Always Stuck in Second Gear: A Writer’s Attempt at Finding his Tribe - Joshua Walker

6 Mar 2024

“I think you and I have a lot of the same plans lol.” — Scott Palmer

In October of last year, I was a writer who barely had a following, but what I did have was an insatiable hunger to begin publishing. I hadn’t noticed the contrast of those two things for the better part of five years, due to my love for the craft of storytelling.

You see, ever since I was a kid, I felt compelled to write, and to develop ideas. I had an imagination akin to a leaking faucet; and it got in the way of everyday life, from daydreaming in science and maths class, to being generally forgetful and unable to keep my attention on menial tasks. I’d brush my teeth, and picture my reflection in the bathroom mirror reaching out and taking the brush right from me. I’d think about what would happen if the Nazgûl showed up during lunchtime at school, and where we would hide. I’d play soccer and see the ball as an asteroid bouncing between the planets.

This was entirely normal for me. I never thought twice about it, and presumed that others had the same experience, the same vivid glasses that overlaid their lives with extraordinary ideas and adventures. Additionally, I never had trouble making friends. I was lucky enough to not be the subject of bullying. I was a part of the first year through my school, which was brand new, and that meant my tiny class of twenty or so were as tightly bound as brothers.

It wasn’t until I continued to pursue writing with a professional aspiration, that I realised how isolated writing was. I’d sit down, write for a few hours, and discover that I didn’t really have anyone to share my experience with. Talking to other people who read is one thing. But talking to people who wrote? In my circles, that was barely two or three people. And none of them seemed to get it. They didn’t seem to have the same unhinged drive as me. They weren’t obsessed with getting better. They wrote for fun.

That’s powerful. Writing for fun is as important as immortalising your work. That’s where everything begins. You cannot be a writer if you don’t first and foremost love the craft for what it is. But the difference between those who write entirely for themselves, and those who are crazy enough to push into the next step is larger than I first predicted. I was obsessed. I couldn’t let the thought go. I was going to be an author someday. I had told myself that when I was six, right around the time I first read the Hobbit, and decided it was not feasible to become Batman. 

Fast forward to 2023, and I was three novels deep. One never made it past submissions, and the other was a trunk novel from the get-go, a weird kind of story that was just for me. The third novel was An Exile of Water & Gold, a book that I’d conceived the idea for over a period of years, but wasn’t ready or skilled enough to write until last year. It was also the book I knew I was going to publish, and one I knew I would publish myself.

That’s where things got tough: I had no idea where to start. I was obsessive about research, and very clinical about learning processes, creating a website, a mailing list, etc. But I had nobody by my side who was going through the same thing to bounce ideas off of, or simply share support with. I had a tiny Twitter following, and being an introvert, had no clue as to how to put myself out there and grow my audience alongside my community. So when Scott Palmer posted his first glimpse at his upcoming series, The Last Ballad, I seized the opportunity to get in touch.

Scott had posted an outline for his series along with a snippet of his world map. It was professional, it was simple, and furthermore, it was in my feed. The algorithm had recognised the potential trend in his post, and broadcast it to me. We were nobodies. We were doing the exact same things, and it was only through luck (is the algorithm luck?) that we realised it.

The thing about being socially awkward, and an introvert like me, is that the smallest thing can make you feel like you’re slipping behind the rest of us. I went straight to Scott’s profile, and I couldn’t message him. Classy Twitter rules of course; but, with my best foot forward, I had to muster up the courage to comment on his post, asking if he could DM me. Thank God I did. That quote at the top of the article? That was the last thing Scott said to me in a message, the first day we connected.

After that, it was a snowball effect. Scott and I decided we needed a group. I hit up Kaden Love and Adrian M. Gibson with very low expectations that I would even get a reply. I think sometimes, it’s easy to put these bigger names on a pedestal, and imagine that they aren’t in the least interested in you. But they’re human, and they’re wonderful people. And I didn’t give them enough credit for that until they replied and said, “We’re in!”

That’s another thing. How do you make friends when your sense of self-sabotage causes you to assume people don’t want to talk to you? Yet here I am, and I’m wildly indebted to every member of book community who have supported my recent beginnings.

