Writing Community: Every Author Needs One

Janet Grant

A Vietnam prisoner of war recounted to an interviewer that the soldier spent the majority of his eights year in prison in solitary confinement. He and other prisoners developed a Morse code using taps on the wall to communicate with each  other. They conducted French lessons, had engineering discussions, and sent simple messages like “GBU”–God bless you.  Studies show that creating that sense of community was a key factor in the men’s survival, both mentally and physically.

It Takes One to Know One

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by stress, one of my instincts is to tap into my circle of colleagues (on a keyboard rather than through a wall) and just be honest with them about how I’m feeling. I belong to an online group of agents formed so we could

  • ask each other professional questions, (“Anyone else having trouble getting publishers to agree to __________ in contracts?”);
  • keep each other informed (“Did you hear that _________ is leaving _________Publishing House to go to ____________?”);
  • and vent (“A publisher just went directly to one of my clients and made an offer for a contract. I’m steamed!”).the-gang-blowing bubbles

The group is a safe place for us to destress. As one member wrote the other day, “It just isn’t the same telling my wife about my good days and bad days as it is telling this group.” Yeah, it pretty much takes an agent to understand what it feels like to be pummeled by bad publishing news one day and then to be showered with good news the next.

In our agency, we five agents frequently turn to each other for cheering up, cooling down, and straightening out our convoluted thinking as we try to solve a knotty problem. And we do a lot of that sort of communicating during our weekly staff meetings, which we hold every Friday morning using video conferencing since we have four different office scattered around the country.

The Solitary Business of Writing

Writing is such a solitary act (unless you count the characters you spend time with as you write your novel), that you need to form a circle of supportive colleagues. They will be your boosters in good times and bad. And who can speak truth to you when you’ve overreacted about how your next book’s cover is going to kill your writing career. Or help you to see that you’re not really done with your manuscript–and send you back for rewrite #99.

Where to Find Fellow Writers

Writers conferences can be a great place to form a writing community. Critique groups (both online and in person) bring people of like interests together as well.

Editors have associations they can be a part of , and agents often have ad hoc groups where they can let off steam to each other. Who better to understand the stresses of publishing than others who are in it?

What does your circle of supportive colleagues look like? How did you find your sidekicks?

Feeling writerly stress? Form a writing community. Click to tweet.

#Publishing is stressful. Find other writers to bring relief. Click to tweet.

32 Responses

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  1. Great post, Janet; truly a single twig can easily be broken, but a bundle will resist the strongest man.
    * Since physical isolation has become my circumstance, both this community and Five Minute Friday (www.katemotaung.com) are my lifelines, quite literally. Leaving the house by car is far too painful, and speaking has become very difficult, so it seems that a writer’s most manifest irony has (in a wildly mixed metaphor) come home to roost…the vast majority of my communication is through the written word.
    * If I may, I’d like to offer some suggestions that might help others keep online relationships flourishing.
    1) Be a bit more formal than you think you have to be. Remember that all ‘you’ are consists of your words, and over-familiarity can be disquieting.
    2) Don’t develop a pattern of whining. It can be hard; I personally have to try to pull myself out of a pit of despair and dread at least once a day, and while I’d like to say this hasn’t influenced my communications, I know it has for (hopefully) short periods.
    3) If you ask someone to read your work, make sure it’s in the most accessible format. There’s plenty of software that will convert to Kindle-friendly formats, and some of it is free. Also, take the time to make up an attractive ‘dummy’ cover. It’s a pleasant touch.
    4) Respond promptly to emails from your online support, and never ignore a reading request, even if ignoring it seems easier than saying “no, I can’t right now”.
    5) Stay in touch even when nothing’s going on, and when you learn of things like birthdays and anniversaries, be sure to offer felicitations.
    6) Above all else, pray daily for the people who have chosen to include you and your dreams in their schedules, and in their hearts.

  2. Carol Ashby says:

    There are so many people that I’ve met at this blog and feel are true kindred spirits. It’s a pleasure to read their posts and pray with them when needed. Most of all, this is where I got to know Andrew. It’s great to have the best Barnabas I know as someone with whom I can share writing conversations.
    *I connected with my excellent critique partner through another agency’s blog last June. She’s a treasure beyond easy description, and I won’t say who she is so I won’t embarrass her with too much praise (There can’t be too much, actually). Both my novel that’s out and the one coming out in a couple months are SO much better because of her many constructive comments.

