One of the things I love the most about the science fiction and fantasy community of writers is the atmosphere of support that I see daily. I am a member of several writers groups, both in-person and online. These are made up of writers, both aspiring and successful, who share their time, knowledge, and insights to help each other reach the next level in their development.
One of the places I frequent is the Writers of the Future forums. There is a sub-forum there for story critique exchange. Everyone involved is actively trying to win the contest, yet every person I have swapped critiques with does their utmost to help the writer craft their story into the strongest contender it can be.
I have friends who do not understand this. "Aren't you all trying to win the same thing? How does helping the competition make any sense?"
It makes all the sense in the world.
There is one completely selfish reason I could cite--critiquing other people's work makes your own stronger--but I don't think this is the reason at all. At least, it isn't for me.
These aren't just "competitors." These are people. People who are striving towards a goal and a dream, just like me. People who I have made honest friendships with, even though I have never met them in person. People who can bring their own voices to the world of science fiction and fantasy.
I love seeing them succeed. Oddly enough, I cried more from happiness when a friend learned she was a finalist in the contest than I did when I learned I was a finalist myself.
This doesn't just hold true with people who "know" each other through in-person or online groups. Most conventions have writers workshops as part of the programming. Professional writers give their time to give feedback to people who submit. Do they need to do this? I don't think so. Of course, I'm not at the level yet where I've been asked to be on the pro side of workshops, but I don't think anyone wrings arms to get people to participate.
Rather, it's a matter of paying things forward. Or back. Or however you look at it. When the pros who are on these panels now were learning, other professionals gave their time to help them grow. Now, given the chance to give back, they do.
This spirit of support and giving is one of my favorite things about what I do as a writer. I love to be involved in something so positive and uplifting, even while the daily reality of writing feels a lot like banging your head repeatedly against a wall.
To anyone out there who feels like they are alone in this writing world, I strongly encourage you to seek out other writers. If not for critique groups or in-person get togethers, if that's not something you're comfortable with, then simply for the camaraderie and the knowledge that we're all with you, even if we're not saying anything.
To everyone out there who has "paid it forward," thank you. You make the writing world a better place to be.