The hardest part of writing an article about online writing communities is that there are so many of them it’s almost impossible to make sense of all the options. Rather than giving you a mile-long list of links, today I’ll just touch on a few general categories of online communities you can explore. Then in later articles I’ll go into more depth with each type of community, sharing more detailed insights and linking to a few specific sites that I especially love.
There are thousands–maybe even millions–of writing blogs out there. Some are more prominent and visible than others, and some are more community-focused while others are more instructional (like this site, for example). There are many blogs out there that really emphasize community interaction, especially in the comments sections. You can meet and befriend many writers just by reading and commenting on their blogs. Several of the writers who have done guest articles or interviews for DIY MFA have been authors of blogs that I follow.
Dozens of agents and industry professionals also write blogs, and these sites can be founts of valuable information. A few of my favorites are Janet Reid (along with her awesome and often hilarious query blog: Query Shark) and Rachelle Gardner. And of course, in the “industry professional” category, Jane Friedman’s site is a must-read. There are so many other great industry blogs, but it can be impossible to find time to read them all. When push comes to shove and I only have a few minutes to skim my RSS reader, these are the go-to blogs I look at first.
Another great way to use the blogosphere for community is to participate in blogging challenges with your own blog. In these challenges, people sign up then post articles on their own blogs according to the challenge guidelines. One of my favorites is A Round of Words in 80 Days (#ROW80 on Twitter) in which writers set their own goals, then post their progress each week. This challenge lasts 80 days and occurs four times per year.
Joining twitter can be an overwhelming step for many writers. It’s kind of like throwing yourself into the social media ocean before being certain that you know how to swim. This is why hash tags are so great: they allow you to filter that massive ocean into a smaller pool centered on one topic.
With hash tags, all you need to do is put the # symbol before a word or code. Any other tweets with that same symbol or code will all be grouped together. What’s beautiful is that you can use a free app like TweetDeck or (my favorite) HootSuite to sort the tweets in your feed according to hash tags. You can set up columns so you only see tweets on a specific topic.
While you can use hash tags like #writers or #writing or something generic like that, I find those to be less useful when it comes to building connections with fellow writers. Two hash tags that are great for building community are #amwriting and #myWANA. These are twitter communities where writers post what they’re working on, do writing sprints together and cheer each other on. These are more interactive twitter hash tags than the generic ones, so I recommend not using them for automated tweets. They’re great for connecting with writers in the moment; in fact, as I was writing this, I had a mini-conversation with a writer through #amwriting about this very article.
Other Social Media
Honestly, I myself use very few social media outlets other than twitter to connect with writers. Yes, DIY MFA has a Facebook and Google+ page, we have a Pinterest account and I’ll occasionally post something to Instagram, but if I tried to stay super-connected on all these different platforms I would never get anything else done. Most of the time, I use the other social media platforms to post website updates or make announcements. I realize writers in the DIY MFA audience might prefer these other outlets to Twitter so I make sure we post updates and new articles on those platforms to make sure everyone has access to the important information.
In terms of in-the-moment interaction, however, I prefer Twitter. It’s a personal preference and I find Twitter to be more conversational than other social media platforms. This is why, when I’m focusing on building person-to-person connections with other writers, I most frequently use blogs (and comments) along with Twitter.
If you take only one piece of advice from this article, I hope you choose this:
Pick ONE online writing community. Two, tops.
Don’t start out by joining every single online community you can find. You’ll just get overwhelmed and feel spread thin. Instead, pick one place as your “home base” and build your community from there. Some people make the mistake of trying to “cover all the bases” and joining everything. Sure, you might build a more extensive network that way, but what is the quality of those connections? How many of those people do you actually connect with in terms of online conversations?
For instance, my online headquarters is this website but most bulk of my interaction with the #DIYMFA community happens on Twitter. For other writers, home base might be Facebook because that’s where all their friends hang out, or GoodReads because books are the focus of their interactions. Each online community is unique and has different benefits. Learn those benefits and you’ll be on your way to creating a personalized online writing network all your own.
The bad news with this “pick one” method is that with so many options it can be difficult to make that initial choice. The good news, though, is that having all these choices means you’ll eventually find an online writing community that truly feels like home. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the good news far outweighs the bad.