Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Guest Author Ashlyn Macnamara: The Social Writer

By Ashlyn Macnamara, @ashlyn_mac

Please join me in welcoming romance writer (and another NLA agency sister) Ashlyn Macnamara to the blog today. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, and the internet has made it something we can do together. Ashlyn is here to share her experience on making writing a social activity. And the benefits of not writing alone.

Ashlyn writes Regency romances with a dash of wit and a hint of wicked. Despite her insistence on looking toward the past, she can be found on Facebook and Twitter. Her debut A Most Scandalous Proposal is available now from your favorite bookstore.

Take it away Ashlyn...

As I write this blog, the month of November is winding down. (Why, yes, I do write my blogs in advance. I’m annoying that way.) I’m sitting in a chat room with other writers doing sprints to fulfill their word count for NaNoWriMo. Or they’re doing sprints, and I’m keeping them company. Thanks to the regular companionship, I finished my 50,000 words last night, but the chat room has become a bit of a habit.

I don’t know about anyone else in this room, but I am a social writer. I’ve learned through experience that unless I know someone else is out there plugging away at their keyboard along with me, I don’t get much writing done. I do know there’s an energy about us all in the same virtual space, writing together. It’s a positive energy we can all feed off, one that grows and pushes us to churn out more words. Or perhaps I’m just the slightest bit competitive.

This goes against the classic image of the writer pounding for years and years at a typewriter in some forgotten garret until she (or he) produces a novel. But we no longer live in the days of typewriters.

For a long time, I’ve said that if it wasn’t for the internet, I wouldn’t have become a writer. While I’ve always made up stories in my head, I used to run screaming from anything that looked like creative writing when I was in school. It wasn’t until I was an adult and got involved in on-line fandom that I tried my hand at fanfiction—and discovered I can write when people would read my work and ask for more.

Fanfiction is a pretty social beast. Authors of chaptered works tend to post serially, and rely on reviews to let them know if their readers think they’re on track. Fandom friends tend to beta-read each other’s pieces, which gives a fanfic author a built-in support system if he or she gets stuck. I used to work on my fanfiction in the evenings, while chatting through plot points and scenes with other fanfic writers.

When I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing my own original characters, I could no longer rely on my fandom friends as much, and it felt lonely out there for a while. I would try to write, but the feeling just wasn’t the same. My production slowed, until I felt like I was lucky to write a hundred words in a day.

Clearly, if I want to crank it out, I need the stimulation that comes from having others around me. But it’s not just the companionship while I’m working. It’s the network you build. One author who understands the power of a network of writers is my friend Valerie Bowman.

On March 25, 2010, she sent an e-mail to the PRO loop (a listserv for RWA® members who have completed a manuscript but do not yet qualify for the RWA’s definition of published). She had entered the big RWA contest for unpublished manuscripts, the Golden Heart®, and she didn’t get the finalist call. Instead of sulking over the outcome, she decided to something pro-active and form a group of goal-oriented writers who were determined to enter the Golden Heart the next year and final, darn it.

Well, I answered that e-mail, and it was one of the best moves I could have made for my writing career. The group Valerie formed is known as The Lalalas (formerly sisterhood, but we have a brother among us now). Why the name? No one but Valerie knows for sure, but I like to think it has to do with an attitude. Rejection? Bad review? Didn’t final in that contest? La, la, la, I’m not listening.

The following year, Valerie and I were both finalists in the Golden Heart (in the same category, no less), and we both went on to sell our manuscripts. In 2012, we had three more finalists among our number, as well as several more who bypassed the contest circuit altogether and went on to sell. I like to think the support we give each other, the critiques we exchanged, and the general camaraderie had something to do with that.

In a career that is largely solitary, this kind of social network is important. When one of us experiences a set-back, the rest of the group is there for hugs, consolation, and advice. When one of us passes a milestone in our career—be it signing with an agent, making that first sale, or making a best seller list—the Lalalas are there to celebrate. I know there was a point where I was discouraged and ready to quit, but the group gave me the kick in the pants that I needed to keep going.

And it’s a good thing they did, because the manuscript I was ready to give up on was the one that finaled in the Golden Heart, that netted me an agent, and eventually sold.

So yes, I am a social writer, and I have embraced that about myself. What about you? Are you a social writer or a solitary one? Do you take your laptop to cafes for the atmosphere or do you plug away in your basement?

