I recently had someone ask me how I found my writing community. I had to pause and think about it.
Here’s why: I didn’t find it, I built it.
How it started…
Rewind back to 2014—I didn’t have a writing community.
I wrote on the bus to and from work, over lunch, and in the evenings when I could. I wrote alone. The last time I’d had readers was in high school when my journal (that contained the very first version of the first manuscript I completed a decade later) was passed around between a couple of different folks in my French class every week so they could get the latest installment of the story.
I moved to California when my partner started a new job. I was unemployed and unsure what direction I was going to go in: continue in the legal field, or do something entirely new. I had a goal of how many job applications I needed to complete each week, but when I wasn’t applying for jobs, I was writing.
And I was lonely.
My partner suggested that I find a writing group. I got on Meetup and found a local group that met about a mile from my place, which meant I could walk there (we only had one car, so while my partner was at work, I was confined to where I could walk—I hadn’t yet discovered public transit because it hadn’t been a thing that really existed where I was from, and to be honest, it was still kind of shit in SoCal).
I went to the Meetup group every time they met (I think every other week, but maybe it was weekly). Writers cycled in and out, but eventually the same core people were coming. And then the person who had founded the group dropped away, and I took over setting the schedule for the meetups. After we had several meetings where folks submitted pieces for us to read only to then not show up (incredibly rude, by the way), I moved the meetup off of the official platform and stuck to the core group.
I’ve since moved to Sweden and then to Seattle, and members of that original group have dropped off over the years, but three of us remain, and we still meet up every two weeks (online) to provide feedback and brainstorm.
BUT, my writing community has also expanded over the years beyond my SoCal meetup group. One of my critique partners I met at the Southern California Writers’ Conference while I was living in California, and I invited him to our meetup group. For several years I attended the Sirens Conference in Colorado, which is a literary conference, not a writing conference, and I met critique partners there as well. I’ve picked up critique partners from Futurescapes as well. When I moved to Sweden, I found fellow writers through work and scheduled coffee shop write-ins (which, naturally devolved into socializing or brainstorming many times, but hey, the community feeling was there).
What if you don’t have means (time or money) to attend conferences and workshops?
I hear ya! I’ve also participated in NaNoWriMo several years, and they have local write-ins you can attend, or if you can’t do in-person, you can meet folks online and form relationships there. I am sure there are other great online options I haven’t explored as well.
Your ‘writing’ community can include non-writers
You read that correctly. I’d argue that the community you build should include non-writers.
Find voracious readers who are willing to beta read for you. Their feedback will be different from what writers will tell you, and that’s awesome because ideally your reader-base won’t always be fellow writers. How do you find these people? Well…conferences, but also just talking to folks about books and writing. I ended up with a great beta reader by discussing my writing with a coworker. Turned out his wife enjoyed the genre I was writing in and was happy to read for me.
Find other creators who discuss craft from other perspectives and disciplines. I have a weekly call with my best friend of 20+ years who is an amazing artist and we often talk about our projects. There’s a surprising amount of overlap, especially in the mental process and the ups and downs of creating, between painting, drawing, writing and a ton of other creative endeavors. Checking in with other creators can help you feel more sane, but also be incredibly inspiring. A topic for another post is filling your creative well with a diverse range of consumption, and by that I mean more than books, tv, films, and comics, but art, nature, scientific papers…okay, yeah, this is a topic for another post, but you get the idea: inspiration comes from experiencing more than one type of entertainment or medium.
Put yourself, and your work, out there
I’m an introvert. It was incredibly hard for me to go to that first, and second, and third writing meetup. Going to conferences where I know no one and starting up conversations and making connections was daunting and uncomfortable. But creating doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I mean, you can create in a vacuum, but if your goal is to be an author someday, you need to be able to put yourself out there. You don’t improve without receiving criticism, or having questions asked that you didn’t think to ask about your work.
A writing community (of more than just writers, don’t forget that) should support and motivate you, but it should also challenge you. It should push you. It should make you ask questions. It should give you perspective outside your own. It’s a relationship, which means it takes work, and it’s about giving as well as receiving.
It’s not something you ‘find’. It’s something you build and foster and fight for. Just like you build and foster and fight for those words on the page.