Look, I actually wrote out a longer sappier version of this post. Trust me when I tell you it was too long. It may also have been too sappy. So, we’re going to start this new version with some lists. Cause, who doesn’t love listicles, right? And we’re going to buff them up with some gifs. AND THEN we’re going to drench the whole thing in some seriously saccharine tree blood.
First of all, if you’re a writer you’ve probably, at some point, considered joining a writing community of some kind or another. You may already be a member of one or more of such communities. You may feel you have joined those communities with varying degrees of success. Certainly, I find myself part of a few writing communities and definitely feel that I’m more a part of some than others. But before we get into how we form our communities, let’s talk about WHY we join them.
So, let’s start with the top five reasons most people THINK they should join a writing community:
1. Critique partners – It’s a common conception that no matter how you plan to pursue publication it helps to get more eyes on your work, and what better way to do so than to find some like minded individuals and swap stories!
2. Motivation – Sure you can sit down and tell yourself you’re going to write 500 words before your next coffee break, but how much more likely are you to do it if you boldly declare your intention to someone who is going to check on your progress when that coffee break comes along? It’s a lot easier to put your phone away and focus on the task at hand when you have someone to be accountable with!
3. Promotional opportunities – Wether you’re indie or trad, selling books is hard work and the best way to find new readers is to cross promote with other authors in similar genres and subgenres. A community of writers and bloggers in your genre can be invaluable for this!
4. Networking opportunities – I hate the word networking, and I hate the idea of seeking out community members just to get ahead, but making friends that work in the same field as you can be very useful. However, I really don’t recommend making friends in order to USE them. That’s not a great look on anyone. Still, people TALK about ‘networking’ all the time, and people often seek out communities for this purpose. My recommendation would be, DON’T DO THIS. Just go be yourself and make friends. Help your friends. Maybe they will also help you. Don’t expect anything. Humans aren’t tools of the trade.
Pretty straight forward. And not really wrong. Those are all things one can get from a writing community. They were most of the things I was expecting, or at least hoping to get out of a writing community, when I first ventured into communal writing spaces. Over the years I’ve been on the periphery of a number of writing communities, though I have rarely felt like I was truly a part of any of them. However, in 2019 that changed thanks to a competition that I entered Blade’s Edge into.
I will freely admit that I did not particularly expect to find a writing community when I submitted Blade’s Edge to the 2019 SPFBO. I figured, at best, Blade’s Edge might gain a few new readers and I might find a few new books to read, and maybe, if things went really well, Blade’s Edge might make it to the semi-finals.
Blade’s Edge wound up making it all the way to the finals, and I made nine new besties, and dozens of other friends and acquaintances along the way. And, look, I’m not saying that this is what anyone should expect when they go in search of a writing community. The fact that the nine other finalists were legit friend material is… well, that’s astounding to be honest. I don’t have that many close friends in general. Adding nine more to that number was a coup. But no matter where you find your writing community, or how you bond with that community, there are a few additional benefits to these communities that you may not have anticipated that we should probably talk about.
So, without further ado, the top 5 SURPRISE BONUSES of a writer community.
1. Recommendations – From which books to read, to where to find the best cover designers and editors, to what you should binge next on Netflix, there is no shortage of excellent recommendations to be had from the writing community.
4. Emotional support – Beyond the ups and downs of writing, your writing community is full of… well, people. People who have kids, people who don’t, people who have day jobs, people who write full time, people who are going through hard times, people who are celebrating life’s joys. People. Just like you. And in my experience writers have a lot of empathy. If you’re going through a rough patch, they’re a pretty good lot to talk to. I was certainly surprised to find that the community I joined in 2019 was always willing to listen when life was rough.
5. Solidarity – 2020 has been unprecedented in many ways. It seems like years ago now, but we started this year with insane wild fires in Australia. More than one of the writing communities I am part of responded to those fires by auctioning off book bundles to raise money for charities. In the months since then, those same communities have come together to raise money for individuals in need, for covid research, to fund Black Lives Matter and the ACLU, and more. On a personal note, when both of my parents passed away (in the strangest coincidence of my life–on the same day and within 7 hours of each other) one amazing blogger from the SPFBO community took it upon herself to post about it on reddit, FB, and Twitter, and suggest that everyone should try to cheer me up by buying my books, and the community joined in so enthusiastically it led to my second best day of sales ever (just behind the one BookBub featured deal I’ve gotten). Of course, even a record sales day can’t combat the pain of losing both your parents at once, but it sure as heck felt like a warm hug from the community, and it kinda took the edge off. That kind of generosity, that level of support… I’ve only ever experienced that from close, IRL friends before. But that kind of thing isn’t even unprecedented in the writing community here.
The truth is, when times get tough, any community gets tested. The good ones pull together to get everyone through as best they can. At the start of 2020, I was still under the impression that, while I’d gotten nine new author buddies out of SPFBO, I wasn’t part of any greater community. But the worse 2020 got, the closer the community became, and suddenly the nine “author buddies” I’d made became my rocks, and the type of friends I would cross oceans to visit (covid permitting of course), while the dozens of “friendly acquaintances” I’d made in the periphery of SFPBO became friends and colleagues–people who I would absolutely hope to have a beer with if we were ever in the same town.
Of course, every person’s experience with any community is going to be a bit different, no community is perfect, and no two communities are the same. But my experience with the writing community, the SPFBO community in particular and the fantasy writing community at large, has been incredibly positive. And I have been both surprised and also pleasantly reassured by how supportive and kind the community has been in a year so full of hardship for so many people all over the world. Every day the news destroys my faith in humanity a little bit, but every day the community of authors, bloggers, and readers that I have found a home with in the past year helps restore it just a tiny bit more.
About the Author
Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games, and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.
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