Writer Fuel: What to Look For in a Writing Community

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

I was at a writing conference this past March (the Women in Publishing Summit, which was amazing!) and during one of the networking sessions one of the other writers mentioned they were writing a knitting cozy mystery. As an avid knitter myself, I immediately asked, “Do you knit?” From there, immediately my fellow writer/knitter and I hit it off like we were long-lost besties.

I share this story because just as knitters have a tendency to flock together, so do writers. Put a couple of writers in a cocktail party full of “muggles” and they will immediately find each other and bond over their love of words. (And yes, I did just refer to non-writers as the non-magic folk in the Harry Potter books.) There’s something about writing that brings people together, like they have a writing radar or “wradar.”

For centuries—maybe millennia—writers have been coming together to share their work. Think of the Grand Cafe in Oslo, the Abbey Theater in Dublin, or the Algonquin Round Table in New York. People talk about writing as a solitary lifestyle, yet for many of us, community is a huge part of the creative process.

So, what makes a writing community effective? And where can writers find this illusive thing called “community”? Here are three components that, in my mind, make a writing community work particularly well.

(1) More Give than Take

Whenever I’m exploring new communities, I look for places where there is an attitude of generosity among the members, a place where people give more than they take. In these types of communities, members offer feedback, share resources, and celebrate each other’s wins without expectation of reciprocation. This spirit of generosity creates a safe space where members can form strong connections with each other and everyone can thrive side-by-side. It sets a positive tone that both appeals to the more gregarious members and also makes even the shyest members more likely to participate.

Communities founded on a principle of generosity tend to be the ones that last the longest. They also attract the best members. After all, no one wants to be in a space where a handful of people monopolize the conversation. When the members are good literary citizens who lead with generosity, the community is most likely to thrive.

(2) Constructive, Not Competitive

Many writing communities are founded around a workshop model where members share their work with each other and offer feedback. In this type of space, constructive critique is key. I’ve seen many a workshop devolve into a cesspool of competitiveness, where members constantly compare themselves to each other. I myself have been in workshops where the leader or teacher believed in “tearing writers down in order to build them back up.” It was a workshop like this that made me stop writing in college and it took me seven years (seven years!) to build up the guts to try again.

While harsh judgements can certainly tear a writer down, empty cheerleading is no better. When writers do nothing but gush about how great a work is, it does nothing to help that writer improve. Instead, it’s important not just to say what works in a piece, but also explain why it works. By explaining the “why” behind the praise or suggestions for improvement, writers can help each other refine their craft.

(3) Broad Range of Genres and Writing Styles

As writers we often are attracted to communities that focus on a specific genre or type of writing. This makes sense on one level, because publishing is itself a genre-focused industry and it can be useful to connect and trade ideas with fellow writers in the same niche.

That said, we also have to acknowledge that writers from different genres bring unique insights to the storytelling process. Romance writers, for example, are phenomenal at marketing and promoting their work. Sci-fi, fantasy and historical fiction writers are amazing at world building. Thriller and mystery writers are fantastic at plot and story structure. And literary fiction writers are excellent at character development.

While it is perfectly fair game to build your community around a specific genre, I want to encourage you to stretch your boundaries and try to connect with writers outside your niche as well. Every genre has its strengths and weaknesses, after all, and when we connect with writers of other genres we can gain new perspectives and improve our craft.

Why do we care about community?

Writing is a solitary exercise. Sure, we can commune with fellow writers, but when it comes to putting words on the page, we do that work on our own. Still, finding community is an essential part of the writing life for a few reasons:

  1. Community will give you support. Writing is lonely and “muggles” don’t always understand the ups and downs of the creative process. When we connect with fellow writers, we can see that we’re not struggling in isolation. Yes, writing is a wacky, wild journey, but we are not alone.
  2. Community will keep you accountable. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of peer pressure to get your backside in the chair and make you start churning out words. That has certainly worked for me. For years, I participated in a group that met in a coffee shop and wrote side-by-side. Just seeing my writing buddies focused and working on their books gave me that little extra push to keep pouring words onto the page.
  3. Community will motivate you. When we work in solitude, it can feel like we’re never going to reach our goals, but when we see a friend or colleague get published or win an award, it reminds us that success is possible. Sure, you don’t want to be competitive and constantly compare yourself to others, but seeing what’s possible for fellow writers can help you stay motivated, even when your goals feel out of reach.
  4. Community will build your network. I hate the word “networking” because it makes me think of “schmoozing” at cocktail parties. (Gross!) Still, there is something to be said about building a network of friends and colleagues and getting to know key players in the industry. The way to do this organically and authentically is through community. When you contribute to a writing community as a good literary citizen, people start to take notice and they’ll want to connect with you. Slowly but surely, your network will grow.

Finding a good community is a key step in any writer’s journey. Still, not all communities are created equal, and it can be hard to find a good one. Here are a few resources to help you get started.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Certain social networks can be great for building community. It used to be that Twitter was where most writers liked to hang out, but ever since the switch to X, I’ve noticed a lot of writers migrating elsewhere. I myself have found that Threads seems to be a very welcoming writing space. Use the BookThreads or WriterThreads hashtags to connect with fellow writers and book lovers. Click here if you want to connect with me on Threads. I haven’t posted much yet; I’m mostly reading other people’s posts and liking/commenting on them.

ASSOCIATIONS: These groups can be a great resource both in terms of helping you develop your knowledge base and for building community. Many writing associations tend to either be genre focused or centered around a particular geographic location. Start by looking in your area to see if there’s a writing association in your city or state. If you can’t find anything local, check out some genre-based associations listed below. Many of them have local chapters.

  • AWP: Association of Writers and Writing Programs – mostly for literary fiction but includes a lot of MFA programs, literary magazines, and small presses.
  • ITW: International Thriller Writers
  • MWA: Mystery Writers of America
  • RWA: Romance Writers of America
  • SFWA: Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association
  • HWA: Horror Writers Association
  • SCBWI: Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (includes books for all age groups, including Young Adult)
  • SinC: Sisters In Crime

Of course, this is just a small sampling of writing associations, but it can help you get started.

DIY MFA: Did you know that DIY MFA has its own unique community? Our DIY MFA Members HUB is a close-knit group of writers who are committed to their craft and want to learn and grow together. We meet twice a month via zoom calls, plus the membership offers a ton of resources like access to the entire DIY MFA webinar library and all of our Writer Igniter Summit interviews.

To keep the community tight, we only open the doors to new members a few select times per year. Curious about the HUB and want to learn more? Click here for more info and to get on the waiting list.

There you have it: three components of a good community, along with four reasons why community matters, and three different places you can go to find your birds of a feather. If you haven’t found a writing community yet, I want to encourage you to take the leap. Choose one of the resources I shared above and check it out.

Until next time, keep writing and keep being awesome!

P.S. For more info on Gabriela Pereira, the founder and instigator of DIY MFA, check out her profile page.

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