Today’s post is about building your writing community, dedicated to the me of just half a year ago and those who are just starting out and struggling to find their writing niche/”glomp.” It’s inspired by many factors: the amazing weekend I had with two of my best writer friends that I first got to know through the Twitter writing community, an empowering post from Queen June Hur on being recognized and finding your way when you’re unagented and new, as well as an A++ thread from Becca Mix about how not to treat people.
I was a latecomer to the writing community. I was semi-active on the forum Absolute Write, and I’d found one or two amazing CPs from there, but I really didn’t know anybody else who write and wanted to pursue publication. Twitter is where most of the writing community thrives, and I didn’t join Twitter until halfway through 2017, a few months before I planned to start querying. The writing community opened so many doors for me, brought me to my best CPs, and led me to some of my closest writing friends. And it’s changed my life — all for the better. I could talk to my writing friends all day — and not just about writing; they have become a part of my lifeline and support network, and I already know they’ll be at my wedding and I’ll be at theirs.
Let me just backtrack. It’s okay if you’re not super active on social media. It’s okay if you don’t have time to participate in every single thread, or to interact with many writers, or if you just want several organic relationships/friendships that are your lifeline. That’s okay. People are different, and not all of us love interacting with people 24/7; we have different priorities and interests, and that. is. okay. You are not your online presence/brand. There are so many authors who don’t have an online presence — and that’s fine, because at the end of the day, their craft defines them.
The points I’m trying to make today are that 1) Every good writer needs feedback, beta readers, and critique partners; 2) A good way — but not the only way — to find those is by participating in the writing community; 3) People have different preferences for social interactions, whether online or in real life, and this post is more for those who want to build writing relationships, are just starting out, and might be learning the ropes or struggling a bit.
Because I was definitely there.
When I first joined Twitter (at the recommendation of my first-ever writer friend and CP, Cassy Klisch), I was completely lost. It felt like I was in a sea of voices and I had no idea who was who and where was where and what was what.
It’s okay. Breathe.
Online social interactions (because most of the writing community will exist online) are both similar to and vastly different from real-life social interactions. You have a whole world at your fingertips (literally and figuratively), and there is an unlimited amount to which you can participate in conversations. You can interact with whomever you want, say whatever you wish, and the consequences are grossly reduced. Everyone has a proxy, an online avatar, to their true personnel, which often makes it easier to speak out/converse (a plus for introverts!) but also easier to attack people and behave hurtfully with minimal consequences.
Yet, while these interactions take place in a digitized world behind our screens, they are founded upon the basis of true human interactions and human nature. The traits we are typically drawn to in other humans are still those we love in online presences. It won’t take long for online peeps — especially writers — to be able to distinguish your voice, and to sniff out whether you’re here for good intentions and to genuinely immerse yourself in the community.
So, Tip 1: Set out with good intentions. Be enthusiastic, be positive, be supportive, cheer people on — all those things you’d want to find in a real-life friend, be those things online and in the writing community, too.
There’s an aspect of the writing community — call it perception, practice, or stigma — that leans towards achievements, accomplishments, and successes being showcased heavily, which can make those still working towards those benchmarks feel disheartened or ignored and less likely to participate in this community. This thread from my queen and one of the kindest souls I’ve had the fortune to meet, June Hur, really cuts to the core of it.
I will admit, within the writing community, having an agent definitely makes it much easier for writers to meet other writers and gain recognition in the community. I became active only two months before I signed with my agent, so I don’t recall as much about the Time Before in my experiences, but I have friends who are unagented (for now — it’s just a matter of time, with their talents) and have reflected this to me.
In a world where everyone and their mom seems to be writing, an agent checks several boxes for a writer: 1) Their writing is at least above some basic level of quality, 2) They have done the hard work and understand the process enough to GET an agent, 3) They have passed the first obstacle to publication and are just one step away.
So, even if it shouldn’t be this way, it’s easier for agented writers (and published authors) to get to know other agented writers — these people have been through the process and can chat about similar experiences as well as experiences up ahead. Chances are, they’ve also probably been around the community for a while and know the ropes as well as the people, so younger and newer writers can look up to them as a source of authority when they need guidance. And getting an agent shows they’ve pursued their goal with determination and integrity this far out, so they’re likely to stick around a lot longer (because we’ve all had online writer friends who just stopped caring about writing or disappeared after you gave them feedback because they couldn’t be bothered to try to improve and weren’t seriously committed). But just remember: these agented writers all started out just like you and me and everybody else, too.
So build your community from the ground up. Just because you’re an unagented writer, does not mean your writing is not as good, does not mean your voice does not matter. I’ve only been in the community for a little over half a year, when I was an unagented writer, and a lot of my friends are unagented writers. I made some of my best friends back then — because we got along, because we were working towards similar goals and aspirations, and because they’re just good people. And in just a few short months, I’ve witnessed several make the leap, and sign with their dream agents, and get their book deals. And some of my best friends are still working towards that. I bonded with these people not over their achievements, but over them as people — and I’ve had the pleasure of watching them grow and succeed.
Yes, writing Twitter can be a tough community. But be engaged with writers from all stages of publishing if you think you guys click — because, as I said earlier, we’re all here to make friends and find those with whom we connect. And if you’re a newer writer trying to find your niche, don’t be discouraged. Sure, there are some people who only talk to writers with “status,” but that probably means they’re not right for you. There are a lot of writers around you who are probably in the same boat. Stay engaged, keep trying, and make the friends who are right for you, who can go through the journey with you.
