In 2020, I finally penned the novel I’d always dreamed of writing. While furiously typing on my laptop, I had kept the home office door locked because I had been too terrified to share what I’d written with anyone, even my husband. My manuscript was too intimate, too personal. Too raw. The thought of others reading it? Not a chance.
Then I had my manuscript printed and bound at a local office supply store. I was thrilled that a book I wrote sat in my hands. But when I read through it, I felt something important was missing. So, I googled “What to do after writing the first draft of a book” and came up with a to-do list that scared the heck out of me:
- Find a community of writers.
- Make plenty of writer friends.
- Join a critique group.
- Get your pages critiqued and critique others’ work.
Talk about overwhelming! I got discouraged and shelved that awesome manuscript. Where would I even begin finding a community of writers, much less ask others to read my work?
If you’re nodding your head (and maybe muttering something like, “This guy gets me…”), keep reading. If this doesn’t sound like you, keep reading anyway. Chances are you have a writer friend who’s an introvert and needs to hear this.
Now for the Painful Truth
Very few manuscripts get published or find agent representation today that didn’t go through some sort of beta read and critique process. It’s a necessary part of writing. I get it: it’s terrifying as an introvert to put yourself (and your work) out there. But finding a writing community and writer friends are way easier than you might think. I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide for finding a community tailor-made for introverts like us.
But first, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: in the 1991 movie, What About Bob?, Richard Dreyfus plays an egotistical psychiatrist named Leo Marvin who treats a neurotic patient, Bob. Bob is plagued by a comedic number of phobias which have kept him in New York City after his divorce. But by the end of the movie, Bob changes his life. His secret is Leo’s book, Baby Steps. By taking tiny, incremental baby steps on a bus to New Hampshire, then baby steps off the bus several hours later, then to Leo’s vacation house, Bob finally manages to incorporate himself into Leo’s family with hilarious results. He’s a changed man by the end, all because he made tiny steps forward.
The key to doing all the things on that scary-as-heck list is this concept of baby steps. Don’t look too far ahead and freak out. Just baby step to the next item on the list. By the time you get to the end, you may find yourself excited to revisit your writing now that you’ve got constructive feedback on it.
Are you with me? Are you ready to get excited about making new writer friends? Seriously, who gets excited about that? Spoiler: You will!
Here is the List. Remember Fellow Introvert, Baby Steps:
1. Join a Facebook Group.
I know, I know, it’s Facebook. DIY MFA has a super supportive, private group called “Word Nerds Unite”. Or, search Facebook for groups of writers in your genre. Another fun suggestion is NaNoWriMo’s (National Novel Writing Month) their website helps you find regional writers’s groups. I’m part of my region’s Discord server (an easy-to-use text app). The key here is: heavily moderated group = safe from online trolls.
2. Decide to Stay or Go.
After lurking in the group for a maximum of two weeks and getting your bearings, decide if you want to participate. If it’s not your jam, leave it to find another one and repeat the first step.
3. Begin Interacting on Your Terms.
Once you’re comfortable in a group, comment on some posts. Create a post of your own. You decide when and how to interact.
4. Find Allies.
Now that you’re steadily posting and commenting, make friends! Find others who write in your genre. Get to talking with them about the best parts and the most challenging parts of writing. Pro-tip: asking others about themselves is a surefire way to keep a conversation going.
To get used to real-time discussions with other writers, the next step is virtual write-ins. Your group may already do these. Write-ins are hosted, online sessions where you write for a set amount of time (say, thirty minutes), then turn your camera and sound on to tell everyone what you accomplished. You don’t read out loud what you wrote, but don’t be surprised if more outgoing writers ask for advice if they’re stuck on something.
6. Find Where Your New Friends Hang Out.
Now that you have some writer friends and you’re at least a little comfortable talking about your writing, find out where else your writer friends hang out online and where they get their work critiqued.
7. Critique Others’s Work and Get Your Work Critiqued.
Yeah, this sounds way too people-y, but I promise it’s worth it once you’ve found a good critique partner or two in that online space or among your new friends. Ask someone if they have anything they’d like critiqued and ask if they would read twenty pages of something you’ve written in exchange. Another fantastic, paid option is DIY MFA’s Small Group Coaching.
My Experience: I Did Not Die of Stage Fright
When I got to step seven, I found a fiction writer’s group at my local library. They meet once a month where one member’s pages are critiqued in a very safe environment.
I spent the first three months in the group participating in critiquing others’ pages. Great baby step into the group, and super valuable. Reading others’ work gave me a deeper perspective on what I should start doing in my writing and what I should look out for.
Once I got comfortable critiquing, I knew it was time for the next baby step. I submitted twenty pages of my dusty manuscript to the group facilitator. Not gonna lie, I almost bailed on going to the next meeting. I might have googled if it was possible to die of stage fright.
And you know what? It was fine. Those ten people told me they loved what I wrote. They also told me my pages needed heavy revision (and what to revise) in the nicest way possible. They told me exactly what worked and didn’t work in the plot.
That opened my eyes, and I saw my writing in a new light. I walked away with a list of revisions and a longer list of “aha” moments.
Suddenly, I was inspired to write again. I jumped back into my manuscript with a red pen and a new determination. But more importantly, I made several writer friends in that group I trusted, now that I’d gotten their feedback on my writing. In the two years following that meeting, I’ve beta read their pages on the side, beta read a screenplay, and critiqued a novel not in my genre. In return, I’ve gotten several scenes and a whole novel critiqued. How cool is that? And all because I baby stepped my way through what had been a scary list.
What has your experience been as an introverted writer? What fears do you have about sharing your writing with others? Sound off in the comments below.
JJ Graham writes spooky romance. Strong character representation of everyone, including queer and neurodivergent characters are important to him because everybody deserves to see themselves in romance stories.
You can find him on his website and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.