There’s a myth about writers—that we’re all lonely, tortured souls who toil in isolation and obscurity. The popular conception of being an author is that we have to go it alone, just us versus the great white whale of the empty page. If our chests were cannons, we’d fire our hearts upon the great beast that is writing.
Dramatic, but maybe not quite right.
The truth about writing is it can be as much of a community activity as any work. And in fact, if we’re going to be really and truly good at the craft and business of writing, we kind of need other people. We need readers, for example (that’s a gimme). But we also need other folks who can support us in what would otherwise be a lonely craft.
WHAT’S IN A COMMUNITY?
Regardless of our career choices, we humans are built for community. From the time we are wee ones screaming at the night, we are earnestly seeking the comfort of loved ones. As we grow, we branch out from family and see friends. From our friendships, we reach out to find those who share our passions and interests, so we can be a part of something bigger, with a unified purpose. We look for community in everything from our hobbies to our religions to our political alignments.
Being a part of a greater community offers us a lot of advantages:
We learn faster—As we share our experiences and insights with others who are doing what we’re doing, we get to skip some of the learning curve. We can pick up nifty and new tricks, and discover new resources.
We avoid trouble—Not that we want to profit from anyone else’s misery, but as a community we can share our negative experiences to help each other avoid pitfalls.
We share our struggles—Sharing is caring. It helps a lot to have a group of like-minded individuals who know exactly the struggle you face. Writing can be a fast pass to existential crisis, so it helps a lot to have people to talk to, who understand what you’re dealing with, and who have developed their own strategies for coping.
We celebrate our accomplishments—It isn’t all about the scary stuff, though. Having a group of friends and cohorts gives you a chance to show off every now and then. It gives you a group of people who understand what it means for you to have finally finished a first chapter, to have finally found a cover designer, to have gotten through the first pass of edits. Talking to the “uninitiated” (ie “non-writers”) about this stuff can be frustrating, because of all the blank looks and the changing-the-subjects. So having a community gives you a place to parade your victories, small and large, and know that someone gets why it matters to you.
WHERE TO FIND A COMMUNITY
There is no one answer to this, of course. Communities aren’t always organized and easy to find. Sometimes they just evolve. But there are a few stones to turn over that will help you start your journey of connection.
Writing groups and classes—If you’re just starting and don’t know where else to turn, you might consider finding a local writing class or group and joining. These groups often meet once a week to share their writing and experiences. They can be great places to make new friends, and to get some insight into the craft and business. Local community colleges and extended learning programs often have inexpensive course you can join, or you might look into services such as Meetup.com, which lets you search for local groups in your area (for writing or for anything else you might be interested in). You could also keep an eye on local bulletin boards at coffee shops, book stores, etc.
Online communities—Thanks to the wonders of the internet, time and space are no longer barriers to building relationships. Even if you happen to enjoy a hermit-like lifestyle, living in a cabin in Montana where your food is ported in once a month by a guy wearing wolf pelts, you can still be an active member of online communities. Facebook Groups are one popular method for writers to gather virtually, and they’re easy to find: Simply search for “writer’s groups” and browse to find one you like. You can join to try one out for a time, and hop out if it seems like it isn’t for you. Join several, and see which ones you like best. You can also connect with other writers through apps like Slack, which his a chatroom environment. Look for other writers in the places you frequent online, and start asking about the groups they belong to.
Conferences and organizations—Name a fiction genre or non-fiction category and there’s likely an organization and even a full-blown conference dedicated to it. It only takes a quick search on Google to find these organizations and to see their membership requirements. You can also find conferences with dates and locations. These are fantastic opportunities to connect with other writers and with industry professionals. There are costs involved, such as membership dues, travel expenses, and registration fees, but if you can swing a couple of conferences each year you should go—the connections you make at these can be some of the best friends you’ll ever have in the business.
THE POINT IS CONNECTION
Writing and publishing can feel lonely and isolated, and that is part of why we often feel a sense of dread over the work. It’s true we sometimes need times of intense focus and concentration, but we also need equal parts friendship and support and comradery.
If you want to make writing and publishing easier, the best way is to connect with like-minded people who understand what you’re dealing with, and who can offer support and advice. Spend some time bonding with other writers, and you’ll see your writing career blossom much faster than if you tried going it alone.