This week at DIY MFA, we shift gears a little to talk about why writers need community. There’s something about writers that makes them flock together. Like if you put two writers in a crowded cocktail party, they will inevitably find each other, almost like they have this fine-tuned writing radar. A “wradar” as it were.
This isn’t just a new phenomenon either. For as long as there have been writers in the world, there have been communities of them joining together to share their work. Think of the Abbey Theater in Dublin or the Algonquin Round Table in New York. And yet, unlike many other arts (music and theater, for example), writing in itself is a very solitary activity. In the end, no amount of community will sit down and write that novel for you. Why then, if the bulk of the work must be done on one’s own, is community so important to a writer’s life?
1) Community will keep you sane.
Belonging to a community of writers will help keep you centered during those moments of solitary madness (and we all have those from time to time). Whether this community is a critique group that meets in person or an online network, having other writers around will keep you from getting so sucked into your work that you lose that all-important sense of reality. (Wait, you mean my characters don’t actually exist?)
2) It will keep you accountable.
Writers know when other writers are working and when they’re just blowing steam. If you have writer friends who ask you about your work, it will help keep you honest. After all, there’s only so many times you can say to another writer “well, uh, I’m still stuck on chapter 3…” before it lights a fire under your butt to get something done.
3) It will give you perspective.
Sometimes it feels like everyone else in the world is getting published except for you. In your mind if feels like this is because the whole publishing universe is out to get you and make you feel worse than pond scum. Um… no. Contrary to popular belief, published authors don’t just connect their brains to the computer with a USB cord and pour out finished versions of their novels. Every writer has a moment when they want to give up (either that, or slam their fist through the computer screen). Seeing other writers try and fail will help remind you of reality: writing is hard work, but worth every bit of it.
4) You’ll have a shoulder to cry on when things get rough.
Let’s face it, writing is tough and publishing is probably even tougher. Sometimes we all need lock ourselves in our room, play some angry music at top volume and sulk. (I have a playlist entitled “Bite Me” for this very purpose.) Having a community will give you a built-in network of people who can sympathize when you’re going through tough times. These are people who won’t give you weird looks when you tell them that you hear your characters’ voices in your head or that a minor character just hijacked your entire plot. These are the people who will pat you on the back before they give you that loving shove back to the computer.
5) Finally, you’ll have someone to celebrate the big (and little) victories with you.
Only writers will understand that finishing a short story is just as much reason for celebration as getting a publishing contract for your novel, that it’s just as important to celebrate the small successes as the big ones. Unlike non-writers, who will probably only “get” it when your book finally hits the shelves, writers know that the journey is a long one, so you might as well celebrate even the tiniest of milestones. Why do writers know this? Because they’ve been there too.
Where to find your community
Trying to find the right community can sometimes feel like ordering from one of those monstrous diner menus: you have way too many options, but can never find the one thing you’re in the mood to eat. The purpose of this post is to whittle down the choices for you, kind of like the waitress giving you a short list of specials. Here are some basic ways you can connect with the writing community. This list is by no means comprehensive and there are many more writing resources. Think of this as a jumping-off point, a place to get you started.
Connect with writers through the Internet
My goal is that DIY MFA continue to be a community hub for writers and guess what, you’re already here, so you’re already a part of it! You can also click here for the DIY MFA Word Nerd Facebook Group. There are also many more facebook groups for writers as well as writing hashtags on twitter. You can search for blogs or blog post round-ups as well as forums that support writers and have communities surrounding them.
Join a writing association
There are many organizations that help bring writers together and are open to aspiring authors as well as ones who have been published. You have to pay annual membership dues but these associations will offer various benefits exclusively for their members (discounts on association conferences and events, a bulletin with writing news and information, also lectures and talks). Some even have local chapters where you can meet writers living in your area.
Attend a conference
Conferences are an intense but fun way to meet other writers and learn about the publishing process. Think of it, two or three days dedicated to nothing but networking with writers and industry professionals as well as attending talks about writing and publishing. You can find many conferences just by looking up writing associations, but remember that there are also many excellent conferences that are not affiliated with any particular group.
Go to a reading or open mic night
I’m a big fan of readings for several reasons. First, they’re usually free or at the very least, inexpensive. Add to that, you get to hear awesome literature being read by the author (and maybe even get your copy of the book signed!) Writers love hanging out with other writers so chances are, if you go to an author event, there will be other authors there too even if they’re not reading. Finally, this is a great way to support small, independent literary events and the venues that host them.
Take a class
This is a great way to meet writers and you can improve your writing skills to boot! With luck, you might even find yourself with a writing mentor. I met several of my closest writing friends through a writing class and have stayed in touch with them since. While many colleges and universities will offer writing classes as part of their continuing education, don’t be afraid to think outside the academic box. The local YMCA or other community centers may offer many great classes for a fraction of the cost. If you can’t find something in your area, check the internet for online courses.
There is no one-size-fits-all community that works for every writer. You may even find that community is not for you, that you’re one of those rare birds that just likes to fly solo most of the time. And that’s totally OK. The important thing is to recognize the benefits that community can bring to your writing and find ways to connect with like-minded writers that fits your style.