Find That Inner Writing Circle
How to Build Your Writer Network
Writers are masochists. There is no other way to describe it. Who else would expose pieces of themselves time and time again only to receive stacks of rejections and then come back for more? Being a writer is like spending an eternity at a singles’ bar, going from prospect to prospect with only a sliver of hope that they may see value in what we have to offer. And, if we don’t have a support system to keep us from that unfortunate midnight drunk dial, we may respond out of desperation for someone, anyone, to accept us. “Oh, you don’t like my hair, my face, my body. Okay, I’ll make some changes and come back.”
"As we try to navigate the writing and publishing world, the highs are very high, but with the lows following so fast, we may wonder if that high had just been a dream."
Before you consider a complete makeover, let me tell you something. You and your writing deserve better than this.
Being a writer is brutal and often isolating. As we try to navigate the writing and publishing world, the highs are very high, but with the lows following so fast, we may wonder if that high had just been a dream. Not to mention the waiting, the waiting, the waiting. First timers, like myself, learn from trial and error. We learn what is good and bad, right and wrong, only after it’s too late to turn back. In the beginning, I tried to learn everything I needed to know from books and the internet. While these tips and tricks are helpful, it was like researching the best pickup lines prior to a speed dating extravaganza. The writing world is so much more nuanced than a checklist on how to become a writer.
So, how do those singles looking for mates force themselves to get out there night after night? A desire to succeed, sure, but I believe they also have a tight, inner circle. A group of people they trust, who will motivate them, encourage them, and give them honest feedback when they need it. As writers, group of supporters can be instrumental in our success. Even if we only have one other person (in addition to our significant other), we benefit. When we have writing partners, our foundation strengthens. Our confidence increases. We need people who are honest enough, and who we trust enough to tell us when we are going down the wrong path, who can lovingly point out those flaws we don’t want to see, who lifts us back up when that latest rejection comes in, and who we can count on to be the loudest voice in the room when that elusive publisher finally accepts our work.
But how do we find this elusive circle? Well, here are a few places you can start.
Local Writing Groups:
Most major cities have local writing groups you can find on apps like Meetup or Eventbrite. If you don’t live in a major city, still check it out. Since COVID, many writing groups now have virtual offerings in addition to the in-person gatherings. In general, these groups don’t cost money but often will be at local coffee shops or restaurants. While some groups have a rotation roster, many request that everyone bring some of their writing to share. Be sure to teach out to the group coordinator for their group’s specific process.
This is one of the best ways to get to know other writers. Not only do you get to hear some of their work, but you also get to learn their critique style. Most importantly, you get to see, firsthand, how they accept feedback. This is the equivalent of assessing how a date treats the waitstaff, and no one wants to be paired with a grouch who mistreats the person trying to help them.
Conferences are a great way to learn more about the writing and publishing process from veteran writers. The amount of knowledge and experience at a conference can be overwhelming, but I would recommend attending at least one, even if your options are limited to local writing conferences. If nothing else, the experience can be invigorating, which is a great motivator for productivity. However, if your intention is to make connections, there are some drawbacks. First, conferences can be expensive, and as most writers have day jobs, may require you to take off work. Second, most conferences comprise a fast-paced environment with goals for speakers to disseminate information and authors to peddle their recently published books, neither of which are conducive to building relationships. It isn’t impossible to make connections at conferences, and you should definitely make an effort to connect with as many people as you can – especially with publishers and agents if they are present, but, to resume my dating analogy, this is like trying to pick up someone at a crowded bar. You might make some loose connections, but don’t expect to walk away with your soul mate.
Writing Programs and Writing Workshops
Before I go into this section, a caveat. Please do not see this as me encouraging you to go back to school and get a creative writing degree (like an MFA) in order to make connections. They are expensive; they take years to complete; and they rarely provide a good return on investment. In my experience, a writing program will enhance you as a writer, but it won’t necessarily help you sell your work. But, if you choose to pursue an MFA program or writing workshops (like Breadloaf and Sewanee), then the one thing you must walk away with as a result is a group of close connections. I have two writers who I talk with on a weekly basis, sometimes daily. We actively engage in swapping work. They know me, and I know them. Very well. But, even though we talk about everything from work and family life to writing and our hopes and dreams, we have never met in person. While some of this distance is due to the low residency program we chose, this reinforces my belief that we don’t have to be sitting in the same room with someone to make those lifelong connections. One of the good things about a workshop or an MFA program is that you already know you have something in common with everyone in the room. We are all there to become better writers. Maybe Tinder should come up with a writers connection app based on writing samples, interests, and hobbies. Maybe we’re on to something here…
Okay, once we’ve found those writers we want to connect with, how do we make our way into that inner circle? Especially when some writers, me included, tend to be awkward introverts who left friend making behind on the playground. Well, there is no easy answer to this. For me, I tend to lay my awkwardness out there. I once asked a fellow writer if she would go to dinner with me to discuss website designs and marketing plans and clarified that this felt very much like asking someone to the prom. She laughed and said if there had been a prom, she would definitely go with me. We had dinner, and now we talk almost daily, and even hang out outside of the writing group. Sometimes, making friends means putting yourself out there, and being okay if the person says no. So far, no one has called me a weirdo (at least not to my face). So, give it a try. The worst they can say is no. And isn’t that what we tell ourselves time and time again when we serve our work up to the latest editor?
While there are many ways to establish connections beyond what I’ve listed above (social media for example), these venues provide a crop of writers serious about their craft, and likely eager to make connections rather than just trying to get us to buy their latest book. I’m not saying you are going to make lifelong connections with everyone you meet. This isn’t an episode of Friends (sadly). Maybe your personalities don’t mesh, or they make you uncomfortable (or their writing does). Or maybe, you really like their writing, but they seem to be focused on their own path. And that’s okay. The idea is not to become friends with everyone, but to find those select few, the ones that really get you and your work, and foster those long-term relationships.
To be honest, finding and building your writing circle isn’t that different than going on a series of blind dates, and all of the horror and trauma that comes along with it. That said, I can tell you with 100% honesty, that not only is it worth for your sanity, but this group will push you to become the best writer you can be. So, step out of your comfort zone, and meet other writers. You will be glad you did.