Once, I operated under the idiotic impression that I could do almost anything on my own without needing help, and guessed that probably went double for writing. I’d heard writing was the lonely profession, and there was some appeal to the Lone Writer silhouette—my six-guns holstered, a full canteen, a brimming flask, and my trusty horse, Beaulah cantering into the southwest sunset. After a while, I found myself bogged down, discouraged, and lonely, and no amount of nipping at that flask did any good. Maybe you’ve tried going it alone too. Maybe you’ve wondered, as I did: do I need other writers?
Yes, you absolutely do. Other writers can give you the three Cs, which cannot be acquired alone: the three Cs of Companionship, Connections, and Critiques. People don’t thrive in a vacuum; we thrive in fellowship. So, the three Cs; what can they do for you?
You already have heaps of friends, you say? Lucky bastard. Even so, I’ll bet those very friends roll their eyes and bust your balls just for the way you think and express yourself. “There goes Suzanne and her crazy imagination again!” This won’t happen with your writer friends, because your writer friends will understand you and your crazy monkey moon language. Writers speak the language of What If; extra imagination just gets bonus points. Okay, acceptance and understanding is nice, you say, but it’s not like writers are just hanging out at the local 7-11 guzzling Slurpees. True, but finding writers in the wild isn’t all that difficult. You can try signing up for a local convention in a genre of interest or sign up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and you’ll practically be wading through writers. You’re an introvert? So are at least half the writers I know, yet that is not what defines them, rather they are defined by qualities of acceptance, wit, and intelligence. Not shabby companions, right?
I wrote in solitude for years before venturing out for companionship myself. My first attempt was to attend the 2006 NaNoWriMo kickoff event in Salt Lake City. How exciting to meet others who were as passionate about writing as I was; finally, other people who actually spoke my language! By November’s end, I had accomplished my 50,000 word goal, but more importantly, I had found some real kindred spirits, one of whom happens to be Shimmer’s very own editor-in-chief. I’d begun to find my people.
Connections, networks, community; they’re not very sexy words and sound exhausting to boot. Do you really need to build a connective network in the writing community? Having support from a network of friends and industry professionals is priceless. If you don’t like being too connected, it’s okay, there’s no contract to sign. Ultimately, you control of the level of commitment you’re comfortable with making. But putting in some time and effort here pays off big and helps you stay abreast of new information and opportunities.
Writer’s conventions (or cons) are wonderful places to meet other writers, editors and publishers, plus it’s some of the most fun you can have with your clothes on. You don’t have to know a secret handshake; you just need to save a little money, figure out your transportation and roommate situation, and bone up on vitamins, because cons whir past like a cicada in heat, and then they’re gone. The best reason to attend a convention is to meet and get to know people, and maybe acquire a card or two from interesting editors and agents to query later. Twitter, LiveJournal and Facebook can help you keep in touch with the friends and connections you’ve made, as can Goodreads and a plethora of other social networks that keep springing up overnight. Just don’t stay so connected that you forget to muck out your horse’s stall and give her some oats from time to time.
But I’m not a cowpoke; I’m delicate flower, you say. What if getting critiqued stomps and kills my fragile soul? Anyway, I’ve never really critiqued anyone else, and wouldn’t have the slightest idea where to find a good critique group.
There are many levels of critique, from light to intense, most of them useful for learning to become better at the craft of writing and developing a thicker skin. Online writing groups can be a non-threatening place to begin for wary writers. There, you can learn to take criticism and give your best constructive feedback to others, all without leaving the comfort of home. If you’re a delicate swamp orchid and fear some jerk will stomp your dreams, join some groups, but lurk around for a while to see if the vibes are amenable. Most groups work on a system of cooperation, support, and feedback. There’s a chance trolls may exist in the mix, but one can learn a lot from watching how others handle a troll. If a troll controls that group, however, it might be a good idea to pack up your soil and find greener pastures.
There is a metric shit ton of writer’s groups out there. If you’re willing to do some research, chances are you’ll find one that fits your needs. Here’re some great places to start online: Critters Workshop, Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, and Hatrack River Writer’s Workshop
For something more intense and one-on-one, there are many writing workshops that can help hone and refine your talents (Clarion, Viable Paradise, and Odyssey to name but three). Critique is about getting better, but it’s true that it’s not always easy to take. The best advice I’ve heard is to thank your critiquer without trying to defend your choices. Give their advice a day or two to settle. (Yell disparagements about their mother in private later all you want.) From there, you’ll figure out whether it was useful feedback or just grist for the mill.
It’s never too early or too late to begin seeking out your three Cs. The friendships and sense of community built today can benefit your entire career and lifetime. There are few things in life better than knowing there’s a well-armed, smooth-talking posse at your back, especially when Bad Bart rolls into town. Writing might be a lonely profession, in that we alone are responsible for getting the words onto the paper—but it doesn’t have to be lonesome.
How have you gone about trying to find your fellow writers? Do you belong to an online crit group, or maybe an in-person writing group? Tell us in the comments!