June 9th, 2014

How to Create an Online Writing Community – and Virtual Hugs

Jamie Raintree

Writing

When I first started dabbling in writing almost a decade ago, the Internet was only just starting to become social. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. Even MySpace was still a place for musicians and high school kids, and I was neither by the time it gained mainstream popularity. The problem was, as any first time writer knows, what I needed most in the beginning was someone to talk to about my dream. Do regular people do this kind of thing or just the Published Author Gods? Was this dribble any good? Where could I find out more information about how to take my writing to the next level? None of this was readily available to me without extensive Google searches, and even that wasn’t enough. Writers hadn’t yet taken to the web.

But if you build it, they will come. Right? That’s what I hoped. I started a small community on good ol’ Proboards.com called Writerz Bloque (see how clever I was?), where I posted some of my short stories for feedback. I can’t remember now if anyone visited–ever–but I got a taste for creating a space where people could come together and talk about common interests. I created more forums that eventually grew in size as I learned what visitors needed and how to provide it for them. I joined the MySpace craze where I learned how to blog and fell into the blogging community as I garnered reads of ranking numbers. And I finally got in touch with “my people” on WritersCafe.org. I reached out to those with specific community desires everywhere I went and 10 years later, I lead a writing goals group on Facebook and Twitter in a battle against the blank page, and I’ve met some incredible people along the way.

 

Starting a Community

Starting a writing community of your own is fun for a few reasons. First, it gives you the opportunity to connect with a very specific group of people who are interested in accomplishing the same goals as you. Second, it’s so rewarding to watch your group flourish and to cheer each other on (Lots of virtual pom poms and hugs! Sometimes, virtual cookies and wine). And third, you make friends for life.

But how do you create such a space? It’s not as complicated as it seems.

1. Understand Your Group. Who are your people? Who are you targeting? What do you have in common? And what is your goal? Just like writing, the more specific and niche you make your group, the more successful it can be. People are looking for writers like you, just as you’re looking for them.

2. Establish Your Guidelines. Part of being a leader is keeping your group on track. You don’t want to lead with an iron fist, but no structure at all will lead the group off course and will eventually lead people away. Go for guidelines rather than rules (your take on self-promotion seems to be the most prevalent and necessary guideline) and be prepared to kindly enforce them when necessary. Those who are there for the right reasons will thank you.

3. Invite People In. Get in touch with people you know who will be interested in your group and ask them to reach out to their friends as well. Gently promoting on Facebook and Twitter is another great way to find members. #amwriting on Twitter is a favorite way to meet new writers.

 

Choosing a Format

You can build a community on almost every social network currently available if you get creative. I’ve found, however, that the most popular networks already provide easy ways to create your space, and to reach out to potential members.

Facebook Groups have an awesome forum format and since everyone is already on Facebook, you’re more likely to see more activity on a regular basis there. Send me a request at Power Writing Hour to check out my goals group and to get ideas for your own.

Twitter Hashtags can bring people together, though they can take some time to get off the ground. You can also create a specific profile for you group to gather followers. @FriNightWrites does this well with the #writeclub hashtag. I also use the #powerwritinghour hashtag there.

– Google Plus has Communities and video conferences with Google Hangouts.

Goodreads allows you to tap into the reading community, which is naturally filled with writers.

Yahoo Groups is a great option for those who prefer email format to the online forum format.

 

Making Your Group Successful

Simply making a place to congregate, though, is only the first step. To see your group blossom, remember these few tips:

1. You only get out as much as you put in. If you set up a group and don’t show up again, or don’t check in on a regular basis, your group will die out. You are the leader and the glue. You’re the one who will keep people excited to be there.

2. Stick to your established setup. Once you decide on your topic, goals, and guidelines, members will appreciate knowing what to expect when they visit. That’s what they signed up for.

3. But also listen to your members and grow with them. Often what you start out with will be a small idea and you will need to build on it as your group expands. Your members will have great suggestions for filling the gaps in the group’s needs. Take them into consideration. They are the reason you started your community, after all.

They say that the writing life is a lonely one, but as technology advances, that becomes less and less true. Starting an online writing community can seem intimidating, but in reality you can have a fully functioning online space in less than an hour that will inspire and encourage you for years to come. The effort is more than worth the reward.

