Last week I talked about the importance of finding a strong critique partner to help you in the process of honing your work. But beyond that, I think it’s vital to develop a writing community. By this I mean people with whom you can discuss writing in general and trade recommendations for fabulous books or conferences or writing programs, who will let you complain when your characters are misbehaving and who will cheer you on when you’re close to finishing a book. These folks won’t necessarily read your novel word for word and provide you with feedback, but they will provide you with the water-cooler chat that people find in a more traditional workplace. They can also share their own career experiences if they are ahead of you in the quest to publish.
Let’s face it: Writing can be a solitary, isolating occupation. You might have a day job with co-workers, and a family and friends to keep you sane, but they don’t necessarily get all that excited when you have a breakthrough over a troubling plot point. Nor are they going to commiserate when you hear your arch-nemesis has signed a three-book contract, at least not on the same level as a peer. But the world is full of people who will join you in the sort of discussion that makes you feel like a writer, even before you have your own shiny book deal.
There are plenty of places to find these sorts of partners in crime, both in the real world and online. The obvious choices are writing classes or programs, and organizations geared toward the type of writing you do, such as Sisters in Crime or Romance Writers of America. You can also check your local paper or library to see if there’s a local writers’ group that meets in your town or nearby, and see if they are open to new members. Online, you can find broader versions of the same organizations that hold regional meetings, and many have virtual chapters that meet in cyberspace.
However, don’t discount writers’ conferences. These can cost a bit more than some other options and require advance planning, but they can be well worth the effort. A writers’ conference offers a chance to meet fellow writers at all stages of their careers, including published authors who often present inspiring key note addresses, while also allowing you to attend panels and seminars, perhaps meet with an agent or editor, and puts you smack in the middle of plenty of writerly chat over the course of the conference. The one I attended this past weekend, for example, the San Francisco Writers Conference, was a sold-out event featuring more than 300 attendees and 100 presenters. If that size seems overwhelming, there are certainly smaller gatherings as well.The Shaw Guides website provides a listing of a broad range of conferences available each year.
A writing community helps to keep a writer focused and inspired. Of course, a writing community can also be a distraction if you allow it to swallow all of your free time, including that normally devoted to writing, but that’s true of anything in which you involve yourself. Overall, a community of fellow writers will allow you the support to continue in the face of rejection and the sense of belonging that can help you keep your eye on your goals.