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.
- 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!
Jamie 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.