Why being fiercely independent and a writer doesn't always work
I am a fiercely independent person.
Is it because I’m a Taurus? If you believe in astrology, yes.
Is it why I’m an Enneagram type 4? Maybe.
Is my independent streak a leftover response from being the only responsible person in our household from the age of 5-15? Oh absolutely. If you know at seven that the only way the lights are going to stay on is if you personally make sure the bill is paid, then you’ve learned that you cannot rely on anyone to do anything for you. It’s a tough lesson at that age and its one I had hammered into my head for years.
Before she died, if you asked my mother, she’d tell you that a lot of tension in our relationship stemmed from the fact that I never needed her. Even as a baby I rejected her and wanted nothing to do with her. She claimed that I tried to change my own diaper by the age of two. Considering that my mother was a pathological liar, I take that story with a massive dose of salt. But even if the story itself isn’t true, it does point to a personality trait that always underlay every aspect of my being.
Other examples of my independence (and my contrary nature)- a long-ago boyfriend once pulled out my hair tie because he ”liked the way my hair looked when I wore it down.”
I pulled it up into a bun so tight it hurt my scalp for a week after to prove that he couldn’t tell me what to do.
Ditto with the giant tattoo on my leg that I got in direct protest of my former spouse saying I shouldn’t get a second tattoo.
Is the tattoo both larger than I wanted initially and in full color when I prefer the old school blue ink look?
Do I actually hate this tattoo?
Did it feel good to walk into the house and show the tattoo off?
When it comes to my body and the way I present myself, I make the determination, not anyone else.
When it comes to writing, though, being too independent can cost you opportunities. Not just opportunities to get published, but opportunities to learn the craft, to make connections with people who have fresh perspectives on your work, and to people who will champion your work to the moon and back.
When we moved to San Diego, I started going to The Writer’s Coffeehouse (an event hosted at the always lovely Mysterious Galaxies bookstore and typically hosted and led by Jonathan Maberry). Writers at every stage of their career would meet once a month and discuss publishing trends, where they were at in their latest work, and how to spot predatory editors and publishing groups among many, many topics.
Going to those events led to me joining the Horror Writer’s Association (HWA) and going through the mentor program. They also led to joining the San Diego chapter of the HWA, and meeting two women that have helped me immensely with my work.
The first is Kristina Grifant, who read a recent piece of mine. She provided the most thorough feedback I’ve ever received and my story is miles better because of it.
The other is Eunice Magill who invited me to a writer’s accountability group called Wily Writers where everyone works on their writing together. For someone like me who needs a deadline, this group is a life saver. Without it, I was averaging 200 words a day. Since joining I’m averaging almost 2,500.
I also participate every year in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and spend a fair amount of time working silently over zoom with a bunch of other writers also going through this huge push for a first draft together. After a bunch of rewrites (I think I’m on the 6th?) I finally started sending one of those novels out on queries. Right now I’m working on a new novel through Camp NaNoWriMo. Am I woefully behind because there isn’t the same push for accountability in Camp? Ding, ding, ding.
Aside from the writing itself, the business side of writing can be cruel and unforgiving if you aren’t paying attention.
There are publishing houses who only exist to take an unwitting writer’s money.
There are opportunities lost because you didn’t know to ask for certain things in your contracts.
There are self-published books that should never have seen the light of day that a writing friend could’ve stopped you from self-pubbing without significant edits. Ask me how I know.
If you try to stay an independent island you might sink your entire career before it even begins.
There is also the loneliness of being a writer with imposter syndrome, which so many writers (myself included) have. The dream of being a writer is huge and scary. People you know, people you love, may not understand why you try. It’s easier when you can talk to other people who feel the same way.
What led me to make this blog post? I’m lucky that I have a spouse who supports me in my writing endeavors even though a career solely writing seems unlikely for me.
I was having severe website issues with my page. Normally my independent self would’ve taken the website issues I was experiencing and tried to fix them myself.
To say computers and I don’t exactly mix is an understatement on par with Antarctica is cold.
I did try to fix the issue, I even called for web support from the website host. The issue only partially fixed. I was ready to throw in the towel after the website person pointed out my tablet wouldn‘t be able to fix the issue. They said I’d need to get on a desktop to make the changes needed to actually fix the issue.
That’s when my spouse swooped in and saved the day. Within a few hours, I had the equipment I needed. She set everything up exactly like I needed it to be set up. Then she went onto this very website and painstakingly fixed every issue I’d had. When she was done, I was so relieved I teared up. An issue that ate into literal days of my writing time was fixed in less than six hours.
It’s possible to be fiercely independent as a writer. But if you want to make it long-term you should think about the damage you’re doing to yourself and your career by trying to do everything yourself. Instead of being an island, become a peninsula. Lean on your writing friends, lean on your family, for support. And remember that helping writers goes both ways- someday someone might learn something valuable from you too.