Writing is a mostly solitary act. We may venture out to eavesdrop on coffee-shop conversations or to “gather material” in other crowded places, but much of our work is done in a chair, in our head, alone. And depending on where in the world you live and/or your schedule, it can be challenging to meet with other writers on a regular basis. The groups either don’t exist, exist too far away from your home to make attending a meeting realistic, or meet at times that conflict with that other thing you have going on, commonly referred to as “life.”
Even those of us fortunate enough to both live in areas where writers’ groups thrive and had the magic scheduling gods smile upon us struggle to make honest-to-goodness connections with our peers. Instead we may chat at the meeting or get together but not speak to the other members again until the next meeting; or we may sit quietly, gathering material nodding and observing and smiling, but avoiding deeper conversation.
This is a huge mistake.
I know what you’re thinking. Or at least what I might be thinking if I were reading this.
Who are you, oh writer-come-lately, to judge and tell other writers what they should and should not be doing when it comes to making connections?
I can’t argue – I am new to the writing scene (at least in a public sense). I have just started submitting my work and have only a modest number of publication credits to my name, not scores of impressive journal titles. And I haven’t even finished my first book let alone published it.
So what can I offer?
I can offer my personal experience. I’m someone who avoided making these types of connections for a very long time. I’m someone who refused was afraid to admit to other people that she is a writer. I’m someone who has changed her ways and started forging connections. And I’ve seen firsthand how these connections have helped me grow and thrive, both as a writer and a person.
You don’t have to take my word for it.
There are countless, far more impressive writers who have talked about the significant role these connections have played in their lives and careers. If you’re interested in reading more, all you have to do is Google and find page after page on the topic.
Instead of rehashing what these very smart people have already written, I thought I’d share a piece of my story to illustrate how forging strong connections has improved my writing life.
The Life and Times of One Small-Town Writer
Okay, I admit that subtitle is a little dramatic. But we have to get our kicks somewhere, right? After all – writing is a solitary occupation, as we just discussed, and as I write this I’m sitting in The Hole, by myself, with nothing but a cup of coffee and some 90s tunes rocking in the background for company. So thank you for allowing me my dramatic entrance. =)
In all seriousness, though, I am one small-town writer out of the thousands (millions?) across the country, the world. And when the big, bright “you’re-a-writer-gosh-darn-it” light bulb went off over my head and I realized I wanted to venture into the world of publication, I knew that in order to find my way I needed to find other writers.
I started by talking to a published writer I met through the local library. He worked there and was very willing to share his story with me. He told me about getting his MFA, keeping his day job, self-promotion at local festivals and fairs and libraries. And he commiserated with me about the lack of area writing groups.
Just admitting to this one person that I was a “Writer” and having him take me seriously gave me a boost. My world began to change.
I then attended a local conference where I applied (and was accepted!) to take part in two workshops with published, bestselling authors. Instead of giving in to my shrinking violet inclinations, I networked with these authors and the other writers in the group. We exchanged emails, and I actually took the next step – I sent follow-up emails.
And my world changed a little more.
The authors encouraged me, gave me feedback and a swift kick in the rear. Because of their encouragement, I decided to pursue writing. I told tell my husband my goal and determined to get my MFA. It wasn’t until I was solidly embarked in the program that I found the courage to submit.
Can you guess why?
My fellow classmates. I made a few strong connections. I reached out and encouraged them to submit certain pieces, and I was blown away when they did the same to me. I was even more shocked when some of the pieces I’d submitted based on their encouragement landed and stuck in literary journals. I asked the administration if there was a way we could expand on this type of support, and I was thrilled when the program advisor agreed and started a Facebook group for current and past program members. It’s been a wonderful way to connect outside the classroom and learn about the various “wins” my classmates and program alum find in the writing world.
I attended a few more writing conferences and exchanged information with other writers. Several of those brief connections turned into long email conversations with invitations to attend local poetry workshops, writing critique groups, and information about local publications looking for authors.
My writing world was growing.
This fall, I finally got on board with creating a writing platform. I joined the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge, run by poet and editor Robert Lee Brewer. Through the program, I met many amazing writers. Some just starting out, some with dozens of books to their names. And some of these writers have gone on to become what I consider good “online” friends. They’ve boosted my moral when I was feeling desperate about my current writing project, they’ve sympathized when I wrote about my real-life antagonist, and they’ve cheered me on when I had pieces accepted for publication.
But more importantly, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to read their amazing work, hear their stories, learn about their writing process. These writers have shown me other ways to do things, options to try when the well runs dry, and offered a place to turn when I feel like giving up.
And my circle continues to grow. At the Baltimore Writing Conference just last weekend, I met several women writers who connected me with additional support groups designed to help women authors in a world that publishes (and awards) far more men than women. And just yesterday, I received an email from one of these women with a proposal to collaborate on a project.
I may never be a bestselling author, but I feel like in so many ways I’ve already won. I’ve embraced who I am. I have a growing community of writing friends and supporters. And I love where these connections are taking me – the future of my writing world.
Need help building your community?
Do you have a writing community? How has it impacted your writing life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section! You never know when something you share will change another writer’s life – so don’t be shy! Share away!