Writing can often seem like a solitary occupation, and for a new writer this can be discouraging. Sometimes it feels like you’re writing in a vacuum and it’s hard to tell if your work is any good or whether you’re making any progress—that’s one reason why it’s important to seek out and build relationships with other writers!
If you’d like to get yourself out there and start connecting, but aren’t sure where to start, here’s a quick overview of some of the different types of writing communities you may want to get involved with.
Professional Development Organizations
Professional development organizations are groups of writers who are seriously pursuing publication and/or a career in writing. They generally form around writers of a certain genre or audience. For example, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is made up of children’s writers (in their case, this includes picture books to young adult books, and everything in between). There are also groups that focus on writers of a particular genre, such as romance, mystery, fantasy and science fiction, horror, and so on.
A quick web search can help you find organizations that align with you and your work. There is usually some kind of fee for membership in the form of annual dues, and sometimes financial help is available. Make sure you check member requirements before signing up–some groups have no barrier to entry beyond a dedication to the craft, others require you to have published work out there before you can join. Some groups have ‘tiered memberships,’ where the level of membership is different depending on where you are in your writing career. To find out whether you qualify for a particular group, go online and look at the group’s website. Most will have a “Membership” page that will include these details.
Professional organizations are a great way to meet other writers and often include other perks as well. Some host annual conferences and other writing events, hold writing contests, and help connect writers with others in their region. Other groups offer critique services at discounted rates, provide grants and scholarships, and some even provide legal counsel or advocacy for members. Before joining, check to see what type of Membership Benefits are on offer.
If you’re looking for something a little closer to home, there’s a chance there’s a writing group that meets in your area. Connecting with local writers can help you feel a sense of camaraderie and, depending on the type of group, may even help you stay focused and accountable.
You can find writing groups online though sites like Meetup or Craigslist, or via professional development orgs as mentioned above. Another good place to check is your local library—even if they don’t have one that meets in-house, they may be able to help you find one.
Depending on what type of connection you’re looking for, there are a few different types of groups that might fit your needs.
Social Groups: Social writing groups are a great way to get to know other writers in your area, and they provide a way for like-minded folks to get together and talk shop, blow steam, and learn from one another’s experiences. They might meet at someone’s home, in a restaurant or bar, or another place that is open to the public. Social groups aren’t the place to get feedback or to market your work, but they are a good place to make friends and catch up on industry news and gossip.
Critique Groups: A critique group is a group that meets regularly to discuss its members’ writing and provide specific, actionable feedback. These groups are a great way to gain outside perspective and take your writing to the next level. Typically writers will submit on a rotating schedule. Before each meeting, writers will submit their work and members will arrive having read the work and will be ready to provide feedback. Participating in critique groups can be tough, especially when you’re first starting out, because you have to come prepared to hear all the negative things about your work as well as the positive. However, usually members are there because they really want to help each other grow and develop as writers, and a good critiquer will couch their criticism alongside praise so you know what’s working as well as what isn’t and don’t walk away too disheartened. If you think this type of group is for you, check out this post on finding a critique group by Writers’ Rumpus contributor Joyce Audy Zarins.
Online Groups: If you’re in a remote area or if you don’t have a lot of time during the week to attend in-person meetings, online writing groups may be a better option. There are many websites dedicated to forging connections with other writers. Absolute Write, Critique Circle, and AGENTQUERY Connect are among the most popular free platforms at the moment, but there are dozens of other online writing communities out there for all types of writers. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit are also teeming with writers willing to connect and form mutually beneficial relationships. The resource page Online Critique Groups & Motivators lists more opportunities to connect online.
Writing Conferences & Retreats
Writers’ conferences are annual events that bring industry professionals together to celebrate the craft. There are many different types of conferences—some focus on skill-building, others on networking. More and more, you’ll find conferences with aspects of both. These are great places to meet not only other writers, but also industry professionals like editors, literary agents, publicists, and more.
Conferences tend to be larger events, with anywhere from 50-5,000 attendees (or more!), and depending on the conference, may draw in attendees from all over the world. Retreats are often smaller, more intimate gatherings with fewer than 50 attendees, which allow for more individual focus and attention.
Both can be great ways to get your feet wet if you’re not ready to commit to a group that meets in person just yet. They can also help connect you to local groups—I met the writers in one of my current critique groups at a small New Hampshire writing retreat and was subsequently invited to join in…and it was one of the best things to ever happen to me as a writer!
I wrote for over ten years without sharing my work, and it was a huge mistake. I’ve learned more in the last 18 months, through making connections and sharing my work, than I did in those ten years combined. I’ve written more in the past two years than I have in the past decade, and I’m hoping that by next year I’ll even be ready to submit some of my work. I owe all of this to my writing community. And I wish you the same…minus the ten years of lost time!
Are you in a critique group? Know a great conference others might like? Tell us about your experiences!