Why We All Need a Writing Community
All of us start on the writing path from different places and with different experiences. We may have been inspired by reading other stories, or participating in an online fandom, or any other of a thousand circumstances.
Somewhere along our path, we realized an online writing community existed. Often, we made that discovery when searching for an answer to our writing or publishing questions.
Not only are there countless writing workshops or books we can buy, but there are also countless writing blogs and resources giving away help and information for free. That willingness to help each other is one major aspect of what makes the writing community so special.
I’ve written several times about why the writing community is so awesome, but a recent post in relation to the #cockygate issue reiterated for me just how important that connection is for our career. Let’s take a look…
7 Benefits of the Writing Community
The most commonly stated benefits of the writing community are related to the reasons we usually discover its existence:
1. We Answer Questions and Help Each Other Learn
As I mentioned above, whatever our questions about writing or publishing, there’s a fair chance that someone has written a blog post on the topic. If we can’t find helpful answers on the topic, we can duck into any of a hundred writing forums and ask questions of the members.
Whether we’re more familiar with Book Twitter, Facebook writing groups, or independent forums (Kboards.com, Absolute Write, RWA, etc.), there’s no shortage of places where authors gather. While some aren’t as friendly or welcoming as others, we can continue exploring until we find a group for us.
2. We Support and Recognize Each Other’s Hard Work
Once we find a good group for us, we tend to make friends with our fellow writers. Rather than seeing each other as competition we need to trample, we cheer each other on—or crack the whip for motivation (whichever approach we need *grin*)—and genuinely celebrate each others’ successes.
Sure, some authors don’t play nice, but they’re the exception. That’s why—when we confront badly behaving authors—accusations of “You’re just jealous” ring so false. In general, we’re not a bunch of jealous haters.
3. We Help Each Other Grow and Strengthen Our Skills
For many of us, we find our critique partners or beta readers through our connections with the writing community. We push each other to be better, to improve our craft.
Many writing organizations run critique/beta groups within their mini-community, attempting to help writers find good matches. Some writing forums are entirely centered on providing critique help.
4. We Watch Out for Each Other and Our Careers
The #cockygate issue was a fantastic example of how the writing community pulls together to help each other. Lawyers and cover artists volunteered their time to assist affected authors. Writers shared links to the books of affected authors to try to minimize the damage to their income.
RWA jumped in to help all authors (not just members in the romance genre) get the message to Amazon to stop pulling down books. Together, the community found solutions.
5. We Share Our Expertise with Each Other
Within our writing groups, we can also put out calls along the lines of “Hey, is anyone here a nurse? I have a question about a hospital procedure for my story.” Our day job, hobbies, struggles, obstacles, or even where we live can result in experiences and expertise that might help our fellow writers.
We’re all experts in something, even if it’s something as “ordinary” as fighting for insurance coverage. And being part of a writing group means that we might have experiences that provide story or character insights to other authors.
6. We Update Each Other on New Techniques
In many groups, when an author discovers something that does or doesn’t work, they’ll share their findings rather than keep the information to themselves.
For example, when some authors started offering their first book free, they shared download and sell-through figures so others could gauge the success of the technique. Those authors could have kept their findings to themselves and ride the wave of sales before letting others into the “secret,” but they didn’t. Again, of course there are exceptions, but in general, we’re a generous group when it comes to sharing information.
7. We Share Opportunities and Raise Each Other Up
We often find other writers we respect in our writing groups. If we get an opportunity to form a panel of authors for a workshop at a conference, or if we’re looking for authors to join us for an anthology, we’re likely to reach out to authors we know and respect.
At the same time, our opportunities to join in other authors’ endeavors increase when we’re part of the community. We’re more likely to hear about opportunities when we’re plugged into the conversation, and we’re more likely to receive invitations when we’ve earned respect from other authors.
What Happens If We Don’t Have a Writing Community?
I was reminded of how important our writing community is when I read a post about the #cockygate issue. As I mentioned last time, our brand is what others think of us, and Faleena Hopkins, the author behind the cocky trademark, hasn’t impressed anyone with her threatening, trollish behavior.
But Cassie Sharp wrote a fantastic “open letter” to Faleena that added another layer of insight for the situation. And more relevant to my point here, she pointed out how a strong connection to the writing community might have prevented Faleena from making so many mistakes.
As Cassie says to Faleena:
“You think other authors were out to get you. You think this because:
- You got one-star reviews on Goodreads for books you haven’t written yet.
- Other books were published with the same cover models and similar titles.
- Other books had the same character names as yours.
- Some of your books showed up on iBooks that you didn’t put there when you’re in KU.
- There was similar content in some of your books in other author’s books.
Those are all the reasons you gave. … And when I closely examined these things, it hit me. You don’t know. You have no idea.
These are problems that almost every author I know has. It’s part of the business. … Because these are common problems in this business.
Hell, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered something crazy or a problem, did a search in one of the groups, and BAM here are a list of people who’ve talked about the same sh*t…and now I have answers. These relationships are invaluable.”
What Faleena interpreted as targeted attacks from fellow authors she saw as enemies, any writer plugged into the writing community would have known wasn’t personal. Because of that lack of context, she sees herself as a victim and has lashed out without care for her victims.
