Some people manage to write without any support from other writers, but many – most? – benefit from having some contact with others in the same position, whether that’s via a writing course, a writing group or a writing society or organisation. I’m biased, because I don’t think I would have been published without joining all of the above. The first course I went on was a weekly writing course and there I met one of my closest friends. As well as the taught elements of the course, like writing exercises, I learned from the other writers about books on writing worth reading and competitions to enter and began the long process of gathering information and knowledge about both writing and the writing world. At that point writing a novel was a vague dream that I never expected to achieve, but the foundations for making that dream reality were being laid.
Later I studied for an MA in Creative Writing and began writing what would become my first novel. That journey was sustained by more writing friends met on the course and the writing critique group we developed – four of us still meet on a regular basis, 15 or so years later.
I’ve learned so much from being part of a wider writing community, not least the ability to give and receive feedback. Learning these two separate, though related, skills has been crucial for me. Both skills are trickier than one might think, although it’s easier to spot someone else’s mistakes/problems than it is to spot your own. From my own experiences as a learner and from teaching, I think it takes about 2 years of practice to become reasonably proficient ie able to give useful and constructive comment on other people’s writing and to sift and choose which are the comments to utilise or discard from those in turn given to you. All writing feedback is subjective, but in my subjective opinion, all work I’ve seen after re-writing in response to feedback is better, my own included.
There are some people who write well without any support or feedback, who have never attended any courses or read any writing books. And the truth is that no reader will care whether you’ve studied for year and workshopped every sentence. They’ll only be bothered with whether you’ve written a decent story.
For myself, I knew that my chances of writing that decent story were increased by studying. Plus I knew I wasn’t sufficiently driven (which might be a nice way of saying I’m quite lazy) to finish writing a novel without support. It’s a long, long haul and why do it the hard way without at least exploring if there are any short cuts? I tried writing on my own for several years and it became a lot easier when I was with other people in the same position. More fun too!