What Do I Do Now?
So you didn’t get into Alpha this year.
What do you do now?
First off: recover. It can be a really tense wait and all the ignoring it in the world doesn’t help if back-of-brain decides to fixate on it. I’ve refrained from posting this for a while so you can chill a bit. Let yourself feel disappointed or sad. Let yourself feel relieved if that’s what you feel.
Next… well, what next?
Be proud of yourself. Applying to Alpha means that you wrote a story you think is great. That is not a small accomplishment.
Consider what you can do to improve the story and the ones that come after it. “But wait!” you cry, “I didn’t get into Alpha! How can I possibly improve as a writer without this workshop?”
Read. Read books and stories both, especially the ones you want to write like. Read outside your usual subgenres or genres. Read books about writing (I particularly like Lamott’s Bird by Bird). Read essays about writing, worldbuilding, character. Read blogs from your favorite writers, especially if they go into detail about process. Read essays that contradict each other. Read.
Write. Quickly, slowly, a short story, a novel, write. Write something all the way new. Write something related to your past work. Write words that weren’t there before. You can do this. Your application story was not the only story you will ever write.
Examine. What do I mean by this? Read critically. Analyze the places that essays disagree and consider both viewpoints. Read what you’ve written carefully and decide what makes one story better than another for you. When you read a book, no matter what kind, examine its structure, its sentences, its genre conventions– or examine how it makes you feel as you read. Compare stories to each other. Try to figure out the conversations going on via short fiction, or long, or both. Find the connections.
Network. Get in touch with a creative writing group through school or your community. Some schools have terrible creative writing classes, others have great ones– know which one yours has. Talk to other people about what you read and what you think about it. Share your writing with fellow writers. You can do this through Critters, the Online Writers Workshop, the Cicada writing board*, anywhere that you find writers you respect and admire who are willing to help. Comment on blog posts on worldbuilding. Ask questions. Email the people in the 2013 Worry Thread and ask to trade critiques. Find a convention near you with a writer’s workshop. Check in with your Nanowrimo friends and find out what they think. Use the comment threads to share online spaces you’ve found welcoming– that’s networking, too.
Keep going. Do all of these, singly and in combination. Writer’s workshops are often a way to jump-start these habits. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep thinking. Keep talking.
*I should add, I’m not part of any of these, nor have I ever been. My original writing-and-critiquing stomping grounds are long gone these days.