Which online writing groups are you a member of? Do you have an idea for an online community? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and I’ll be happy to give you some suggestions on how to get started!

 

JamieRaintreeAvieJamie Raintree writes Women’s Fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working with her agent on revisions of her first novel. In the meantime, she posts original fiction online, tips for writers, and motivational blogs and videos for all the other dreamers out there. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Read more like this at http://jamieraintree.com.

25 comments to How to Create an Online Writing Community – and Virtual Hugs

  • Hi Jamie, I sent a request to join your group.
    Not spamming, but I, too, created a writers’ support group on Facebook, and it’s been imitated (what flattery!) on Google +, which is really nice. I strictly ban promos (I execute semicolons to keep it light) and the writers there are hugely supportive and conversational.
    It’s important to rah-rah each other and share educational blogs and sites. There is so much out there that it is impossible to find all of it, but by casting a wide net and sharing, we all benefit.
    Thanks for the tips and I’m sharing with my group, so be prepared for some requests to join! (OK, in case you’re curious, mine is 5 a.m. Writers) (The one on G+ that’s not mine but pretty dern close is Writers of 5 a.m. )

    • Hi, Pamela! Thanks for joining! I’ve actually come across your group before, though I don’t remember how. It looks like a great group! I’m just never up at 5 a.m. Lol!

  • Great post Jamie! Please just correct the spelling of your name on the link at the bottom, I realized after it didn’t take me anywhere the “r” is missing from your name!

  • Lots of interesting information, Jamie. I’d be lost without my writer connections who give virtual hugs on a regular basis. Keeps us going to share.
    Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

    • I agree! I think I might have given up a long time ago if it weren’t for my groups keeping me motivated and accountable. And the hugs are just an added bonus. πŸ˜‰

  • If you post work, story or poetry, is this work now considered published?

    • Maxine, that’s a great question. I think anything we post online is considered “published” but what does that mean for our work anymore? I don’t know. Plenty of people are self-publishing and still getting picked up by publishers. That said, I would never post anything I intend to publish online. For the groups that I critique with, we only chat on the group and email each other the pages. Hope that helps!

  • Nice post! It’s nice to finally have the opportunity to be social with my writing. In fact, in the spirit of being social writers my friends and I write children’s fiction collaboratively on a blog. It’s a lot of fun to bounce ideas for the site and ideas for our personal fiction off of one another.

    Check out my websites:
    jtuckerman.com
    roundrobinwrites.com

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Thanks for being our guest blogger today, Jamie!

    I love this quote – “They say that the writing life is a lonely one, but as technology advances, that becomes less and less true.” It’s so very true. The support from my online writing buddies makes the process so much easier and enjoyable. It’s always inspiring to check in with the group and I find myself pushing harder to make the goals I’ve committed to.

    Now to go check in online before someone (*cough* Jamie Raintree *cough*) pokes me about my progress. πŸ™‚

  • I recently moved to Texas, and am 350 miles from a professional writer’s group. I’d be running naked through the neighborhood screaming by now (sorry for the visual) if I didn’t have the online community. Great advice, Jamie, thanks!

  • Ditto to what’s already been said. I can’t get to anything but my little writer’s group and that one is not always convenient. Most of the major organizations are a trek, so without on-line contact, friends, groups and great blogs like this one, I’d be lost. Great post, Jamie πŸ™‚

  • Sage advise! Great post, Jamie. πŸ˜€

  • Jamie, do you connect to readers more or writers? Most of my social media right now is with fellow writers. When I first published, social media was unheard of but realize now I need to contact readers. I’m not a very techie person so I’m hoping a new website will do but I have a feeling, I also need some pages on Facebook. Any advice?

  • […] if you didn’t read Jamie’s post on Monday about online writing communities, you can find it here. They are great […]

  • I joined writer’s cafe yesterday but can’t find you (or anyone else!) in there. Another clueless moment from me.
    Thanks for all the helpful information, Jamie. Yes, we all need each other, and living in a town of less that 1,000 people (ugh!) I need my internet writers/authors connection!

  • Jami, just wanted to let you know that the gals on the HTH promo loop loved your blog. They commented a lot on the loop! Thanks for this great blog.