A few years ago, I had only shared my writing with family and friends and a few blog followers. I was writing, but I wasn’t growing. I knew I needed accountability, fresh and critical eyes on my work, and a writers' group if I wanted to move forward. But I’m an introvert who moves often, and I was terrified to share my work.
The pressure to get better eventually won out over my fear, and I’m a stronger writer for it today. How do you find a community of writers to push you to improve and encourage you when you’re stuck?
Writing is a solitary profession for the most part, but sooner or later, we realize we need a network of people, from beta readers to editors and eventually readers. Some writers retreat, discouraged by unkind comments or unsupportive friends or family, believing that someday, somehow their work will reach a wider audience.
But writing alone and hard work aren't enough by themselves. Very few writers can write and launch a book and career entirely in isolation. (Plus, being a part of a writing or creative community is much more fun.)
Here are a few small steps for finding, joining, or building a writing community.
How to Find a Writers' Group
In order to join a writers' group, first you need to find other writers. Try these two strategies to find the people who could become your community.
Take a class
Writing classes are a terrific way to meet writers, learn new skills, and invest in your craft. Whether online or in person, commit to completing every lesson and reaching out to classmates.
I’ve taken a number of classes in person and online, and by the end of a course, only the strongest survive. These are the people who are more likely to take their writing (and yours!) more seriously. Challenge yourself to stay in touch via social media or email.
Join a critique or writers' group
Writers meet up all over the world. Check out your local library for writers' groups that are open to new members, or consider online forums such as ours, Becoming Writer.
I was living abroad a few years ago, looking for accountability, when I found The Write Practice and joined. The weekly accountability kept me writing consistently, and over time, I found a niche of writers who I still turn to for critique, support, and encouragement. They have enriched my writing and life in countless ways.
Check out these tips for how gather the right people and create a writers' group that lasts. Don’t be afraid to give a group a trial period, and switch if it isn’t a constructive, encouraging place to learn and grow.
How to Make Your Writers' Group Amazing
Once you find a community of writers that seems to be a good fit, do these three things to keep your community thriving:
Give and Take
When you first begin with a writers' group, it will be uncomfortable. Recognize that those early days are time for you to feel out the guidelines and expectations of the group.
Be honest about what you can give and humbly receive feedback. (That said, do not tolerate rudeness or abuse—leave any group that allows it immediately.) Make sure you don’t dominate the group or its members with a barrage of questions or your work.
Not sure how to give great feedback? Check out our guide to the components of amazing feedback.
As with most relationships, there must be a healthy amount of both giving and taking to make it work.
Once you find a writers' group or class, be consistent about attendance and participation, even if you have decided it will be for a four to six week or meeting trial period.
Some days you will not feel prepared, but go anyway to support the group. Consistency is key in the early days of creating a new habit, so follow through on your commitment.
Once group members see that you are a trustworthy and engaged individual, your interactions with the group will be richer and more productive as well.
Attitude is everything when you work with a group. Stay positive, committing to learn from everyone you meet.
Even when a writer in your group is just beginning, find ways to respectfully engage their work. You'll find it grows you as a writer.
I can always tell who is going to be the strongest writer in a class by the end of the semester—it isn’t the person with the best technical skills. It’s the person who humbly and hungrily absorbs all feedback, working to put that feedback to work. They don’t think they know it all, and they are quick to find the good in others.
Find Your Community Now
The best time to find a writing community is today. Don’t put it off until you have a book ready, when you join groups to shout “Look at my book! Read my book!” It’s much more rewarding to struggle forward together, learning and spurring each other on.
When your book is ready, you will find you have beta readers and launch team members ready to help and cheer.
What experiences have you had with writers' groups? What keeps you from joining one? Let us know in the comments.
One of the great things about The Write Practice is you don't have to look far to find your writing community. In fact, you'll find community if you scroll down to the comments. Today, let's practice the first strategy to maintaining healthy community: give and take.
With the remainder of your time (five minutes if you just wrote, or fifteen minutes if you're sharing a prewritten piece), respond to the pieces other writers have shared. In order to receive great support from your community, you have to support others, so take time to leave thoughtful feedback for your fellow writers.
BONUS: Looking for a writers' group? We'd love to see you in Becoming Writer, the online writing community here at The Write Practice.
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.