Tip 2: Build your community from the ground-up.
Which brings us to tip 3. There are certainly people who only talk to agented writers or people with book deals. The Climbers (see Becca’s thread). We’ve all seen them: they latch on to you, then latch on to your more prominent friends, and before you know it they’re only talking to your famous friends and ignoring you. They’re the ones who are super eager to know you, as you questions and for you to help them out, and when you do give them a little, they ask for more. And they never reciprocate. They never ask you how you are, what’s going on in your life, bond with you over your interests/passions, or celebrate your successes with you. With them, it’s always a one-way street.
Well, surprise, surprise: life is a two-way street. Give, and you shall receive. But first, learn to give.
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell, but with enough time, people will realize who these Climbers/fake people are. And, really, it’s hurtful. I set out talking to people because I genuinely like them, because they’re genuinely nice, and because we genuinely click — so I would hope that for the entire writing community as well.
If you see yourself in this part of the post? Perhaps rethink what you do and why you do it. I’m a big believer in second chances and in people changing for the better. Also? Because, as one of my prescient and all-around amazing agent sisters said, the writing community is a small place — and people remember the ones who are fake.
Tip 3: Don’t be a Climber. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
You might be here because you want to form writing relationships because you want CPs or betas — and that’s totally okay. Just make sure you remember that what you put in is what you get out. There are some people who view the writing community and writers as merely transactional: you swap manuscripts, swap feedback, and that’s it. That’s totally fine; I’ve had those interactions before, and I’ve been comfortable with the fact that I wouldn’t become best friends with those people. I got what I needed out of it, as did they, and we parted ways with mutual respect.
But some — or perhaps most — of you are here to make friends with whom you can scream over fictional characters (and their deaths [yes, this is a mini-subtweet]), celebrate your greatest achievements, cry over those rejections, and be along with you for the crazy, wild ride that’s publishing for the rest of your life. Well, what you put in is what you get out. If you’re that hype man who’s always supporting people’s tweets and books and engaging in meaningful conversations and genuinely caring for the people you want to be friends with, then gradually, people will be drawn to you — no matter what stage of the publishing journey you’re in. So, engage, don’t be afraid to take the first step and reach out, and keep reaching out. See a meaningful thread that resonated with you? Reach out to the OP/direct message them and tell them. See people talking about a hobby you like/an interest you have? Try to join in. Try to strike meaningful conversation. The first few ten or twenty or thirty tries might come to nothing, but if you are a positive energy with good intentions, people will notice, and people will begin to reciprocate. Everyone starts out knowing no one.
Tip 4: What you put in is what you get out.
So where do I start? That was really one of my first questions. I knew one person in the community, and I had no idea where, even, to begin.
There are a lot of resources in the Writing Community you can start off with. Below are a few that I know of and have personally tried.
- AbsoluteWrite. An online forum for writers, with a vast number of discussion posts. Great for writers in all stages, as community ranges from newer writers to very experienced writers/some authors. My favorite forum was Share Your Work, where you can post samples of your work for critique as long as you give back by critiquing others’ work.
- Goodreads CP Match/Beta Reader Forums. I’ve dipped my feet in here, and while it’s not my preferred place to hang out or find critique partners, it’s a good area to start. It’s a forum in Goodreads where you can post threads asking for CPs/betas/swaps.
- Twitter hashtags. If you’re completely new to Twitter, start by looking for other writers in the hashtags. #amwriting, #amquerying, and on #ontheporch are a few hashtags that writers will use. Start interacting with writers there!
- Twitter pitches. I wrote a post on Twitter pitches, but here’s where you can find cool writers with cool ideas who are looking for agents, and support them. And when you’re ready, give Twitter pitches a shot!
- Twitter CP-matches. Try the hashtag #cpmatch on Twitter; there are Twitter events that focus on helping you find CPs — and a great way to bond with writers of the same genre and interests and make friends!
- Meetups. There are quite a few writer meetups that happen — some friends of mine have mentioned them to me, and I’ve really only been to one where you write-sprint with other writers in 30-minute regulated spurts (which did miracles for my productivity), but it’s a great way to meet with other writers in real life!
So, don’t be discouraged if you’re just starting out in the online writing community, whether that’s Twitter or AbsoluteWrite or anywhere else; everyone has to start establishing their presence somewhere, and it really, really takes time. Unless you’re Chloe Kim, you’re not going to start off on Twitter with a million followers and people who adore you. You will find those relationships that matter. I joined over half a year ago knowing one person, and I distinctly remember making fun of myself to my boyfriend, telling him, “Be quiet and let me tweet my thing. I’m very important on Twitter — all nine of my followers depend on me.” Now, I have my groups of writing friends I’d fight for, and my ride-or-dies (or can I say… write-or-dies?).
Disclaimer: This post is mostly based on my experience and my friends’ experiences and does not represent “the correct” or “the only” take on how to build your community of writers and writer friends. It just reflects what has worked for me, and I wanted to share that with people who are struggling just like I was only half a year ago. I’m always happy to answer questions if you have them and my time permitting, so don’t be afraid to reach out!
A small PS: Search this post for the word that crops up the most. It’s “genuine.” I think that basically sums this post up, right there.