  3. Janet, we do need each other, don’t we? My circle of writer friends has developed over time. One of my dear friends was my first advocate (and the first person I confided in that I thought I might have a story to write). She introduced me to My Book Therapy, where I’ve met other writers, and learned a lot about writing craft and how to keep a godly mindset in the midst of all that is writing.
    *And blogs. This is one of the first blogs I began reading after beginning my writing journey, and it’s been a great place to get to know other writers and you lovely agents. I’ve made connections on other blogs as well.
    *And ACFW. I’ve met some wonderful writers through ACFW, and with some, I have formed deeper connections.
    *We are fortunate to have a number of places where we can connect with other writers.

  4. This place has given me a treasure chest of supportive colleagues. 🙂 I’m so grateful.

  5. I’m still working on building my writing community. This blog has been invaluable since I discovered it a few months ago. I would love some in-person relationships but those are most definitely more difficult to foster in today’s hectic lifestyle.

  6. MacKenzie Willman says:

    Thank you, Janet, for the great write up today.

    This blog is one of my favorites. Even if/when I don’t comment, reading the posts brings a sense of support.

    One of my other go-to places is on Facebook, called Ninja Writer’s. 10,000 strong, there’s not a day that goes by that someone isn’t being lifted up, encouraged or supported, in one way or another.

    I live 12 miles from the closest town, and while the library here supports a writer’s club, it is, unfortunately, more of a “club” than a support group. While I miss the people themselves, I’ve not attended meetings for the last five months, and haven’t really lost much.

    So I come here and absorb the love and energy that is this group.

  7. This is just ONE reason why I hope there’s another Bookie retreat!

  8. I found all of my early sidekicks here, and on Rachelle Gardner’s blog, and most of my side long-term sidekicks come from those relationships.
    To go from not knowing any writers, to knowing hundreds, has made the “writer rodeo” as John Blase calls it, so much more enjoyable.

  9. I wrote without any community whatsoever for many many years. I tried to find one, but it was difficult. I even had a teen I’d asked to look at my story run away from home with my manuscript in hand. Was it that bad? In fact, I went to my first 4 writer’s conferences by myself, not knowing anyone, and going home without having met anyone. Then my sister and a friend began attending conferences with me. Finally, after 11 years of writing by myself, I found a critique partner. It can be a lonely business, which is one reason that after years of urging from my husband, I’m finally starting that camp for writers that I’ve been talking about for so long. I’m excited and terrified, but I think that having a retreat where we take the time to write and share and learn and seek the Lord together will definitely be something good for all of us lone rangers out there.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Kristen, I had no idea your writing journey was solitary for so very long. You had plenty of setbacks to begin with, including your manuscript being held hostage by a runaway teen! Not every writer has that sort of story to tell…

  10. Carol Ashby says:

    Off topic, but maybe it’s really right on target for today.
    Andrew’s having a particularly bad day. Prayers would be especially appreciated.

  11. I’m in two critique groups and two writers’ groups with speakers and other events. One of those is a bit far from home so I may not stay with it. Many of my friends are people I’ve met at writers conferences and stay in touch with online. This group is one example. Writing is a solitary business, but writers are communicators so when we get together we have a lot in common and understand things about each others’ lives ‘normal’ people can’t.

  12. Peggy Booher says:

    Janet,
    Thanks for such a good post to start the week off.
    It is so important to have someone who “is there, and doing that” to offer support, encouragement and feedback, particularly in such a solitary pursuit as writing. Having support also bolsters a writer on those days when doubt about whether the person should even be spending time, money and effort to write creeps in. Many professionals have peer groups, why not writers?
    *Right now Books and Such serves as the “support and encouragement” part for me. During various years I was part of two different writers’ groups, but both fell apart due to members’ work schedules and health issues.
    *I’d like to be part of a group that meets face-to-face; however, as busy as people are these days, that’s hard to find. This year I thought I’d try an online group.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Peggy, I would encourage you to try an online group. A couple of my clients have participated in those types of groups and found them beneficial and their own kind of being together with other writers.