Building a Writing Community

It can be hard to build a writing community. Online groups can help.

This is a picture of my dream library.

It’s a cliché to think of the writer as a lone artist stuck in a garret, writing piercingly beautiful poetry that never gets recognized because they don’t descend from their self-imposed solitude.

But writing these days is anything but lonely – you can build a writing community either in person or online, and have a great group of people to bounce ideas off of, to share writing with, and to share tips about writing tools and tricks.

I remember when I first met my friend Kim M., and she told me about the in-person writing group she was a part of. She mentioned that most of them were novelists, and they were serious about writing – everyone had to bring something to be read every few weeks. She talked about how much she learned from them because her work – nature/environment writing – was so outside their purview that they could almost see it more clearly than she could. She also said she learned from how they wrote, and used some of their techniques in her own writing.

I was jealous of her and her group. At the time, I was that writer in a garret, writing into the echoing unknown and the great silence that was my journal. I was writing for therapy, and nothing else. I needed that time to sort out what was happening to me health-wise and lifestyle-wise.

These days, however, I have a great writing community.

I have a writing buddy with whom I check in every week or so, as we’re both writing books about our scientific experiences. We share highs and lows, progress and no progress, and give each other advice on book proposals. We even both got pieces into Narratively – hers went up on Monday and mine was supposed to go up on Thursday but went up yesterday!

I also have a book club buddy whom I’ve written about previously, but we haven’t read many books lately as I keep getting sidetracked by books to review. The last one we read was The Trouble With Lichen by John Wyndham – a strange little book about a lichen that keeps people young. It came from an era when people were lapping up these types of stories – like Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, or George Orwell’s 1984. I hope we pick a new book soon.

Then there’s the Slack group I’m part of, where five of us who do science writing and creative nonfiction regularly share interesting articles either about writing or about something we know another member will be interested in. We read each other’s work. We provide tips on where to submit, and commiserate when things don’t go as planned. We recommend books for each other – not just books about what we’re working on, but books that resonate with us beyond the small realm in which each of us specializes.

Finally, there are the closed Facebook groups I’m part of, which by their very nature promote discussion and support because they’re open by invitation only. In one of these groups, the administrator asks every evening how everyone’s writing day went, and she includes a fabulous picture with each post. It’s comforting to read everyone’s status regarding what they did and didn’t get done, or what they discovered or had published. You feel like you’re part of a bigger community when you can all share what you’re up to with no judgement from the group.

Finally, my writing community includes my husband. He’s often the first reader of my work, as his mind works completely differently than mine does. He picks up on all the places where I’ve left the reader behind by assuming something was obvious when it wasn’t. He also has a more informal writing style, and isn’t afraid to tell me when my writing is a bit stiff. This is definitely my Achilles heel – I spent so much time writing scientifically that I have to work hard to excavate that stiffness and get at the personal stuff underneath.

All in all, I think I have a great writing community. I’d like to have an in-person group, but that’s not always feasible. Kim had said that her group was very picky about who they let join, because they were all very serious about their work and wanted to make sure anyone new would be serious, too.

For now I’ll rely on my virtual colleagues – and husband – to help me keep going.

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