It didn’t take me long in my writing career to recognize that I needed the company of others crazy enough to take on this soul-baring craft of writing fiction. Without writers’ groups like The Stockholm Writers Group and this wonderful community called The Author Lab I would never have finished my first novel, gathered the courage to try another or persevered in my short story writing. And the art of that is to give back what you receive. During the spring and summer I served as a judge in The Royal Palm Literary Award competition of The Florida Writers Association. I had also entered that same competition and while I was waiting to hear how my entries had fared, I tried to give the same thoughtful, constructive attention to the manuscripts that I judged as I hoped was being given to mine. The FWA’s motto is “Writers Helping Writers” and in my correspondence with the dedicated writers who lead this organization, I realized just how much work goes into competitions such as this one and how tricky is the art of critiquing. One wants to provide encouragement and guidance but not give false hope. I was advised by those more experienced than me in the FWA judging world to err on the side of kindness; if a manuscript was lacking in some important ways but could benefit from professional editing (and which of us couldn’t?) rank it with that in mind. Thinking about all those vital aspects of good writing–the hook, the characters, the plot, dialogue, the language and the mechanics, the level of creativity, right down to a title that engages–as I was judging others made me return with a sharper gaze to my own work’s strengths and weaknesses. I volunteered many hours to my time as a judge for the RPLA and while I sometimes itched to spend that time on my own writing, I know now that it served me well–to pay attention, to think about what makes good writing–and to be kind to oneself as much as one is to others. Writing is hard work–and it can be isolating. Embracing a community of writers makes it just a little bit easier, and a lot less lonely. In July I was informed that my middle-grade novel Mormor’s Piano had been named a finalist in the unpublished middle-grade category in the RPLA competition. Incredibly exciting and gratifying news. On Oct 22 at the annual conference banquet of the FWA I will find out if I won a first, second or third prize. Regardless of the outcome, the recognition has spurred me on to renew my search for a publisher for the novel and to hunker down and get busy finishing a new YA novel. After all I don’t want to let my community down . I know they’re cheering me on from the sidelines. And sometimes, that’s all you need to face the blank page once again and start creating.