About A Most Scandalous Proposal

After watching her beloved sister Sophia pine over the ton’s Golden Boy for years, Miss Julia St. Claire has foresworn love and put herself firmly on the shelf. Unfortunately, her social-climbing mother and debt-ridden father have other ideas, and jump at the chance to marry Julia off to the newly-named Earl of Clivesden…the man of Sophia’s dreams.

Since resigning his Cavalry commission, Benedict Revelstoke has spent his time in London avoiding the marriage mart. But when he discovers that the Earl of Clivesden has set Julia in his sights, Benedict tries to protect his childhood best friend from the man’s advances—only to discover more than friendship driving his desire to defend her. He surprises them both with the force of his feelings, but when she refuses him and her father announces her betrothal, he fears he’s lost her forever—until Julia approaches him with a shocking scheme that will ruin her for all respectable society…

…and lead them into an exquisite world of forbidden pleasures.

The second book in the series A Most Devilish Rogue is coming in August.


  1. Wow, congratulations. That's a great story. :) Me? I'm a weird mix. I can't write in coffee shops (too distracting. I end up people-watching instead.) but I really need a beta reader to be excited about my work and cheer me on. It makes second and third drafts harder because the thrill of discovery has worn off for my friends as well as myself, which really sucks out the energy.

  2. Since I heard of the Lalas last year, I wondered how it was formed. I agree that online support is so neccessary. Congratulations on your success. I loved your book and can't wait to read the next one. I tweeted.

  3. @Chicory, I've never tried writing in coffee shops. I get the feeling I'd find it too much of a distraction, too. I also know how you feel about the discovery process. I'm a pantser and that whole thrill of discovery is what pushes me to write onward. I want to know what happens next.

    Thanks, Ella, for the tweets and the congratulations. Valerie is great for organizing writers like this. I hear she started an author loop at her publisher after she sold.

  4. Ashlyn,

    I'm a hermit when I'm writing my novels. Blogging I can do anywhere.

    I can't even have music playing while I write because I get distracted.

  5. I have a fanfiction buddy and that was fun and encouraging but now that I'm writing original stuff it's a little lonely. That's the way I like it though at least through the first draft. I write solitary but hope to revise with some help otherwise I might go crazy! I can't write in public, though one time I wrote on the train. But it was half empty. It was also difficult as I did it by hand.

    Your book sounds interesting! Good luck with everything!

  6. @Collette--I admit to being outside the box, because while I like to have buddies, I can't write with music playing, either.

    @VN--I've written on the train before, longhand. All the jouncing made my already horrible handwriting even more illegible.

  7. I'd like to say ditto to the congratulations already extended, Ashlyn. And I know many people who are social writers. They head to Starbucks or Caribou and stay there for hours, typing away. Not me. I get too distracted by people. When a book or some other writing assignment needs to be done, I become a hermit.

  8. Since I work full-time and parent full-time, writing all over the place is a must. I write at soccer practice, basketball, softball, doctor appointments, etc.

    If I can steal a few moments to write at a coffee shop, I am super stoked. Personally, I plug in the headphones and drown out all the people. I try that at home some too but with less success due to my wonderful but needy children.

  9. Thanks for your comments, LinWash and Rubianna Masa!

    I've been known to write on paper at the dentist's office. Spent a lot of time in waiting rooms while my daughters went through braces.

  10. I'm a bit of both. I need the social interaction and the support, but it can also distract me. Therefore, I tend to go back and forth throughout the day, plugging away on my own, but tied into the network of writers I have online.

    Thanks for the post. :)

  11. What a great story! I love being social with other writers. Who else cares to discuss manuscript formatting and plotting???

  12. For the moments when I'm actually writing, I go with minimum socialization. Maaaayyybe a few people around. But I love to have people available, in case I want to talk at someone, and I love to share with other writers!

    I'm definitely too ADD to write in a busy place.

  13. Laura, I know what you mean. I need the interaction, but at times I also need to concentrate. That's what's so great about the internet. You have people there, but they're not in the room with you. Unless you want them to be. Darn it, that made sense in my head.

    Julie--Yes, exactly. I can't talk about what the voices in my head are telling me with anyone but another writer. Another person would just think I'm nuts. And maybe the writers do, too, but they're too polite to tell me. Hmmm...

    Rachel, yes, it's the availability. I need to know someone else is there, just in case.

  14. What a great post! So now we know what you were doing during those sprints!

    Congratulations on your recent release! It's a terrific book!

    Peace, Joy, and LaLaLa Love!

  15. Only at the end, Mary. I did do my 50K. If the next series sells, you'll see the fruits of last year's NaNo.