When people think of writers, they don’t really think of community.
More often, the stereotype of the solitary author skipping meals and pounding away at a keyboard in some attic comes to mind instead! (And let’s be real, that stereotype exists for a reason. It happens. *deadline* *cough*).
But the creative process doesn’t happen in a vacuum. At some point, preferably sooner rather than later, you’ll need to get feedback on your work. You’ll need people to encourage you, fangirl over your book, and tell you the truth about your story (even when it hurts). It takes a village to raise a child, and your book baby is no different.
Local writing communities
I’m a bit of an oddball writer in that my creative process has always happened in the context of community. My first stories were a collaborative effort with two writer friends (which became my Kenan romantic suspense series, co-authored with Carrie Lemke) in high school and college. My best friend is a multi-published author, so I grew up reading her stories and going to my first writing conferences with her.
It’s not always easy finding compatible writing groups in your local community. My friend, Amy Williams, and myself once visited a group we now semi-affectionately call the Ent-Moot. We were the only writers under 50, and definitely the only writers of speculative fiction. When we revealed that Amy had written a 150,000 word space opera novel (which became the Destiny Trilogy) to collective gasps, we decided we should probably seek critique partners elsewhere.
We eventually organized several area writing friends into our own critique group. We hosted writing weekends out at Amy’s 100-year-old farmhouse in the country, did flash fiction writing challenges that included fortunes from fortune cookies, critiqued each others’ work, and generally just encouraged each other. Four women out of that critique group went on to found Crosshair Press.
Writing conference communities
Writing conferences can be fantastic places to connect with other writers! Yes, they’re intimidating. Yes, you can quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people and information. Don’t let them scare you! If you go into them strategically, even shy, introverted writers can make the most of the experience.
I was a clueless 19-year-old homeschooled kid when I went to my first writing conference. Shy, slightly (but adorably, or so I’m told) awkward, and a total bookworm. I ended up at a conference table with Frank Peretti. Talk about intimidating! And yes, I did end up in a hallway in tears at one point, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. In fact, two industry leaders we met at that conference have become wonderful friends and mentors 10+ years later!
Next week I will head to the Realm Makers conference in Reno, keynoted by NYT Best-Selling Author Ted Dekker, in my role as an editor and co-founder of indie publisher Crosshair Press. Realm Makers is the premier conference for Christian writers of speculative fiction, and is one of the most creative and inclusive writing communities I’ve found to date. Christian or not, if you write speculative fiction this is the place to be!
And may I just say that the awards banquet/cosplay party at the end is truly epic?
Realm Makers also has a fabulous Facebook group, the Realm Makers consortium, where writers can find betas readers and critique partners, ask questions, bounce ideas off other spec fiction writers, and just generally nerd out!
Social Media Communities
I’ve only really invested in social media writing communities in the last couple years, and it’s been a wonderful and insightful experience.
Facebook author pages and writing groups can be a great way to connect with your fans, share updates, and easily include buy links to your website and books. For many years I hated Twitter, but I’m a relatively recent convert and have discovered it’s a great way to meet new friends and glean from top professionals in the industry. Twitter is the great equalizer, giving you a chance to pick the brain of folks you might only meet at a writing conference or special event. Thanks to the internet, you can now talk to a top agent at home in your yoga pants!
Twitter hashtag challenges and communities can be a great way to get involved in the vibrant writing communities on Twitter. #Ontheporch is a fabulous community dedicated to inspiring and encouraging writers. Hashtag challenges like #1lineWed, #authorconfession or #WIPjoy give you prompts to share tidbits about your books and convert new fans.
Instagram can also be a great tool for connecting with readers, but there is a bit of a learning curve since it’s VERY visually-oriented. Make sure you have a specific, consistent theme to your images and that they are beautiful and high-quality. Some authors have found success staging pictures of books and posting them using the #Bookstagram hashtag.
The key to effective social media communities is to remember they are social communities. Don’t be that person only posting buy links. Ask questions. Interact. Share other peoples’ posts. It’s not a make-sales-quick marketing gimmick.
It’s tempting (and let’s be real, much less scary) to try and make the writing journey on our own. After all, if we don’t open ourselves up to community — and critique — we won’t have to deal with our writing insecurities!
Please hear me.
Writing in community is absolutely essential for developing a strong story and a sustainable writing career.
Not only will you expand you readership and glean valuable insights from other authors, a writing community will pick you up after that first rejection, lend a listening ear to talk through that knotty plot problem, and celebrate wildly with you when your book baby finally grows up and goes out into the world!
Don’t wait. Take the next step and find your tribe today.