Build a Virtual Community

by Lori Walker
published in Community

I’m the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. That role encompasses a lot of things, but the common thread—the thread I want to pick at in this essay—is my responsibility to build our community. One of the beautiful things about DIY MFA is how far-flung we are. As a community, we cover the globe. We are able to make connections with people we otherwise wouldn’t ever cross paths with. This is especially important to me, and all of the many people out there like me, who live in a place where they are different, where reading isn’t widely embraced and writing buddies aren’t readily available.

But through the power of technology, I am able to make connections and build a community with like-minded people.

At DIY MFA, we are constantly working behind the scenes to help our word nerds develop their community. We do this through our social media presence. We do this through our summits and our affiliate promotions, where we introduce our word nerds to other writers who may have a message that resonates with them. We do this through our membership HUB and our Word Nerds Unite Facebook group, which give people the opportunity to connect in real time.

The Power of Community

Back in grad school, one of my friends was going through a difficult patch, and I reminded her that while she was feeling lonely, she wasn’t alone. I recently began viewing my writing in much the same way. At times, writing can be a very lonely act. But that doesn’t mean that I am alone. Subconsciously and consciously throughout my writing journey, I have amassed quite a community. In this community, I have found support, encouragement, inspiration, advice—all of the things that make living and creating worthwhile. Today, I want to share with you some of the ways I have personally built my community and how it has impacted me in the hopes that it will help you build your own connections.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Building my community first started with reading when I found Goodreads back in 2008. I joined some groups (Rory Gilmore Reading Club, anyone?) and began making comments on threads with complete strangers. These comments grew into conversations and private messaging, exchanging phone numbers in some cases. People I still text to this day! 

Then we all began getting Twitter accounts and following each other. This, fortunately, led me to new people who were part of Goodreads groups I wasn’t in. We started blogs and began exchanging comments and promoting each other’s posts. Instagram entered the mix and things mushroomed from there.

As we bonded over a shared love of reading, we also shared details about our non-reading lives. I found people who love baseball like I do. I found people who like the same TV shows. And I found people who like to write.

(Fun fact: One of them in particular actually introduced me to DIY MFA.)

Like I said before, since joining DIY MFA, my community has grown exponentially. I’m part of a writing group that actually, from time to time, exchanges and critiques each other’s writing.

As part of my job, I coordinate the columnists. In checking out one of the columnist’s websites, I came across a mailing list that specializes in writing memoir (my passion genre).

But my community doesn’t end here.

Virtual Events

I’m an introvert by nature, but I’ve begun making it a point to attend virtual events. There have been many, many, many, many bad things resulting from Covid and lockdown, and I am not here to minimize any of them. I do, however, want to highlight the enormous blessing that virtual events have had in my life over the past year.

Like I said, I live in what often feels like the middle of a cultural desert. Every so often, a big-name author would come to one of the two cities in the state for a reading, but driving to those events was generally not possible for me for logistical reasons. And you can forget about a major writing conference happening within driving distance!

However, in the past 14 months, I have been able to attend readings with Stephen King, John Grisham, Margaret Atwood, Lesley Blume, Alexander Chee, and many other writers I admire all on Zoom. Moving things virtually has allowed the indie in the nearest city to bring in a ton of writers and has allowed me to be able to watch the event from my office.

And I haven’t just stopped at readings. 

I’ve attended some online writers’ conferences as well. Through these conferences I’ve pitched to agents with mixed results, and I’ve gotten some extremely useful feedback on my writing. I even signed up for an additional clinic with one of the conference organizers, and she recognized me when I commented on her social media. Connection made!

Build Connections

My point is that there are opportunities to build your community all around you. And through technology, those opportunities are increasing. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think virtual events are going to go away when in-person events come back. I think organizers have seen the value in making events accessible online.

All it really takes, like with anything, is a little bit of daring to put yourself out there. Worst case scenario, you get a no or a missed connection. That happens. But if you never try, you’ll never get that yes, that connection that makes things start to fall into place.

Lori Walker

Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. Though she’s fallen off the wagon as a writer, she’s hoping to return to writing essays (perhaps even a novel!) through her involvement with DIY MFA. She is also Launch Manager, Web Editor, and Podcast Producer for DIY MFA and a Book Coach. She resides in Smalltown, Oklahoma, with her husband and their cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.

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