2 More Ways Our Writing Community Helps Us Succeed
None of that excuses what she’s done of course. She chose how to react to her situation, and her choice was to eliminate all competition for search results on the word cocky—even if it meant destroying the livelihood of fellow authors.
9 ways the writing community helps us with our career... Click To TweetLike in our stories, just because we understand a villain’s motivations doesn’t make them less of a villain. But the situation does point out the real need we have for writing friends, or as Cassie calls it, our writing tribe.
So let’s add a couple of items to our list of benefits from above…
8. We Let Each Other Know What’s Normal
As Cassie mentioned, if Faleena had writing friends to ask, she would have known her problems were normal. She would have known not to take them personally. She would have known not to attack other authors in return.
But she didn’t have that attitude. Does she not have any writing friends to ask? I don’t know, but this ability of the writing community to provide context for our experiences is important on many levels.
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen tweets from experienced authors letting newbies know not to give up in the face of rejection. Or cheering debut authors on their release with a side of insights into how the disappointments accompanying their release day are normal as well.
When we share experiences, we’re not just paving the way for others to follow, we’re also helping each other see the big picture. We’re better able to recognize scams or problems if we know what to expect.
9. We Prevent Each Other from Making Mistakes
The friendships we form within our writing groups can grow into private emails or chats, providing us a “safe space” to vent and complain without exposing our ass in public. Our friends can talk us off the ledge of frustration, or they can give us the “Oh, honey, no” warning before we make mistakes.
With my friends, we often check in with each other. When our hurt feelings might have us take reviews personally, we’re there for each other to be a sympathetic ear, a sounding board for worries, or reassurance of how the review isn’t as bad as feared. Same with many other issues we all encounter in this profession.
Friends are always great to have, but in this case, we need writing friends. We need friends who know what’s what in Publishing Land and will tell us when we’re wrong.
Those outside the industry won’t know what’s normal, so they’ll potentially make us see issues where there aren’t any. For example, in Faleena’s case, she talked about her readers pointing out similar covers (which is normal for indicating your genre and happens with stock photos), cover models, or character names. Readers don’t know what’s normal or not, and she allowed their interpretation to drive her sense of victim-hood.
As Cassie pointed out, any talk with writing friends would have clued Faleena into the fact that these events were perfectly normal. She would have known not to overreact and destroy her brand and career over a misinterpretation and instinct to take things personally.
The Risks of Listening to Non-Writers
Yet it’s possible to think we’re plugged into the writing community and still miss out on these last two benefits. There’s a reason I keep emphasizing our need for writing friends.
That’s because the explosion of self-publishing has brought in plenty of scammers and other opportunists. The people who are more interested in the quick buck than writing craft.
If we’re not careful, we could limit our writing community to groups filled with marketers who just happen to have chosen writing as their modus operandi for sales. Obviously, it’s not wrong to want to make money, but some “writing” groups care only about sales and nothing about quality or ethics (or legality).
If we're not connected to the writing community, we might risk harming our career. Click To TweetThat’s not to say that we shouldn’t ever join any marketing-focused groups. We can often learn a lot about marketing and advertising and copywriting from them. That’s good knowledge to have.
But we need to keep in mind that these marketers who just happen to write (rather than writers who do marketing on the side) aren’t any better at being “industry insiders” for that issue of context and normality than most readers would be.
Marketers often come to writing through a different path than those who become writers due to a love of writing. They might come to the writing community with more of a cutthroat attitude, focusing on a goal of eliminating the competition. They might not embrace the generosity and benefits of a true community of writers.
Our Writing Community Needs to Be Filled with Writers
If we don’t have a balance of writing groups—some more focused on writers rather than marketers—we might turn to the wrong people for help when we wonder how we should handle a situation. We might let their interpretation drive our decision to either privately vent or publicly take revenge.
Even if we’re a skeptic who doesn’t believe in or trust our community’s generosity, we should ensure that we’re plugged into those writing/publishing-focused groups for balance. After hanging out with the awesome writers who share information, give away tools, and work to build up the community, we might find a few friends who are exceptions to our cynical attitude and help us along our writing career.
Our “safe spaces” need to be filled with those who truly understand the twists and turns of the industry. We need good enough friends who will hold us back and keep us out of trouble when we’re wrong. We need friends who will tell us what’s what and help us navigate our career path without making too many mistakes.
We need a writing community. *smile*
How connected are you to the writing community? What benefits have you seen? Have you noticed the marketing-focus style of some “writing” groups, and if so, what’s your perspective on their pros or cons? Do you agree with my advice to ensure our safe spaces are full of writers who understand the industry, not just the sales/marketing aspect? Do you have a writing tribe or safe space to get perspective?Pin It
I still struggle with this. I have joined lots of writing groups on FB but have yet to find one that really clicks. I have found some awesome writer friends and have a small circle of trusted posse members – but so many of these groups seem hyper focused on the sales aspect of things. I agree it’s important and can be very helpful – but there seems a real lack of interest in craft and improvement as writers, which I find disappointing. But all in all, I feel I am in a much better place having been part of these groups than without them. So…yeah…
Anita, I’m hesitant to be on Facebook these days with their issues with privacy and security. I belong to 2 groups that aren’t affiliated with any social media site. If you’re interested in something like this, let me know. I’ll send you the links.
what a kind and generous offer – thank you! yes, I’d be very interested. feel free to drop me a line at arodgersfreelance AT gmail . com
Sent you an email, Anita.
