Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Finding Your Tribe: #IWSG Choosing Your Networks


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. 
It's very much a find-your-own-depth swimming hole.
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.


Lastly, there are professional organizations. These often come with dues to pay and commitments to honor, but they will connect you with other writers in your field who are the same kind of serious about it as you are. They will open opportunities for you. They will likely offer training of a sort, either through casual mentoring or even through full-blown courses of study. Unlike more casual organizations, they are all about learning to do this as professionals, rather than hobbyists.

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? 

28 comments:

  1. I've been a member of an in-person critique group for a few months now. It's the first time I've done something like that (that meets consistently and doesn't die out after one or two meetings), and it's been a great learning experience for all of us. We have a pretty good mixture of experience between us, I think.

    In addition to that, I'm a member of a pair of writers group. There was a third one, but that turned out not to be a good fit for me. The others are fun, though. It's just nice to hang out with other writers sometimes. :)

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    1. Finding the right one is really key, I think. And acknowledging that your needs may change over time and you'll have to make a change, too.

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  2. Great information, Samantha, and I agree 100%! The IWSG is vital, but so are critic groups whether online or in person. I suggest both, and the spreadsheet is perfect. I'm a numbers sort of person too!

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    1. It's good to have allies in this fight, for sure.

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  3. I found your comments on cross promotional groups intriguing. I've dabbled in that kind of thing a few times and came away feeling disappointed. I love the idea of promoting other writers (I am all for guest posts, author interviews, and tweeting about other people's books) but I didn't feel good about the few promotion campaigns I joined. I think I would have been more helpful if I actually knew some of the people on a more personal level. I guess that's why group's like IWSG are so great. I feel like I know some of the members fairly well. Another type of group I am swearing off of is review groups. They never work out well.

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    1. I'm with you. I'm guessing that the flaw in all those reciprocal arrangements is that you might be sharing stuff that you haven't read yourself or can't praise honestly. I hadn't tried review groups, though I have done a couple of review trades with other writers.

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  4. Great post! I swear by my critique group. They keep me honest and after several years together are some of my best friends. Invaluable. I like the idea of your accountability groups. I'll have to try them. The main professional organization I'm part of is the League of Utah Writers (LUW). In terms of leadership I keep my distance. There are some politics and I don't have enough time to write as it is. But I love going to the conventions every years. There's just something about being in a room with dozens of other writers who are going through the same thing as you and working toward the same goals. Some much positivity and camaraderie! :D

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    1. Yes. My critique group saves my life regularly.

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  5. I am a solitary soul when it comes to writing. Others can tell you how they would write your story, but you must find your path on your own. IWSG is a fun way to connect though. :-)

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    1. It can be dangerous to take in input at the wrong part of the process, too. Each artist has to learn what works for her.

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  6. You know, I was lucky. I got invited to be part of a small, very active critique group online. We've had our rough times and have said goodbye to some members and welcomed others, but it has overall been a fabulous experience. We all now have wonderful relationships and are invested in one another. Best. Critique group. Ever!

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    1. Luck is a part of it, for sure. Finding my own critique group was serendipity incarnate--that they were looking for new members at the right time, that the geography and meeting times coincided with my own life.

      We've morphed over the years, too, losing and gaining members and in each incarnation, there's been help and support.

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  7. Such a useful post. I especially like that Magic Spreadsheet idea! I've been in bad critique groups before and they can seriously hurt your writing...but a good critique group can inspire you and drive you forward.

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    1. Thanks, Stephanie! I've had to leave critique groups that didn't help me grow. It really can be quite a process finding one that works for you, but sooooo worth it.

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  8. To me IWSG gives me what I need and takes very little to participate in. Face-to-face groups are harder on me and I have to force myself to go.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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    1. Isn't it lovely to be a 21st century girl and have both options?

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  9. I really love ISWG. It's the boost I need each month. I also participate in the SCBWI (Society for Children's Writers and Illustrators) events in my local area and participate in their online forum. I've been part of both in-person and online critique works, but because I work in spurts, neither has really worked for me.
    But I do have a handful of online critique partners that I trade with on an "as needed" basis.

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    1. True! Critique groups can be difficult if you don't work steadily, but in spurts. Then again, if you're trying to change that, and produce more regularly, the slight pressure of group expectation can make you do that.

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  10. Hello from a fellow WFWA member. So many good tips in this entry! I'll be back to pick your blog/brain. Thank you!

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  11. Great observations. I've got my local critique group and IWSG. I have connections to the local guild, but can't attend anything they provide because of work so I haven't signed up yet. I'm a member of a few facebook promo groups, but I haven't found much joy in that.

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    1. Thanks. I've also found some local things I'm interested in, but just don't mesh with my other life responsibilities right now.

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  12. I was so terrified to join a real life writing or critique group and now I know I would have never made it this far without those groups and this one.
    I couldn't agree more about the promo sites. What a waste of time!

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  13. I've belonged to a lot of writing groups over the years but I never last long. Mostly because I have a hard time tearing myself away from whatever I'm working on at the moment to do whatever we've all decided to do. I'm sort of a pain in the butt.

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    1. While writing groups have definitely helped me, they do take time, even if your group doesn't take on special projects. But I do feel that I learn so much in critiquing the work of others, analyzing it for what works or doesn't and why.

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  14. This post is especially timely for me, as I've been reaching out for a positive accountability buddy. I'm totally going to check out the Magic Spreadsheet and The Motivated Writer. Thanks so much for sharing!

    I hear you on the cross-promotion groups. I used to belong to one, and I was embarrassed to promote some of that stuff. I was relieved when the link to my site failed and I had a legitimate reason to drop out.

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    1. Yay! I hope one of those works for you, or leads you to what does.

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