Finding Your Writing Community
Writing is a solitary activity, for the most part. It certainly draws an introverted crowd. But as soon as you switch from the pure hobbyist to the hopeful professional writing suddenly becomes a community event. Even before you have people on either side of you it’s apparent that you need them. It’s starts with niggling questions like, who can I ask to read this to see if it’s actually good? Who’s going to spot the grammar mistakes that are invisible to me? You like the title, but is it marketable?
“Damn it man, I’m a writer not a business guru!”
A lot of blogs and books will talk about how the self-published author is all these things to themselves. They are multi-hatted machines that are in charge of every aspect of their book. But that’s misleading. No matter how good you are in one area of the self-publishing game you’re likely weak in another. And no matter what, you still need people to read through your work to see the things you’ve gone word blind to. It happens to everyone. You know the story in and out, so if there’s a crucial detail missing in your manuscript, you’re not going to see it.
The good news it there are lots of ways to find your community.
There are lots of writing conferences happening each year. Here you’ll see the professional writing world in full bloom as writers, agents, editors and more all gather together to hear the latest talk and gather around the proverbial water cooler.
They can be pricey for sure but there are a few things you can do about that.
For the conference make a batch of business cards with your name, phone number, email, and website if you have one, and hand these out to everyone you meet. A nice touch is to add a little tagline that very briefly describes what you write like, “Keeping the mystery in murder.” or “Making the mundane more sinister everyday.”. And when you receive cards from others take a little time to write down something about the person to help you remember later. I try to write something on the card itself when I’m out of view, a quick physical description, what they do, what we talked about. Be sure to actually contact the people you liked the best or who you believe you can really learn from. All it takes sometimes is a hello, what are you working on? I found a great article on whatever it is you focus on and thought I’d just send it your way. Just keep the connection alive and let it grow.
Local Writing Group
Wherever you are you can likely find a local or at least close to local writing group that meets once a month. They are wonderful for hearing inspiring speakers and meeting like minded individuals. Sometimes all you need is to hear that someone else has the same block as you, the same hand cramp, or the same trouble trying to block out your loved ones for a few hours of writing time.
I’m a member of the Willamette Writers on the River group. I thought I would meet some interesting people and learn a few things at the meetings. What I found was a ready made community of people just like me, albeit different genres. Where out in public I say I write horror and people scoot away from me, at the writing meetings people’s eyes light up and they want to know what I’m working on. What’s more is that I find myself really interested in what they’re working on too, whether it’s poetry, memoir, or crime thriller.
Critique circles can be found through your local writing group or one made from its members. Here’s where it gets into the nitty gritty of writing help. In a critique circle you’ll be sharing your work and reading others work and then giving feedback on what works and what doesn’t. And this feedback will be coming from fellow writers. So you can expect help with structure, pacing, dialogue and so on. Where your later beta readers might be giving more general feedback about what characters they like or don’t like, if the story is too dark for them and so on.
These circles are invaluable whether or not you have a manuscript to polish. Even reviewing other’s work can be very beneficial. As you learn to recognize what works and what doesn’t in their work, you can start applying it to your own with much more accuracy than if you read about certain writing techniques in a book.
The internet has everything. There are forums, critique groups, message boards, and everything else you might think of to connect you with other writers. All you have to do is search. The only thing I might say about using the internet is that it can be quantity more than quality. Even if you don’t want to leave you writing/reading nook, trust me, it is an invaluable experience to talk face to face about your writing. But if you want to supplement that or if you’re not ready to jump head first out the door, then the internet is wonderful.
Be sure to start small so that if you’re critiquing someone’s work and you realize the critiquing relationship isn’t going to work, you have an endpoint lined up to make a polite get away. Always be specific about what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to do for others. Also, keep it polite and friendly, though it seems like you’re talking into the void to some outworlder, you might meet your internet people at a conference one day. Also, keep in mind that whatever is said on the internet is tattoo’ed on the internet for all time, so let it represent the best you.
You’d be surprised how many people write, or want to write. Everyone has something to say and everyone wants to be heard with full attention. So why not put together a group with your friends who are interested in writing for fun? It doesn’t have to be a critique circle, you don’t need to review the pro’s and con’s of style choices, all you have to do is listen to them read and read your own. This can be great for reminding yourself that you’re a writer and writers write and discuss writing.
And second in importance to actual writing is that writers take in other writing, they read, they listen, they learn from everything and everyone. Your writing community helps your writing in many different ways, from inspiring, giving fresh ideas, helping you to smooth your current ideas, and pointing you to the resources that you’ll need to make your book a reality. So never stop building your community. And remember that they need your help and feedback too.
(for the picture, get stuffed animals together and give bengi business cards to hand out, maybe even a thought bubble that says ‘we should get together’ surround them with books, and maybe a tea set.)