A writer’s life is full of conflict. Sometimes it seems as if we are always fighting, whether heading out into the world to improve our craft and gain notice for the results or turning inward to fight our fears and insecurities. This struggle can be even tougher if the loved ones we lean on for support expect immediate results, or even worse, have no clue why we bother.
That was my situation the first time I went to a meeting of other writers. But after the discussion began every cell in my body relaxed. Here, I did not need to fight. I’d found a group of people who shared the same language, customs, and beliefs.
I had found my tribe.
A few years later my artsy brother, who was struggling with addiction, came along to one of the group’s workshops. He said, “I can’t believe how supportive everyone was. It’s like AA only you don’t need to be an alcoholic to belong.”
Writers complain about how they must forge on alone, but I know for a fact this need not be true. For a writer I have quite a social life. That feeds me in countless ways.
Writing organizations. My goal was clear at that first writers’ group meeting: I wanted their storytelling mojo. Storytelling was a weakness in their programming, though. So I accepted leadership positions, rolled up my sleeves, and initiated programs that brought me the high-quality mentors I sought—all while helping others. In time, my weakness became my strength and passion, and I started a developmental editing business in 2006.
Informal groups. When lectures and workshops failed to sate my hunger to connect with other writers, I founded a program that encouraged local writers to cheer successes, analyze failures, and share resources. After I moved to a new community I discovered a similar program already existed there—and as a bonus, it offered no-holds-barred access to published authors. Four years later I became one of them.
Writing conferences. Writers who attend conferences have worked hard to figure out what their writing has to offer and are eager to talk about it to agents, editors—and other conferees. This aura of dedication, vulnerability, and nervous sharing can forge fast friendships as conferees cheer one another on. I love the vibe so much that for twelve years, in addition to sampling a handful of conferences across my state and country, I chaired two conferences and served on two different conference boards. I met a writer who has become a trusted beta reader. Now, I teach at these conferences.
Online groups. Writing groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, critique groups—I belong to so many. The dearest to me is the Tall Poppy Writers, a marketing cooperative of published women authors that has been a remarkable source of camaraderie and wisdom. But it is the groups committed to meeting in person that net the strongest relationships. Once frozen in airbrushed profile pics, faces animate and inspire with human imperfection; thoughts set in type morph and grow within dynamic discussions.
My local independent bookstore and library. I go to any events I can to meet new authors and swap ideas. I want to support the industry that I hope will support me.
My neighborhood. Feeling out of place at a baby shower in my new community a few years ago, a few other middle-aged women and I migrated toward the sushi tower—and I walked away having started what became a supportive kaffeeklatsch of writers in my new community that saw me through many revisions of the memoir material that would become The Far End of Happy. A month later, a conversation at the gym resulted in an invitation to join the neighborhood book club, whose members have heartily supported (and discussed and debated) my first two novels.
My grocery store. For several years I’ve met every Wednesday in the café of a local Wegman’s with a group of other women. We witness efforts as we tap on our computers all morning and then solve problems and share tips over lunch. You can’t argue with the results: in the three years we’ve been together, four of us have gotten agents, six have published, and two others earned an MFA.
My living room. If it weren’t for my winter Craftwriting workshops in PA and the summer writing retreats I host in NY, I would never force myself to devise writing prompts or write pieces based on them. The activity stretches me to think about craft anew. The array of creative results that can grow from one prompt reinforces time and again the reassuring fact that in this great wide world of writing, there is room for us all.
My head. All of these interactions define my world. More than a “platform” or “network,” these are friendships that lift me up when I’m struggling, cheer me on when I taste success, advise me when I’m clueless, and spread the word when I have a new release. That’s invaluable. But beyond that, my social writing world nurtures my relationships with the characters in my head.
Speaking of which, I think I hear them calling now…
Let’s celebrate community! In the comments, give a shout-out to your favorite tribe and the way it feeds you, or use this supportive blog platform as a place to announce your commitment to finding a tribe in 2016! Still not convinced? Read Jamie Raintree’s December post, “Why Writers Need Human Connection.”
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy.
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.
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I have a few tribe members online, but nobody in my hometown. I did a brief internet search but never thought to check the local bookstores or library (duh). So, that will be my goal this year! To reach out and connect.
Good luck, Sue! It's not a bad habit to tell anyone you run across that you are a writer. You never know what will turn up, and great practice for selling your work!
Having read this post, all I can say is 'You are amazing!' Thanks for all you do for the writing community, and, can you move to my neighborhood soon?
Haha what a lovely question. I have a gazillion tribes, its true, and all seem equally necessary. But one may do you! The point is, seek and ye shall find—or create your own!
