Feb 222021
 

LOUISA M. ALCOTT

When I was a child, my view of writers matched a romanticized image in Louisa May Alcott’s book, Little Women, about Jo March and her three sisters—Meg, Beth, and Amy. Jo sat at a writing desk in her garret, quill in hand, and scribbled away in solitary silence. Although I admit there is some truth to this image, writing does not have to be a solitary experience.

A few weeks ago, I joined a writing community called hope*writers that I learned about on Facebook, courtesy of one of their ads. I downloaded one of their documents titled 10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Book, and it was enough to make me think about joining the group. I hesitated, however,  because I didn’t want to pay $47 a month in membership fees. After all, I had been writing without a writing community for more than 40 years—why would I need or want one now?

The short answer is that being part of a writing community feels good. The longer answer is what this post is about: what can a writing community do for you? (And what can you do for a writing community?)

A writing community can help you feel like a writer

Many writers struggle with Imposter Syndrome, the sense that you’re not a real writer.

So, what is Imposter Syndrome all about? You may ask yourself if you’re a writer if you “only” write in a journal, if you blog and don’t know who in the world reads your posts, or you have never published a poem, an article, or a book.

I know this has been true of myself in the past. As a third grader, I was confident in announcing to my classmates that I intended to become an author. But as I grew older, I began doubting I had experienced enough of life to write about it. Despite that feeling, I persevered in fits and starts through the years.

In my teens I wrote for my school newspaper and literary magazine. In college I studied English and communication, with an emphasis on professional writing. I wrote, edited, and did content layout for the college’s literary magazine as a member of the editorial staff. The first job I accepted five days after I graduated from college was at a trade book publishing company. But I still didn’t think I was a real writer.

When I became a parent and mentored gifted elementary students who created an award-winning literary magazine, when I led them through poetry-writing exercises, and when I encouraged my middle school-aged son to publish his own poetry, I told myself I wasn’t a real writer.

This negative self-talk continued until I was in my 40s, when I asked myself why I didn’t think I was a real writer. Eventually I began writing articles for a local family monthly, and published poetry in the Iowa Poetry Association’s annual anthology. But it wasn’t being published that made me a real writer. I concluded I was a real writer all along who had been in denial.

When I joined hope*writers, I was struck by the number of members who joined in the hope they could convince themselves they were real writers and that they had something important to say. I realized I had met a group of people who understood exactly what I had felt through the years. The act of sharing these feelings and affirming to the group that you actually are a writer is incredibly freeing. And it frees you to write. It feels good to have people around you who celebrate with you any small steps of progress, as well as bigger successes.

A writing community can help you become more productive

In the same way that Weight Watchers® can encourage you to lose weight by asking you to track your habits and report results back to the group, a writing community can help you to get more done. The act of saying out loud to others what your goal is, what you have done so far, and what you will do next creates a promise to yourself. And when you don’t completely honor that promise, it’s helpful to talk about it with others; it helps you get back on track and focus on the future, instead of beating yourself up about missteps or omissions.

At hope*writers, you have the opportunity to form a small group of writers called a step-circle. The purpose of a step-circle is to create accountability. At each meeting, you describe the progress you have made toward a pre-stated goal, state your next goal until the next meeting, and let the group know what they can do to help you get there. Everyone takes a turn, sharing their current situation, and during their turn they have the group’s full attention. Of course, when you pay a monthly fee to be part of a writing group such as hope*writers, you have some proverbial “skin in the game” that motivates you to be accountable.

If you don’t have writing friends in your local community, you can join a virtual writing group through Facebook. Just search for “writing groups,” and you’ll be surprised at the groups that are already out there, most of which are free to join. Once you join, you can reach out to others who may be interested in forming a smaller subgroup. I counted 100 public or private writing groups when I searched Facebook for this post—among them: groups for fiction, poetry, and memoir writing; groups for women writers and Christian writers; groups for freelance content, poetry, journaling, and devotionals—and the list goes on.

There are also websites that provide a combination of free and paid content designed to help you be a more productive writer. These websites create the sense that you are part of a larger writing community. Among them are magazine websites such as The Writer and Writer’s Digest that provide writing prompts, writing contests, and how-to articles that are completely free of charge—even if you don’t subscribe to the magazine.

A writing community can help you improve your writing

The best supporters of your writing efforts are not usually family and friends. My husband is my biggest cheerleader, but he is also completely uncritical. If I’m feeling unsure about something I have written, he’ll make me feel better, but not necessarily more effective or productive.

When I was in college, I learned how helpful it is to have a writing critique group. Of course, not all critique is productive. The best critique groups listen carefully to the writer as she reads part of her work out loud. They affirm what is working well, what might be changed, and ask questions of the writer that are intended to make her think about her next step—but still stay in charge of her own writing. Most importantly, she will feel empowered to make changes after meeting with her critique group.

Rita Gabis, a member of The New York Writers Workshop and one of the writers of The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, points out that one of the benefits you gain from attending a Master of Fine Arts program is that a writing structure is built into it that enables you to be productive. Part of that structure includes a critique group in the form of a workshop that sits at the center of the MFA program—a writing community, in other words. Your co-writers can cheer you on when you get published or commiserate with you when your work gets rejected. Gabis points out that it is not until these writers graduate from their MFA program that they learn how to structure their own writing program. Many that don’t learn how to do this never write again. Building a writing community into your personal writing structure is a critical component.

