Almost every day I have an interaction with a writer who is hoping to take their writing, their creative work, to the next level. Maybe it is the new writer who says, “I don’t know a thing about the craft of writing, and how to make my words better,” or even the seasoned veteran who says, “The last book was good, but this new thing could be even better if I could just figure out how to…”
Writers of all levels are dissatisfied with the status quo. That’s the difference, I would argue, between a “hobbiest writer” and an “emerging writer.”
As I mentioned earlier this week in the blog post called “Who Needs You, Anyway?” and as I also talked about in this week’s audio podcast, having a supportive, creative, encouraging community is a wonderful way to help accelerate our journey to the “next level” of our work.
Chasm Between Need and Reality
There is a difference between understanding a need and fulfilling it. This is true with the idea that writers benefit from involvement in creative community.
It is ONE thing to say, “Oh, I would really love to have a whole host of resources around me!” and quite another to actually have people to be engaged with.
Where is the writer or creative type supposed to look to find community? Here are a few ideas, and ways I currently use, or have used, these resources:
Classes – One of the reasons I teach creative writing classes is that it gives me an opportunity to help other writers take their writing to the next level. But, teaching classes is also, for me, a great way to reinforce the information I’ve learned over the years about writing and apply it more fully to my own work. Classes can be through formal instruction (like an undergraduate writing class or pursuing an MFA), through non-acredited programs (private or institutional writing instruction, like the classes I teach), or even via private, direct instruction. (If you take an ONLINE writing class, try to find one that has a “community component” where you can interact with the teacher and other students who are taking or have taken the class.)
- Writers/Readers Group – Sometimes I am hired to facilitate a writer’s group, other times I am “just a participant”. I also have a small group of writer friends from my MFA days who I know will help provide me feedback. In any case, the benefit of a reader/writer group is only fully realized when I participate in BOTH sides of the equation: having my work critiqued, and critiquing the work of others.
- Conferences, Lectures, and Associations – There are all sorts of writer’s associations. AWP, Science Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers, etc, etc. And there are a gazillion (I checked, it really is that many) workshops, conferences, and lectures around the country and world. Joining, participating, and getting to know folks from a group that is dedicated to doing what it is you want to (or already) do, seems like an obvious idea, but it is the sort of thing we often overlook. Google makes it easy to find an opportunity near you.
- Social Media – One of the first things I suggest for “shy” writers (or those who have limited time to “go out” and meet other writers) is to engage from the comfort of their own desk chair, Lay-Z-Boy, or cabana lounger. Social media outlets (Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter, etc) often have “virtual” versions of the same sorts of groups I mention in the sections above. Find a “Mystery Writers” group on Facebook or join one of the many non-fiction writing groups on LinkedIn. “Listen” to what others are talking about and jump right in. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. Share your experiences. These can be good ways to meet people from all around the world who have similar interests to yours.
- Blogs, Podcasts, Online Communities – Even easier for a first step: find a blog or podcast or other “short form” content online that allows for comments and talk to the author of the article or video or whatever. Ask a question. Encourage them to explain something you didn’t understand. Give a different point of view or experience. Engage other commenters in the same way. I have a few long-time, online writer friends I met through interactions just like I’m describing here.
- Mastermind Groups, Mentoring Partnerships, and Accountability Relationships – Mastermind groups (or other similar arrangements where you have defined, mutual goals, a sharing of resources and encouragement, and some structure for accountability) are a great way to take your work to the next level. I’ve gained great insight into myself from these sorts of groups (both as a leader and as a participant), and if done well, everyone in the group can benefit. (A similar option would be a “creative incubator” which would be similar to the entrepreneurial incubator groups you will find in many cities, but with a focus on creativity and shared resources to meet creative goals.)
- Meetups and “Real Life” Social Gatherings – Sometimes, just being social with other creatives is enough to provide some spark of encouragement. I will talk, below, about being intentional and having some set goals in mind, but there are times I’ve found it nice to just be social and friendly and allow conversation to drift away from “planned” topics. It is good to have a balance in this way.
- Friendships – You know. The kind where you hang out, talk, laugh, share, and generally enjoy the time. Even if your friend isn’t specifically interested in your writing or other creative endeavors, it can be a great source of recreation and rest to have a good friend. Sometimes, the sub-conscious gets freed up to work on a writing problem if I can distract the conscious mind. Who better to provide those distractions than a good friend?
It Doesn’t Just Happen
Here’s the thing: Sometimes we “get lucky” and stumble across a group or individual and it is almost accidental that a supportive, mutually beneficial relationship is kicked up.
But, more often, someone has to be proactive. Building beneficial relationships requires INTENTIONAL action. We live in a wonderful age, where we can search, in nano-seconds, more information than has ever been easily, immediately available. If we will look around, we can find people to connect with, either online or in person.
We have to actually look for it, though. And, most of the time, we’d better go into a new situation with a set of expectations of what we want to see. This doesn’t mean we aren’t open to finding new and surprising ways to meet this need for community and support, but, rather, I am suggesting that we have some base-line requirements and that we don’t stick around if those most simple needs aren’t being met by a particular group.
Overcoming this need for support isn’t always easy. It doesn’t always “take” on the first try, but given the number of options I’ve laid out for you above, I hope you will find a way to connect with someone new and find new ways to invigorate your writing process.
If you have a great story of a writer’s group or other support system you’ve found, I’d love to hear more about it. (And, you can practice suggestion number five, above, by leaving a comment here…)