Creating community

Writing careers rarely go in straight lines. They swerve in odd directions. They zig-zag. They plummet to the ground, seemingly staying there forever. And then they lift to the sky when everything feels aligned and you’re in the groove.

The only thing I’ve ever found to help when all hope feels lost is a writing community. This community might not be the same one that you need at the start of your career, the middle or the end–but in my opinion it’s necessary at every step. Here are a few of the writing communities I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of over the years:

A writing group

I’ve been in many of them during my lifetime. A screenwriting group, a general writing group, a mystery writing group, and, for the last 10 years, the Moseley Writer’s Group (a small group of us are in the featured photo after a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book). Except for one or two of the groups that were toxic and I needed to get out of ASAP, the writing groups have helped me improve my craft, and given me the encouragement and support I needed to keep going. I’ve both been with more experienced writers and learned so much from them, and also had the opportunity to mentor more fledgling writers. But we are often each other’s first call when something terrific happens, and it’s great to celebrate each other’s victories.

In many of the classes I’ve taught, the participants have gone off and started a writing group with the other students in the class.

A group of writers

I am lucky enough to live in a place with lots of writers. I hope you are as lucky. And several of them organized a group that gets together monthly at each other’s houses. We sometimes read our work out loud, or share our recent projects. We share our good news, and use the yahoo group to tell others when we’ll be reading and when we have a new book out. It has been a wonderful source of strength and fellowship for me, and it’s always inspiring to go to a gathering.

An organization

There is no need to reinvent the wheel and figure everything out about the business yourself. There are tons of wonderful writing organizations (many online) to help you navigate the writing and business side of things. I have belonged to Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Thriller Writers, to name a few. They have both local chapters and a large umbrella organization. Sisters in Crime has an organization for the “great unpublished” called the Guppies that’s a great source of information on agents, publishers and more.

Festivals and conferences

I’ve met wonderful people every year at the Virginia Festival of the Book, and met many of my writing heroes at conferences like Bouchercon, Malice Domestic and other book festivals. Writers are often some of the most entertaining and witty people I’ve met–full of great stories and incredibly generous. I’ve stayed in touch with many of the writers I met.

Don’t try to do it alone

Writing is a solitary exercise for most of us. Don’t make the rest of your life that way, too. All the happiness studies say that our relationships are what sustain us and make us happy in the end, not book deals or awards or bestseller lists. So cultivate friendship and community wherever you can and at every stage of your career for a serious win-win.

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