Gabriela Pereira, founder of DIYMFA.com, points out that while a good critique group helps a writer improve her writing, ultimately the writer has to take responsibility for becoming an effective writer, editor, and proofreader. Pereira adds that when participants in such groups give more than they get, the entire writing community is lifted. It is also important that the writer be a good listener, take good notes and not get defensive.

Where do you find a critique group? Consider your local bookstore or library as resources. They may already have a writing group, or they may be able to point you in the right direction. I have often noticed, when I visit my own local bookstore, an intent group of writers sitting in an isolated corner of the store or in a coffee shop, all gathered at one table. One writer at a time reads aloud the writing she or he brought to the meeting. Afterward, the writer asks the group for assistance in one or more areas, and the group responds. This post has already discussed that you can discover virtual options for a writing community through Facebook. You can also find alternatives through other social media such as Twitter and Instagram.

Other places to locate writing groups are through writing professionals’ websites, with both free and paid options. Among them are these three options:

  • Hope*Writers is an online community of about 4,500 writers that offers members the opportunity to invest in their writing through a monthly fee. The community offers training, advice, support, and encouragement. Resources include a Resource Library whose videos and articles are geared toward the six stages of a writer’s journey, live Tuesday Teachings where industry professionals are interviewed each week, a member directory that allows members to connect with each other, private discussion groups on Facebook, and opportunities to participate in hope*circles, Watch Parties, Friday Shares and The Writing Room.
  • Gabriela Pereira is the author of DIY MFA, a book written for writers who want to experience the benefits of an MFA program without having to pay for the degree. (Of course, you don’t earn a degree by following the program outlined in the book, but you do benefit from the content.) You can sign up for her every-other-week newsletter, Writer Fuel, and get a free DIY MFA Starter Kit on her website at https://diymfa.com/. Her website includes links to her articles and podcast. You can also join her private Facebook group called Word Nerds Unite, and follow her Facebook page, DIY MFA, at https://www.facebook.com/DIYMFA. Tips for building your writing community can be found here: https://diymfa.com/community. There is no cost for the above resources, although Pereira does offer some paid courses.
  • Sara Selecky is a Canadian writer who is the founder of an online writing school “that approaches writing as an art, and also as a contemplative practice.” You can follow her blog at https://www.sarahseleckywritingschool.com/letters/ or sign up for her daily writing prompts that arrive via email for a $5 subscription. Four dollars from each sale goes to Ink Well, an organization that provides free creative writing workshops for writers who struggle with mental illness or addiction issues. Check out her free resources page, https://www.sarahseleckywritingschool.com/free-resources/, which includes:
    • Her new video class on how to protect your writing time
    • Deep Revision: A Guide to Revising Your Short Story
    • The Incomparable Short Story: A Writing Guide for Story Submissions
    • Little Bird Salons: Sarah’s interviews with writers (including Cherie Dimaline, Michelle Winters, Esi Edugyan, Lisa Moore, Neil Smith, Rebecca Lee, and Alix Ohlin)

A writing community can point you toward resources

Writers model the concept of life-long learning. Whether they write fiction or creative non-fiction, are learning how to become a more effective writer, or are writing about a topic that is completely new to them, they are always in a state of learning. All writers are told to “write what they know,” which doesn’t mean they can’t write about what they have not experienced, but it guarantees that they will have to learn or research topics continually.

When you join a writing community, you usually benefit from the collective knowledge of the group. You may encounter subject matter experts who are willing to share their time and knowledge with you, but more likely you will meet others who know where to point you to find what you need to know. Who knew, for example that you can visit TinEye to do a reverse image search when trying to attribute an image source? Or that you can visit Wikimedia Commons or the Library of Congress to find images that are in the public domain?

The fledgling hope*writers circle that I joined a few weeks ago meets once a week. We have begun to exchange links we consider useful. Some of the links I have shared include information about the following resources.

A writing community provides an instant audience

Every writer wants to share a message of some sort. It is gratifying to have an audience, and even more satisfying to hear from your readers about what they find useful, entertaining, or thought-provoking. When a writer joins a writing community, there are endless opportunities to exchange ideas and share information. As is true of a workshop or critique group, a writer gains much more when she contributes to the writing community than when she takes from it. Respectful conversations are essential, and every writing community benefits from diversity, such as combining beginning writers with experienced one, or authors and un-published writers, or men and women.

As a member of hope*writers, I have seen discussions about the following questions that a non-writing community would be hard-pressed to answer:

  • Do I need to create separate links on my website for blog post reminders and my newsletter?
  • I am looking for people who want to participate in a hope*circle for article submissions. Who’s joining us?
  • How important is Instagram and Facebook to you as a writer?
  • Who are your favorite authors and why?
  • How do you make a blog if you write fiction?
  • I am embarking on a journey to co-author a non-fiction book and wondering if anyone has done this and has tips or if anyone knows of trainings/direction on best practices for writing with someone else?

If you are a writer, have you ever joined a writing community, or participated from the fringes as a bystander? What did you find especially helpful? Any down sides? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Related posts include:

© 2021 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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