When I started writing—which, for me, was a very DIY venture—I subscribed to the popular notion that the craft required solitude. In fact, I think many writers cling to an image of the profession in its classic form: quill in hand, crackling fireplace in a quiet study. And it’s no wonder why. Countless notables have perpetuated the stereotype. Hemingway, for one, insisted that “writing, at its best, is a lonely life.
But this whole school of thought isn’t just terribly archaic. It’s wrong. Today’s world offers countless opportunities for building a community. Writing conferences, locally based nonprofit programs, webinars, groups and threads on social media, national genre-based organizations… you name it. There are innumerable outlets where writers can gather—either physically, virtually, or both. Engaging with others, and giving and gathering support is what makes all the difference. Why?
1) Community combats writer isolation
No good writing exists in a vacuum. Ever since the dawn of time, we’ve created work that has been influenced by others. Look no further than Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, or Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point for your answer: we humans are conduits to good ideas that are already out there, waiting to be snatched up. Staying in-tune with others who write in a similar style or genre as we do allows our minds to whirr together. And (an added bonus!) it ensures that we’re providing something of interest—that we’re writing about topics that are trending, yet adding our unique flare. So subscribe to that literary magazine. Join that Facebook group. Follow that Twitter hash tag. (My favorite newbie: #MemoirMondays.)
2) Community provides a space for resource sharing
It only takes one dip into the ocean of “writing opportunities” to realize how much there really is out there. Between the conferences, book festivals, essay contests, and other calls for submissions, the world of writing can feel terribly overwhelming. Luckily, there’s a tried and true method that works best: start with one or two quality, in-depth outlets that speak to you, and find your tribe. Whether it’s through a virtual space (ex: online writing classes in your genre) or a physical one (ex: events through a local library or writing-related organization) connect with fellow attendees who share some of your interests and stay in touch. Your core network can act as a terrific funnel, guiding you to specific opportunities that will be worth your while.
3) Community transforms burnout and writer’s block into inspiration
Let’s face it: we all have bad writing days. Maybe even weeks or months. Once you’ve found the members of your tribe, you can rely on them as a sounding board. Interacting regularly with people who provide a trusted source of support helps to reminds us that we are not alone. We’ve all gotten those rejections; we’ve battled the ugly inner-critic; we’ve fallen into that rut and haven’t been able to get out. Hashing out your challenges with your peers helps get you un-stuck. And if you go so far as to gather and meet with your tribe on a regular basis (i.e. via Google hangouts, through in-person writing groups, etc.), you’ll find that listening and provide feedback works wonders. Your writing, your process, and your overall self-esteem and productivity can be completely transformed by working in a group. And guess what… They’ll be there for you, cheering you on when you’re climbing that mountain again, too!
4) Community builds readership and interest
Creating and growing that infamous “author platform” takes time, energy, and quite a bit of bravery. There’s no easy way around it. But as one incredibly wise teacher of mine (@janefriedman) once advised, “Don’t treat the effort as a chore. Consider it to be your daily creative outlet.” Putting yourself out there on social media… on your own blog… via guest posts in other virtual spaces, and through publishing essays works wonders. It increases your visibility, establishes your credibility, and ensures that your voice is being heard (even if only by a few at first!). Don’t be afraid to start chiming in. Soon enough, people will start gathering ‘round.
5) Community leads to continued engagement
Here’s the truly great thing about sharing your voice with the world (whether its via 140 characters at a time in the Twittersphere, 10,000 words in a literary magazine, or the infinite amount of “somewheres” in between.) If you do your part and keep at it, you’ll attract loyalreaders. People who are invested in hearing your opinion, learning about your life and work through your virtual presence, and more generally getting to know you as a person through your goings-on. Over time (and it will take time!) you’ll build a readership filled with folks who can’t wait to dive into whatever it is you put out there next. And one day, when you’ve got something available for purchase, you can count on your audience to be your first, biggest, and best supporters.
…Now, we often like to think that launching that dream book is the top of the mountain for us. But so many published authors realize (belatedly!) that being part of a strong network is what leads to success. Even bestselling authors with gold medallions on their Penguin Random House book covers crave it. Why? It all boils down to shared support, and virtual hugs and high-fives. That’s why this exciting new trend of author co-ops is creating some buzz. Want to learn more? Let us be a living example. If you like reading true stories, stay tuned in to our budding memoirist’s collective: www.movingforewords.com; @movingforewords. Following along and watch how we evolve, both individually and as a team, as we gather our member authors in the coming months!
Dana Mich is the creator of the new memoir writers’ collective, Moving Forewords. (Follow along @movingforewords.) Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Times of Israel and PsychCentral. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband, adorable rescue pup, and (coming soon!) baby girl. She is wrapping up her first memoir and getting ready to find it a good home.