In Writing

As a writer, I sort of pride myself on being a loner. They’ve even created a handy new term for it since I first realized how much I liked solitude as a teen, one that sounds less pathological and more psychological: introvert. Suddenly, fun new images started popping up on my social media feeds, “Introverts unite! Privately, in your own homes!”

And it was okay to be me.

I was lucky to have gravitated toward a profession like writing, where all I needed was my laptop, my thoughts, and the occasional chocolate bar. No painful networking events like the ones I’d endured while I briefly considered hanging out a shingle as a marketing consultant. (“You’re a good writer! You should be in marketing!” had been the well-meaning advice that had led to that fiasco). I wrote and toiled and read everything there was to know, knocked my head into the wall for five years, and finally landed an agent. Then a book deal.

“There’s this group for other authors debuting in your year,” my editor told me, somewhere between copy edits and cover concepts. “I could send you the information if you’re interested.”

More to please her than anything else, I said, “Sure.”

Oh, I’d met writers before, mostly at writing conferences. As with most strangers in artificial social settings, I hadn’t found any of them particularly like me, (except in aspiration) and none of the casual chats had solidified into anything resembling follow-up, let alone friendship. It had never occurred to me to seek out an online forum or any kind of coagulation of writing hopes in social media.

Still, I joined the forum for the other writers debuting in my year. At first, the experience only served to dismay me. First, the welcome instructions were overwhelming, requiring all kinds of exactitude in how we sent in our information, links I didn’t know how to get, pictures I didn’t know how to crop. Second, everyone in the forum already seemed to know each other. They talked in shorthand I didn’t understand, like, “Oh my goodness, my WIP needs to have ALL THE EDITS.” WIP? What? Was there a list of “all the edits” somewhere that I had somehow missed?

I scurried away, gave a shudder of relief at my escape, and stayed away.

Gingerly, eventually, I found my way back. I lurked, mostly. But I began to recognize names. And I began to see my fears and questions written in theirs. When would my book be up on Amazon? What should I do if I hated my cover? When do review copies go out to reviewers? In the responses, I saw a small community figuring out how to navigate the fulfillment of their writing dream after they figured out that the trip was sometimes subject to unexpected squalls and confusing fog. I ventured a comment. Then a question.

And I was hooked.

I came upon the wisdom of the collective, and the nourishing energy of a brood of writers, much later than most. By the time I showed up in my debut group, others had been slogging through rejection piles and pitch slams together for half a decade, bold enough to share their dreams with virtual strangers years before I was brave enough to share mine with close friends. In their unity, they had found an edge, had pooled their resources, and traded tidbits of wisdom like so many multicolored marbles. They had made true friends. Now, here, finally about to be published, they celebrated together. I was jealous of their bonds.

But here’s the thing: no one had been keeping score. As soon as I showed up, they let me right in and. I have since joined many online communities for writers, some over 1,000 writers strong, some deliberately selective and “secret.” I have started a few of my own, including two in-person writing groups. I have accelerated my learning, found solace, and made dear friends. I am still a loner, but I’m a loner with writing friends (and non-writer friends too, of course!).

So, now, when I’m asked by aspiring writers what my best piece of advice is for the aspiring writer, after I tell them to read a lot and learn about plot structure, I tell them to find their tribe. It will help you accelerate your learning, find critique partners, learn of opportunities you might not hear of if you’re isolated in your own writing tower, and generally feel less alone. I have noticed that writers who seek out writing groups tend to eventually succeed in the publishing business, and they seem to have more fun doing it.

How you can find your “writing tribe.”

Twitter. Follow hashtags like #amwriting #wordsprint and get to know some folks that way.

Facebook. Find open groups for writing. There are groups for specific genres, big groups, little groups. Some are closed but many are open. Do a simple search.

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is a great inspiration for writing a draft of your book (many published books began as NaNo projects). You can connect with others NaNo-ing in November (and “Camp NaNo-ing in the spring and summer) and start to make some writing friendships that way.

SCBWI – The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has great local and national events. Besides great information, you can also meet both established and aspiring writers.

Online boards, such as:

Wherever you find them, go ahead and start looking for your writing buddies. They will be there with you as you make your way to the publishing career you desire.


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