Writing can be lonely work. As writers we spend most of our time working alone so a community of like-minded creative people can bring a ray of social light to an otherwise solitary existence.
But how do you go about finding that magical group of writers to call your own? How do you find a writing community?
Build Your Writing Community
We hinted at this topic in the last article and today we tackle it head-on. There is no one place to look for fellow writers. In fact, I’ve befriended writers through classes I’ve taken, conferences I’ve attended and even volunteer work I’ve done. The good news is that the more writers you meet, the easier it becomes to expand your community. Each writer you meet opens the door to more potential connections. The bad news is that making those first crucial connections can be tough, especially if you’re a little on the shy side, like me.
There are three ways that I’ve found helpful in building my own writing community: in-person events, classroom settings, and online. This article will give you a quick rundown on finding in-person events and using them to boost your own writing community.
Includes: Conferences, author readings, writing retreats, trade shows, library events, poetry slams, or any other event where writers will hang out together and socialize.
Where to Look: Look local first. Is your local library hosting any readings? Does the neighborhood coffee shop host a poetry slam or open mic night? Look at the local college and see if the English or Creative Writing departments host events or readings. Also, check national writing organizations and see if there’s a local chapter in your area. The Book Crossroads website has a comprehensive list of the major writing organizations.
Why look local first? If you’re a little shy, smaller events may seem less intimidating, especially if this is your first time stepping out and connecting with other writers. Another major factor, of course, is expense. Going to national or international conferences can be expensive. Forget airfare and hotel stays, just the cost of the conferences themselves can be pretty high. That’s not to say that you should never go to big events, but don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself right out of the gate. Save the big conference for when you have a game plan and are ready to make the most of every minute.
3 Tips for In-Person Events
1) Carry Business Cards.
Every time someone asks for your business card and you don’t have one on you, it’s a missed opportunity. You miss out on the chance to keep this connection going. I keep a handful of cards on my person at all times, even if I’m not doing anything remotely writing-related. I’ll give you a rundown on affordable business card printing options and business card etiquette in a later article but for the time being, if you have cards (and you should!) get in the habit of carrying with them with you at all times.
2) Be a Positive Resource.
Focus on being a positive resource. Whenever I’m connecting with writers for the first time, I’m always thinking “how can I help them?” and not “how can they help me?” If a writer mentions a roadblock they’ve hit in their writing and I know some tool, technique or resource that can help them, I share it. Even if that resource has nothing to do with DIY MFA or it’s a link to one of my “competitors,” I share it. If I believe resource will help another writer, I share it. I started doing this long before DIY MFA was in the picture, and this approach is one of the core tenets of what DIY MFA is today.
What I’ve discovered is that when you set your own needs and goals aside and act as a positive resource to others, the good karma comes back to you tenfold. Not only is it the “nice thing to do” but when you approach networking from a perspective of generosity, people are more likely to open up to you. And when people open up to you, it becomes easier to make solid connections as well as good friends.
WARNING: When sharing information, it’s really tempting to step into a “know it all” role. When you play “know it all” you’re providing information but you’re doing it for your own benefit: to pump up your own ego and make yourself look good. Being a positive resource means giving information because you sincerely want to help the other person. It comes from a place of giving, not taking.
3) “What happens in Vegas…”
When you go to in-person events, force yourself to step outside your comfort zone. Let yourself be a little out of character. If you’re not usually the type to make random smalltalk or strike up conversation with strangers, push yourself to do it.
Think of the event as being like Vegas. You can always go back to your normal life after the event is over, but let yourself be open to trying new things and meeting new people while you’re there.
Whenever I attend an event, I have to force myself to work up the nerve to be social (did I mention I’m really shy?), but if tell myself that it’s just for this one event, then it’s not quite as scary to step outside my comfort zone. No matter what, I know that when the event is over I can go back to my safe haven behind the keyboard and be my shy self again. While I’m at the event, I’m in Vegas mode, trying new things and meeting new people, regardless of how scary that may be for me.
Bonus Tip: Be your honest self.
In-person events have the great advantage of allowing you to engage with writers and industry professionals face-to-face and eye-to-eye. This is a great opportunity to be your honest self and not some fakey-fakey flattering phoney. Don’t get me wrong, even the best of us get hit by the fan-girl stick on occasion. For instance, every time I see a particular industry professional at conferences, I’m so smitten by the sheer awesomeness of this individual that I’m reduced to a pile of blabbering ridiculousness. I’ve actually had to force myself to admire and respect said amazing industry professional from afar because I don’t like the person I become when I try to make conversation and end up looking like some crazy fan-girl. It’s just not my honest self.
My honest self wants to have a conversation. If I could give writers just one piece of advice about in-person events it would be the following. Don’t treat every conversation as a pitch for your book. Trust me, it’s tempting to do that because when you’re in conference pitch-mode it’s hard to think–let alone talk–about anything other than your book. But guess what: there’s a big wide world out there and your book is just one small slice. Think beyond your book and focus on learning about the other person, not just as a book person but as a human being. After all, agents/editors/industry professionals/famous authors are all people too.