Thank you. I am a total convert to this tribe idea. Having worked her way with another group of friends through 'The Artist's Way', my friend, a poet and visual artist, set up a weekly 'creativity' salon. We meet for two hours on a weekday afternoon, sharing and discussing quotations, articles or TED talks on creativity, writing for one hour, and then sharing what we had been working on. It works because of the nature of the women in the room. We generate a nurturing and accepting environment and a buoyant energy and renewed feeling of purpose. I never knew I could write in the presence of other people before I went to the salon. Now I have 3 other writers with whom I write on occasion, in the coffee shop or in my basement. It is a writer's date, something to go out for, something other people in my family can accept as real. That is the forum that supports me. My previous writers group, great people I still count among my friends, did not give me the same supportive environment. My tip for finding a community? Water color and crafting classes - not a tongue in cheek comment. Fascinating people, open to the world. The nature of the activity often lends itself to the sharing of incredible stories and different voices. That is also where I met my salon-creating friend, another aspiring writer and through her, a couple of published writers.
Gill your post reminds me of a salon I attended for a while. We were all writers but there would be a guest from another art form who explained his/her process, then we'd do a writing prompt, then have a potluck meal. It was fun—there are so many ways to do this, and it sound like you've found yours!
Welp, I suppose I have to give a shout-out to the community through which I met you, Kathryn: Writer Unboxed--in all of its various incarnations (the daily top-notch conversation at the blog, the Facebook group, UnConference and it's ongoing group of attendees, the Unboxing the Breakout Novel book study group, and a couple of other sub-tribes that are less public).
Wonderful post! So glad for the WITS/WU tribal overlap!
Yes Vaughn WU is exceptional, beyond your basic blog, yes? It quickly embraced the notion of community. Maybe not in the same way but I sense community here too, as evidenced in WITS' hearty comments section. As with WU, WITS readers want to engage, which seems rarer on other blogs with each passing day. Many times people won't comment at the blog post at all, preferring to be "seen commenting" on the Facebook post promoting it, in effect choosing a different tribe to share their thoughts with. One reason I seek other writers is that my own ideas are often sharpened through discussion and/or polite debate, so thanks for commenting!
Kathryn, as always, I'm in awe of your confidence. I'm restarting my woman's writing group next week. Fear has been holding me hostage for some time, yet again, but I'm willing to stick my toe in the water for another attempt to muster up some courage and forge forward. Thanks:)
So excited for you Alice! My neighborhood book club was really floundering for a while as many of our members had moved away. It was tough hanging in there the past few meetings, with only 3 or 4 showing up. But we had a couple of new people join us last time and the infusion of new energy and ideas made all the difference. I hope the same for you!
I love this! There are so many different tribes, and not every author is going to fit into every box.
So true! And here I am stuffing myself into box after box. 😉 But I also know I am socially motivated, so the "crowd witnessing" is important to me. I may be willing to give up the ghost any old day if left to my own devices, but my friends really want to see me succeed. If I can do it, they can too, and vice versa.
I'm a loner, for sure. I've not reached out much at all with regard to getting together with other writers. Your post is full of good ideas.
Reaching out to other writers can be hard for the introverts among us. But the momentary pain is worth it when you see the powerful connection that can occur between people with similar goals and dreams! And as Chuck Sambuchino says in his book "Create Your Writer Platform," a platform is the number of books a publisher thinks you could sell today due to the connections you've made. The larger your tribe, the more books they believe you might reasonably sell. So if you aim to publish, the notion of tribe can grow in importance.
You're a wonderful writer friend to have xo
Thanks Katie! Glad to share a couple of tribes with you!
An inspiring post, Kathryn. I'm in awe of your energy! I've previously been part of a local writing group, but stopped attending as my own writing took precedence, but you've fired me up for finding a supportive online group. Thanks. 🙂
Hi Teagan, best of luck with your efforts! Keep in mind I didn't do all of these things in a day. 😉 It was a slow accumulation, as my needs changed over the decade I powered up my fiction writing. And then when I was ready to send out invitations to my launch party, I had many sources to draw from!
I struggled for years to find a tribe I connected with. Maybe that's why I was so determined to make the Women's Fiction Writers Association a reality. Definitely found my tribe there. 🙂
And what a tribe you rallied around you, Orly! Many many thanks for spearheading that effort, from which so many benefit.
I find an "energy" in the rooms filled with writers. It seeps into my soul - and turns into the rock I need under my feet - as I write, and rewrite. Only writers are the source of that energy.
I trust my critique group with my dark or light stories, hell, they know more about me than my friends! We don't need the pinky-swear, either. we know the meaning of "sacred critiquing." We have a tiara, too. When one of us reports an acceptance of a submission, they get the tiara. I'm a member of OCWW, Off Campus Writers Workshop in Winnetka, Illinois (a 70+ year old organization) which meets weekly for most of the year. When I discovered them, I knew I was home.
I am not the leader type, Kathryn, but you GO. I've been fortunate to get scholarships to conferences and I come away with surprise bits for my toolbox. And of course, that energy I mentioned earlier. When I'm lost in my own mess at my keyboard, I think my muse goes to a mysterious well within, and grabs handfuls of the breath only writers could give me, and massages it in. (Sometimes it grabs bandages of energy at the well, too.)
You are so right. Writers require a tribe.
