Networking. It's nothing new. You've been told: go to conferences, talk to lots of people, get on the mail loop, etc. All that is still good advice. There's nothing like meeting people face to face if you want to make an impression (hopefully a good one). A human network is vital for any profession, especially writing.
But what about the quality of your network? Occasionally, a new member of ACFW or MWA will ask how he or she should go about finding a critique group. It's easy, I say, the hard part is finding a good critique group. What do I mean by good? I don't mean their writing is on par with John Steinbeck with their first novel. I mean a group of writers who have a goal, like you, and are making daily strides toward that goal, like you. Your critique group is your innermost networking circle. If it consists of men and women who write "when they have time" or have done nothing to improve their skills in five years, guess what? You're going as far as they are.
I know this sounds harsh. But this is the reality. I've been through more critique groups than I care to admit. Know what most have in common? All the members have given up. Maybe it took them a while. I don't know. I didn't stick around long enough to find out. Because I have a goal, and am taking the steps each and every day to achieve that goal, and they weren't. I don't have time to encourage someone who isn't giving it their all. Neither do you. I've now been in my current group for two years. That's a record for me. What's different about these ladies? They're as committed to reaching their writing goal as I am. Their writing improves noticeably over time (hopefully, they say the same for me), and things are happening. Robin's first book is out in October. And four people, not one, are rejoicing.
Yes, this sounds a bit heartless. We're Christians. We're supposed to lift each other up. But if you read the New Testament, you'll find that Jesus didn't spend a whole lot of time getting His disciples out of bed in the morning. You are called. You follow. Or you don't. His time was short. Our time is a bit longer, but in high demand. Jobs, kids, church--most of us aren't blessed with eight hours of uninterrupted writing time every day. Every minute you invest in your writing is precious. If you're spending time pointing out the same mistakes your crit partners have been making for years, it's like investing in a dotcom. You're getting nothing in return.
If your inner circle isn't helping your writing career, find another circle. Make your current group your friends, by all means, but as far as your writing goes, you need to be surrounded by focused, driven, chew-your-draft-to-pieces, professionals like you.
I spent a lot of space here just talking about your inner networking circle. I'll re-visit this topic again and talk about those larger circles. Your homework this weekend: evaluate your critique group or inner circle. Are they helping you reach your goal? Are you helping them? Be honest. You may have to make some tough decisions come Monday. Come to think of it, I may just find myself voted off the island. Better get to those critiques...