I sympathize, Anita. Of the two-dozen-plus groups I’m a member of on FB, only 2 or 3 are significantly useful and only a similar number feel like a caring community. A few of the RWA forums have that community feel.
So I know they exist, but it can sometimes feel like a wheat/chaff issue. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!
Thanks. I gained a great deal of help on Linked In especially from Crime forum and SF forum folks. Now however Linked In has ruined forum functionality and it just doesn’t happen any more.
I place advice to aspiring writers on a page of my website, I sit down and chat about independent publishing and getting the word out if anyone asks. Recently I was asked if I would address a college class on marketing.
Some author newsletters pass on valuable insights and lessons learned. (Like you Jami.) Others are just ads. You can guess which ones I keep subscribing to – another lesson!
Yes, I checked a couple LinkedIn forums a few years ago, but the ones I stumbled across tended to share inaccurate information, so I haven’t been by lately to see any changes.
And thanks for the kind words! 🙂
I envy those who live in an area where there is a writing community. I don’t live near one. The closest place I could find one is an hour and a half away and I don’t have the transportation to get there. Although small towns can be a paradise to some, for me it’s more like a prison. I do belong to 2 writing communities online but it really doesn’t have the connection a local one would have. Neither one uses Skype. One has chat but hardly anyone uses it.
Yes, I know my local RWA chapter is quite good, but between my introversion and health issues and not wanting to drive an hour each way to every meeting, I’m involved with them only for online stuff. So even though I’m in a big city, I still stick to online communities. 🙂
I hope you can find one that has the connection you want–even finding just a few buddies can help! And thanks for stopping by (and offering your help to Anita)!
As an extroverted writer, I definitely enjoy belonging in writer communities even if just for the company!
Yeah, I think most writers prefer to help each other succeed rather than to put each other down. 🙂 I’ve definitely found many writer friends through online communities. For offline groups, there were very few people I truly bonded with. So most of my writer friends are from online places! (For most of the writer pals I have offline, I actually met them outside of writing settings, haha.)
Recently, I started a blog just for fun. While I enjoy writing blog posts so far, I was also worried that I was spending too much time on my blog, and too little time working on my story. It was nice chatting with some fellow writers who are also bloggers about this issue. They were able to offer empathy and NORMALIZE this: it’s normal for blog writing to take a long time, and sometimes you might spend much more time on your blog than on your WIP, and that’s okay. Normalization is an important and powerful thing!
Oh, congratulations on starting your own blog, Sieran! 🙂 As you said, it definitely takes time, which is why I’d recommend limiting your posting schedule to just 1 or 2 posts a week.
That said, a blog can also be a community. I met my first critique partner in the comments of an editing blog. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for sharing!
Yeah, 1 or 2 would be good, though I may post less often than that, depending on how busy my life gets. (Last week, I made 3 posts, which took up SO much time.) At least it’s only for fun, so it feels casual and free. No more fear of professors and TAs disliking my style or anything like that, haha. At the moment, I’m writing mostly about life philosophies and topics in psychology (like friendships and relationships in general).
Also, yay, I finally get to link my website/ blog here!
P.S. If you’ll find this interesting, in my first ever post, I was playing this writing game where you answer questions about your WIP using GIFs, lol! https://sieranlanecom.wordpress.com/2018/04/23/writing-tag-activity-using-gifs/ It took so long to find all those GIFs, but it was a ton of fun!
I’m hesitant to join writing communities. As someone who’s unpublished (mostly because I haven’t produced anything worth publishing yet) I don’t think I have anything of value to say or offer. Listening is helpful in itself (hence me reading blogs like this one), but that doesn’t really make me part of a community, does it? Simply put, I don’t feel that there’s a place for me in writing communities yet, other than as a passive consumer who’s not truly a member.
Definitely don’t let the fact that you’re unpublished stop you from connecting with writing communities. Connections can come from asking questions, finding mentors, sharing joys or frustrations with those at similar points on their path, exchanging work for feedback, sharing info about contests, query pitches, etc.
In other words, while listening is a great way to learn, we don’t have to ignore our voice either. As I mentioned to Sieran in his comment here, I met my first critique partner in the comments of an editing blog, where, yes, I asked lots of questions. I met my beta buddy by putting out a call on Twitter. 🙂
Craft related forums (is Critique Circle still around?) can be great places to meet and connect with other writers who understand your situation. Many times, writers’ best friends will be those who “grew up together” from newbie to published, so unpublished authors shouldn’t discount the benefits of the community. 🙂 Good luck with your writing and thanks for sharing!
[…] work had been published. I particularly liked Jami Gold’s response regarding the absolute need for a community of authors, so nobody else gets sucked into that vortex of […]
I am grateful for all the posts on writing that have helped me on my way.
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