Yes I know what you mean about that energy. Of course I feel it growing within myself whenever anyone asks me about my writing, so amplify that by all the people in the room and it can get pretty wild! The main reason I started the informal Writer's Cafe I mentioned in this post is because our writers group only had a 15-minute break between our monthly meeting and the program that followed, and no one had enough time to talk and share!
Could not agree more! I've been sustained for many years by a wonderful group of writers that meets monthly to talk about each other's work. Also, as a recent Twitter joiner, I'm surprised to feel supported already by the thoughts and enthusiasm of the virtual tribe of writers there.
Yes Miriam, Twitter isn't everyone's bag but I too feel uplifted by the ever fluid tribe there!
I started writing later in life. I decided to attend a local branch meeting of a professional writing association just to see what it meant to be a writer and whether I would fit in. I quickly realised there was no definition for writer. People came from all walks of life, wrote in wildly different forms, and leaned left, right and centre. The common ground was the writing itself. Since then I've joined or formed a number of writing groups in my area, helped gather writers together, and have developed a few writing pals. Your article, Kathryn, is spot on with all the many benefits. Thanks for writing it. Along with Facebook and websites, I've used http://www.meetup.com to create an ever growing group (Canterbury Writers in Christchurch, NZ) to promote local writing activities. It's my tribe in the ethers, but one that also has face to face meeting opportunities.
Oh thank you for mentioning Meetup, Helen! A wonderful way to meet other writers--and readers.
Wow, Kathryn, I want to shop at YOUR Wegman's! This is a great post--such a fine reminder that most writers are generous and gregarious. I second your opinion of the Poppies, and I love all of the suggestions others have posted here for ways to gather a community. We have a monthly potluck with writers in our area, and we typically invite speakers to each meeting--it's great, because the community draws writers from all different genres, and we learn from each other about fields we might not have considered working in before..
Oh Holly I love this monthly potluck idea! I sense a new kind of soirée about to hit my area...
Brilliant article Kathryn! You have been an inspiration to me since I met you at the WFWA RetreatI live on an island, and when I retired and began my life long dream writing, I created my own island unto myself. It was through WFWA that I realized how much I was missing by shutting myself away from the support, advice and encouragement of others - some published, others like me, just starting out. Online is great, the Retreat was better, and now I'm reaching out to one of two writing groups on the island to join them once a week, writing and sharing. It's invigorating, as well as comforting to hear other's successes and struggles.
Hi Kathy, I'm so glad the WFWA retreat was enough to coax you out of your hidey hole, and that it inspired you to connect back home as well. This life is too hard at times--we need to lift each other up! We can live on an island--that much sounds idyllic--we just can't BE an island.
I love describing fellow writers as a tribe, and I want one. I attended an excellent writers' retreat last May, but ongoing contact within that group has dwindled to almost nothing, despite good intentions. I joined two local writers' groups, looking for a place where I can get feedback, give feedback, brainstorm ideas and so on, but all I've found so far is one group of sleepy individuals, some published but most apparently not interested in publishing; and a second group of historical writers which seems more promising, although meetings so far have been a guest speaker with no opportunity to share one's own work/struggles. Has anyone out there tried Meetup? The Facebook group, Women Writers, Women's Books, is excellent, and where I met you, but I would love a face to face group of writers who are serious about being published, or already published. The library is a good idea, but I'm more than ten miles from the nearest bookstore out here in the wild Southwest.
Thanks for your terrific suggestions. Best regards, Ann Griffin
Hi Ann, it can be difficult to find people with your same goals and level of dedication, it's true. Have you tried the Women's Fiction Writers Association? Keep looking and you are bound to be rewarded. At first any feedback is great but at some point you have to ensure you're getting good quality feedback.
It is worth the travel though. I regularly traveled a two-hour round trip for two meetings a month for ten years, and know others who travel twice that to get into NYC for high-quality interaction. It's worth it.
I just signed up for the WFWA! Thanks for a great lead.
Oh good, Ann! You can't help from benefit from its many programs and resources. Happy for you!
Oh Ann, that's wonderful. 🙂
A shout-out to the now over 100 members of the California Writers Club, High Desert Branch! Because of them, so many voices are being heard (we connect highschoolers with elder community members to collect their stories) that would not have been.
Sounds like a great group with an awesome mission, Mary! Thanks for sharing!
The Three Rivers Romance Writers in Pittsburgh are my tribe! Love these women and all of their coaching and counseling. I resolve to give back more throughout the rest of our time together!
Pittsburgh is a great literary community—thanks for the shout-out to your part of it!
I facilitate the Juliette Writers' Group in southern New Jersey each month. This intimate group of 9-13 writers and artists keep my writing spirit kindled. I'm also a member of The South Jersey Writers' Group. This is a large group with 35-56 members meeting once a month, plus other opportunities to meet for critique, write-ins, blogfests, etc. I enjoy hearing the professional speakers at the monthly meetings, and the energy from other members and their support is my life blood.
Yes, a shout-out to Jersey writers! Glad you've found such supportive tribes, Dawn!
[…] Gold examines the writer dilemma of private life vs. public figure, and Kathryn Craft describes how finding your tribe can change your writing […]