Flannery O’Connor told us that a good man is hard to find. I’m here to tell you that a good community of writers is hard to find. It’s kind of like searching for true love. You need compatibility, likability, and respect. On top of that, you need that spark of recognition when you find another person who understands.
First, compatibility. Do they write fiction or nonfiction? Short stories or novels? For children or adults? A writer of long-form nonfiction for adults won’t have a lot in common with a writer of picture books.
But, as in dating, simply having common interests does not necessarily lead to a solid relationship. There’s still the tiny matter of whether you actually like one another. An excellent writer who is crass or presumptuous can sour a writing community as quickly as a rude date.
Lastly, there needs to be mutual respect. Any strong relationship, whether romantic or writerly, depends on participants respecting one another’s judgment, opinions, and advice. I don’t mean the simple act of responding respectfully to another human. I mean finding the opinions, insights, and judgments of your fellow writers valuable, sound, and useful.
Discovering one person, never mind a whole community of them, who meets these tough criteria can feel like an impossible feat, but I’m proud to say I’ve managed it once.
It wasn’t love at first sight. We dated for a while. First, I joined a critique group for children’s authors through my local writers’ guild. We met monthly, and the group’s feedback and advice was huge in my development as a writer. But two hours a month is slow going for building that strong community.
Next, a few of us who were free during the day began meeting on a weekly basis. That’s when my writing really took off. I knew that I would be sitting down across from someone every week who would look me in the eye and say, “How’s your writing coming?” So, I’d better be writing.
Regular interaction with other writers was exhilarating, and soon we weren’t just fellow critique group members, we were friends. We all wrote children’s lit, mostly YA, we liked one another, and we respected one another’s opinions. Cue the wedding bells.
But then—alas!—I moved several states away, and I no longer had that weekly meeting in my home. Instead I had a Long Distance Relationship. We still met weekly, just via Skype instead of face-to-face. And soon, we created Write Owls to give us another space to connect with one another and to reach out to other writers.
It took moving away from my local writers’ group to truly appreciate the value of an online community of writers and all the resources that are available to us. For two years I have enjoyed weekly Skype sessions, meet-ups at conferences, and an annual in-person visit.
But still, I’ve missed sitting down with another writer to discuss a story in progress or trade writing tips. Here’s where finding a good writing community trumps finding a good man—you can have more than one.
Last weekend my regional SCBWI chapter announced a network event in my area. The temptation of not just other writers but other children’s writers was too much to resist, so I printed out the first few pages of my work-in-progress and drove over to the library. I had no idea who I’d find, but when I arrived, I discovered a table full of people excited about writing for children and excited to meet other writers. They want to start up a monthly meeting, and I’ve discovered that I want to go. It looks like I’m back in the dating game.
I don’t know yet if I’ll manage to find true love twice. It takes hours of talking together, working on stories together, and sharing the highs and lows of the writing process to truly have a community. But from where I’m sitting, the first date went pretty well.
Have you found true writer love yet? If so, is it with a local group, or do you connect with other writers online? How about at conferences?