I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. I fantasized about the office I would have, lined with bookshelves, and the typewriter I would use to write my own books. I play-acted being a writer, using my dad’s old typewriter and writing up ‘news’ stories for my family. But my imagination always saw the writer as a solitary individual. Someone who worked in isolation to produce a book or two that would then receive rave reviews (well I didn’t say my childhood dreams were accurate!).
What I’ve realized since then is that writing is as much about community as it is about being solo. Yes, when we sit down to write it’s just us and the page, but the writing life is so much more than that.
I came across a post in a Facebook writing group I’m part of, and the poster was wondering how to get beta readers for her book. She’d read other peoples’ posts about beta readers, and wasn’t sure where to find them. She got a lot of comments, but the most consistent one was that she should develop a writing community.
My beta readers were part of my small group of writing friends, who agreed to read my book because in the past I’ve helped them with a pitch, or edited an essay, or given advice on a conference abstract. We do these things for each other because we care, we want to see our friends succeed, and if we can contribute to that success all the better. We’re like a family of writers, nurturing and supporting each other on our individual writing journeys.
How do you build writing community? You could start a writing group, where several like-minded writers get together every two weeks or every month and share writing and get feedback from the group. Often people connect initially on social media, then follow up in real life to create a safe space for sharing and critiquing writing.
Other people share writing sessions. A friend of mine meets up with two other writers at the library every Thursday afternoon and they all write for 3 hours. No chatting, no sharing of work – just words on the page, in solidarity with each other.
You can also find writing community by getting engaged in online groups: don’t just ‘like’ posts on Facebook, for example, but comment on them. Show that you’re interested and have read what someone has posted. In one of the Facebook groups I’m in, a member posts every evening to ask how everyone’s writing day has gone. Not only is she building her own writing community (everyone knows her because of her daily post), but I feel like I ‘know’ a number of people who respond regularly, as I get to hear about their successes and rejections. I traded manuscripts with one of those women—we had each commented on the check-in post every day, and we realized we had a lot in common. In the end we gave each other valuable feedback on our books.
Another way to build community is to share the love. Read a book or a poem that you really loved, that made you think or hit you hard in the heart? Share it! Put a post on Twitter, share it in one of your Facebook groups, or put a picture of the book on Instagram, and remember to tag the author. They’ll not only get a bit of positive feedback, but they may remember you later when you’re looking for blurbs for your book.
Support your fellow authors by going to readings that you’re able to attend, whether they’re one-offs at local bookstores, or part of a larger literary festival. If the latter, strike up a conversation with writers who are panelists or who have read from their work, and let them know how much you enjoyed their writing. You can also share what you’re working on. I’ve been to the same writing conference several years now, and I always manage to chat with new people while catching up with old friends—part of my writing community. I’ve even considered volunteering with my writing organization, to connect with more writers and to see how things work behind the scenes. Sadly I don’t have enough spoons to do this.
So when you’re holed away in your study, writing your next book or essay or poem, don’t forget to get out and join the writing community. You’ll make new friends, find people who can give you honest feedback on your writing, and share the trials and tribulations of the writing life with people who want you to succeed as much as you want them to.