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.”
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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