Building a Writers’ Community, or The Universe Has Bigger Plans for You

Guest Post by Heather KellyHeather and birbigs

At the start, I thought that writing was a solitary pursuit. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 🙂

Years ago, I started a private blog as a journal recording my path towards publication. My crit partner wanted to see it, so I made it public for a couple of hours. During that brief window, a mentor of mine, Erica Orloff (whom I still fan-girl after), found it and left a comment. Thinking it too rude to then re-privatize it, I left the blog public, not realizing yet that the Universe had bigger plans than for me to sit in my house and write.

I met most of my critique partners and best writing pals through the magic of that blog and then went to SCBWI conferences and met some of them in real life. We continued to meet, at cafes, in restaurants, at bars. We gathered in libraries and wrote. We wrote in converted garages for NaNoWriMo. I saw satellites of writers, circling, looking for places to write. Still, I didn’t know the Universe had bigger plans.

I started a routine of opening Gchat with my critique partners while I was writing alone. We challenged each other to write for an hour interrupted (which led to Tina Lee’s creation of the brilliant The Practice Room) and I bounced plot problems off people in real time, as issues came up. I realized how much more productive I was when I was writing with others. I had no idea that the Universe wanted more from me.

In fall 2012, I went to Boston Book Festival with a carload of writers. While there, we asked at the Writers’ Room of Boston booth about membership. Walking away, a writing friend turned to me and said, “I would join and come into Boston to write.” I told her I thought we could do something closer to home. That was the moment I started to feel the Universe’s plan.

A few short months later, in early 2013, with my super-supportive husband telling me that this was something I had to do, I walked through a building of offices for rent. The owner described one of the offices as a loft. Walking up the steps into a beautiful open space with skylights, I knew immediately. I had found a home for all those satellites of writers. The Writers’ Loft.

photo (100)
The window that inspired the logo
Look for the ladder!

Some days in the beginning, it was just me there, writing. Then a few friends joined me. Critique groups started forming. Then we brought in authors to share wisdom. Then agents and editors. Now we have a thriving community, both online and in-person, providing support, education and critiques to local writers. The Writers’ Loft is over 100 members strong, a short year after it began, and it is growing every day. I finally *think* I see what the Universe has in store … for us.

And if you would like to glean wisdom about building community from someone much smarter than myself, stop by my blog and check out Seth Godin’s TED talk about the importance of tribes (community). (After adding to the conversation here, in the comments, of course!)

What ways have worked for you to build community? What do you think the Universe has in store for you? (Something BIG, I’m sure!)

Heather and birbigsHeather Kelly writes MG and YA with sci fi twists. She founded a thriving writing community in Sherborn, MA called The Writers’ Loft and co-chaired the 2015 and 2016 NESCBWI Conferences. Visit her at or in person at The Writers’ Loft.
Thanks Heather! I really enjoyed this post. I am trying to build such a community now. My journey has been hit or miss along the way but I do have some amazing mentors or big brothers and sisters in the publishing industry that are helping me navigate and I met both at Writer’s Conferences. So yes I definitely believe it can be a steep, winding road but its worth it not to crash and burn.

The thing I struggle with most is building community. I have a great one for blogging, but for writing bigger works, not so much.

Heather, what an amazing and inspiring story! I bet I could totally get one of those up and going when I move back to my home. Personally, I’ve been helping restructure the amazing 500+ member Singapore Writer’s Group to get more of a small-group, critique-style format so we can get more systematic, structured feedback as writers. Writers are amazing people. I’m still regularly pleasantly surprised by how much love my writer friends devote to my work, even though they’re busy with their own lives and their own manuscripts.

Carol Gordon Ekster
Thanks, Heather. You are an inspiration to many writers. Keep sharing your passion. Wishing you many wonderful writing successes in the future.

Heather Kelly
In reply to Marianne Knowles.Marianne, thanks so much for having me here–I love the community you have built around this blog! I love that so many of the communities do overlap–this blog, the Loft, SCBWI, etc. It makes the universe seem small and lovely.🙂

Heather Kelly
In reply to Kristen Wixted.Kristin is on the Loft board and works hard to make it a success. As does Pam and Josh (both commented below). It’s a community full of people who pitch in–otherwise it wouldn’t work! Thanks guys!!

Heather Kelly
In reply to Carrie Finison.I’ve found that only frustrating things happen when I ignore the universe. But it’s the great people that come to the Loft who make it such a special community.🙂

Heather Kelly
In reply to Theresa Milstein.It has grown so quickly–this area is ripe with writers!

Theresa Milstein
I’m impressed with how the Writer’s Loft has really taken off!

Theresa Milstein
I’m impressed with how the Writer’s Loft has really taken off!

Carrie Finison
The Loft is such a special, supportive place. I’m glad you listened to the Universe.🙂

Kristen Wixted
I was lucky enough to be one of the writers Heather met through her blog at a bar…boy am I glad I showed up that evening! Thanks for everything, Heather. She is our fearless Loft leader.

Marianne Knowles
Heather, thanks so much for sharing the “origin story” of The Writers’ Loft on our blog. Yes, sometimes the universe has bigger plans for us than we expected. Like listening for a story, we need to listen to hear what our role is meant to be in our own stories. Your leadership is incredible. I’ve only made it to The Writers’ Loft once so far, but I feel like you are all part of one big overlapping writers’ group with Writers’ Rumpus and many, many, others. Keep up the great work–and the great writing, too!

Heather Kelly
In reply to mudpilewood.I think that’s what it is all about–discovering what the journey is meant to be. I’m always surprised that my journey wasn’t what I thought it would be! It’s bigger and better than what my little mind could imagine. It sounds like you are connected far and wide to wonderful writers. Yay for building a tribe!!

Heather Kelly
In reply to Josh Funk.Josh, I am thankful for your commitment to the picture book crit group–you starting that group opened my eyes to the possibilities of the Loft!

Heather Kelly
In reply to Pam Vaughan.Pam–you are such a supportive friend to me and so many other Lofters–that kind of friendship is what keeps the Loft (and me) going. Thanks for always being there!

Pam Vaughan
Heather is an amazing person and mentor! I am so grateful to be a member of The Writers’ Loft and it’s mission! There are so many amazing things offered at the Loft because of your vision to fulfill everyone’s writing needs. Thank you Heather for all that you do and being so generous with your time, expertise and genuine compassion. However, You did not mention that now the Universe has made you the Co-Chair or NE-SCBWI!
You will be outstanding!

Josh Funk
Great post! I, for one, am hugely thankful you created The Writers’ Loft. It’s exciting to hear everything behind its creation!

Your post made me stop and think about my own journey. I too found nanowrimo helped me to get to know writers living in my neighbouring counties. Forums have gained me friends and critique friends in far areas of the world. It is an interesting journey.

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