Scott got in touch with Rob Leigh, who was about to publish the fantastic Pathlighter, and by extension we also reached out to Isaac Hill. Right around the same time, I started seeing Louise Holland’s reels popping up everywhere on my feeds, and the cover for Spark of the Divine lured me right in. We also had somebody come to us directly, asking to join the group. That was Calum Lott, who is publishing later this year, and is doing incredible things. Before we knew it, we had a group of eight people, all united under one vision of publishing, and doing it well. We quickly became each other’s biggest fans. We shared our highs, our lows, our successes and our fears. We were looking after each other.

That’s all I needed, all those years. The mission was never to leverage the group for promotional purposes; it was just to help each other. “Strength in numbers,” I mentioned to Scott at one point.

Strength in numbers, indeed. Soon after Rob and Louise launched their debuts, we started to use the hashtag, #thebreakins, to help cross promote their work. The reach was excellent. All of us sharing each other’s stuff was maximising engagement. We took in two more fantastic authors, Sam Paisley and Bryan Wilson, who have both been a wealth of knowledge. They reached out to Andrew Watson, who you might know as your favourite BookTuber (and one of mine!) Then came Jonathan Weiss, a brilliant innovator in the genre and a fellow Aussie author.

Nick Church, a reviewer under the name Forging Fiction on Instagram, joined as well, followed by Nicholas W Fuller, another great BookTuber. Lastly, we welcomed ZS Diamanti and Francisca Liliana.

And then, we had to stop.

It caused me to reflect deeply on what we’d made. Everyone brought something to the table, and a life experience that was wholly unique. We all came from different parts of the world, but Discord allowed us to be in the same room as one another.

Scott is our team motivator, a shining beacon for us all. Kaden is one of the most diligent authors I know, and was happy to take us along for the ride of his super successful launch of Elegy of a Fragmented Vineyard. Adrian… well, where can I possibly start with Adrian? Calum is the most incredible beta reader, and has a very strong understanding of how stories work. Isaac is one of the funniest and kindhearted people I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Lou is our Pink-haired Australian Goddess. Sam is our resident tax accountant, and Bryan is especially astute at promotional ideas and marketing. Andrew and Nicholas are both brilliant at leveraging online engagement. Zac is an absolute conqueror of social media. Frankie is one of the most passionate readers and writers I know, and loves talking story. Nick Church's instagram account is also fantastic.

What we’d made had become a tour-de-force of the online book community, and it was staggering. We’d all gotten to know each other so well, like real-life friends. I don’t doubt that when I meet these people one day, I will be able to talk to them as easily as if I had known them my entire life. They’re a family. And at sixteen, we decided unanimously to close off the group, so we could preserve the family we’d built.

This is not an article about The Break-Ins. But they are an essential part of my story. I guess what I’m trying to say is, find your family. Find your tribe, your crew, your band of nomads to traverse the vast desert of never-ending TBR’s with. Why do we gravitate towards the Found Family trope so often in stories? Because we are human, and we need connections to survive. That’s what sets us apart from animals. Connections with others, it seems, are as important as water, food, or roofs over our heads.

It’s so easy to bury your head in the process of writing. It’s even easier to forget that other people exist. I’ve had to fight to find that balance in my own life, with my own family and my own friends. Plato’s cave, for instance, is a perfect example. Three people spend their whole lives watching their own shadows, cast by a flame on the wall before them. Unless one of them goes out into the world and returns, they are bound by this reality.

The fallacy of Plato’s cave is that the people who are living there, watching their shadows dancing on the wall, do not know what the fire is that projects these shadows. They do not know what the world outside the cave can be. They do not know they aren’t alone.

You do not need to stoke the fire alone. How can you stoke a fire without knowing what a fire is to begin with?

I thought nothing would suit this better than to conclude with a quote from the theme song of Friends:

So no one told you life was gonna be this way…

It's like you're always stuck in second gear.

The vehicle’s got six speeds at least, dear reader. You don’t have to master them all yourself.

About Joshua Walker


Joshua Walker is a fantasy author from Melbourne, Australia. He currently works as a primary school English teacher, and likes to read, brew beer, and hang out with his wife and BFD (Big Fluffy Dog) in his free time.