBWI, and to you and your lean-worthy shoulder Nick.

  10. Lovely post, Nick! And as you know, I think SCBWI rocks. I've learned so much from all of you guys, I don't even know how to say thanks.

    Well, I might as well start now... THANKS!