Writing is a solitary endeavor in a lot of ways. Maybe that's why writers reach out to each other so much: for moral support, technical advice, sympathy and empathy, promotional escapades, etc. With the growth of online communities, there are more and more opportunities to find your tribe: like-minded folk pursuing similar aims. There's also a lot of just plain annoying social media noise out there.
Today, I'm annoyed by that noise and pondering the writer-social groups I've found helpful and why. There's only so much time and you hate to waste it on groups that don't feed your practice. So, here's what's been working for me:
First, of course, is IWSG! The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a good example of a low risk, get what you need out of it group. It's all online and free, so geography, schedules, budget and time zones don't have to get in your way. There's a variety of ways to participate.
- You can, for example, just lurk, reading about other writer's successes, failures, worries, and angst and learning from those stories quietly.
- Or you can write about your own worries once a month, knowing that other people are going to read, consider and comment. (The reciprocity expectation of IWSG is, in my opinion, key to its success).
- You can explore the resources on the site and find contests, potential publishers, and how to advice.
- You can go to the Facebook group for interaction and support on other days of the month.
- You can participate in larger ways by hosting or getting involved in publications the group puts together.
But while IWSG is invaluable and wonderful, there are other kinds of groups, I've also found really helpful.
My in-person critique group has really helped me grow as a writer. (I've had more trouble with online critique groups where too many folks pop in in a drive by fashion and don't reciprocate). I found mine through an online ad by sheer luck and I've been with them for eight years. Finding a group that works for you can be difficult and might involve trying a few and being willing to leave if they aren't helpful for you, but when you find the right one, it can really take your writing to the next level. Some factors to consider when shopping for a critique group:
- What level are the other members at? Consider whether you want to be in a group of all beginners where we figure this out together, or where you have a mixture of ranges of career status to seek advice and learn from. (Both are valid--you just have to figure out what *you* need)
- What's the depth of critique offered? Is it a group that offers primarily only encouragement? Or is it a group that helps identify flaws and problem-solves with you?
- What's the level of commitment? Is it very casual where members flit in and out? Or is it more established, where writers work together over a long stretch of time? How often do they meet? How often will you get a turn? How much reading of other people's stuff will you need to do?
- What's the group personality like? Not everyone has a thick skin. Is criticism offered with a heart to help or a heart to hurt? Is someone in the group a bully? Are members so oversensitive that nothing ever gets said?
Then, there are accountability groups. Since I'm a novelist, I'm all about the word count. I know that doesn't work as a method for everyone, but, for me, building a chain of writing days was a complete game changer. I'm in three kinds of accountability groups right now and I get different things from each.
- Magic Spreadsheet is a spreadsheet that awards you points based on how many words you write and how many days in a row you write (maintaining your chain). The gamification model really works for me. Tracking my efforts lets me see how much I'm doing even when I don't feel like I'm moving forward. I've now written for more than 1,000 days in a row! (MS also has a very supportive group of folks using it that keep in touch through a Facebook group).
- Daily check in sorts of groups can be really helpful, too, in that moral support sort of way. Mine is a group of writers that I already knew from other settings that then formed a digital community for personal check ins. We talk a lot about our obstacles and how to get around them.
- Goal setting groups. My favorite of these is Jamie Raintree's The Motivated Writer. I like the setting of shorter-term goals, like what I will do THIS week, and the checking back in at the end of the week to cheerlead each other or boost each back up when we fall.
Now, Cross Promotional groups. Hmmm. Cross promotional groups are what got me thinking about this post today. I've recently been invited to kind of a lot of them. While they seem like a good idea on the surface, they can be tricky. There's a lot of link dropping without relationship building. There's a lot of failure to reciprocate. Or worse yet, an expectation to reciprocate when you don't feel good about the work of the other members or when it doesn't have much crossover with the readership for your own work. The whole thing feels kind of…seedy.
Too often it seems to turn a bunch of individual writers who are clumsy at social media promotion and relationships into a noisier group of clumsy promoters that everyone starts muting. I've pretty much given up on groups for this, feeling much better about a little cross promotion only with other writers I have long relationships with and whose work I personally admire.
I'm in two of these. Broad Universe which is an organization for women writing speculative fiction and Women's Fiction Writers Association which is for women writing work which classifies as women's fiction. WFWA offers classes on a regular basis on writing craft, promotion, social media, etc. They also hold contests. Their Facebook group is active and informative. Broad Universe has connected me with other genre writers for sharing of resources at conventions and sharing of publication information and advice. I value my work with both of these groups and highly recommend finding a group of this sort that fits the work you do.
So there you go! My two-cents, which turns out to more like twenty-five cents, on networking as a writer. How about you? What kinds of support groups and activities have been good for you? What's turned out to be a waste of time?