Like many other writers, I spend a lot of time alone. And I like it. A lot.
But I also founded the Athens Writers Association.
Why? What pulls us writers out of our shells, away from our peaceful little nest-like abodes, and out into the public eye, the uneasy conversation, or even onto the (gasp!) center stage?
A lot of reasons, obviously. It would be very false to attribute just one explanation to us all. That said — whatever draws us out — what we often find is a network.
That word still reeks of business-ese to me, and makes me envision lots of men in ill-fitting suits pressing business cards into each other’s hands, and yet I’m sure networking is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself as a writer.
A little background: home schooled off the grid in the 80s and 90s, I had very little contact with other writers ’til I started going to classes and writers conferences in 1998. Even then, I was very shy, somewhat nervous, and thought I didn’t have anything to say that people would want to hear. But… I also had a burning desire to become a great writer.
So in 2002 I joined a novel critique group that met at the local Borders bookstore and made my first writing friends. In the four years we were together, I eventually became co-moderator. The most fascinating thing to me though, was watching my writing get better as I moved from being the baby newbie writer of the group to one of the most experienced (it also taught me about the high turnover of groups 😉 ). I am forever indebted to those writers, because they helped me become better than I had even been before, and I’m not sure if I would have ever gotten to where I am now without their help and opinions.
After the first critique group ended I tried to start another one called (cough, cough) Novel Journeys but that didn’t take (someone in the group actually hated Tolkien). Fast forward to 2012. I had been meeting with other creative types for a few months through Meetup.com, but I felt the need for more. I knew there had to be lots of writers in the Athens area, but it was hard to meet them, and by that point I had visited a few more critiques groups and decided that wasn’t the place for me (and my writing) right then.
So the Athens Writers Association was born, born of a desire to connect — I just didn’t know how or why yet. Sixteen people showed up at that first meeting, and let me tell you, it was pretty intimidating to talk in front of them. But in one night I had almost doubled the number of local writers I’d ever met. We were on to something.
But this isn’t about me or even about AWA. This is about you, and why you should (if you feel the distant call) journey outward, at least as far as to touch our hands, make contact, and know you’re not alone in the crazy thing called the writing life. Here’s why —
Ten Reasons Why Writers Should Network (and one reason why they shouldn’t)
- You are not alone. One of the best reasons to connect with any group of like-minded or similarly-experienced people is to understand how universal your feelings and problems are. My sister is my closest confidante and yet in writing, the other AWA members ‘get’ me in a way non-writers, even an artist, cannot. My issues are their issues. Just knowing others are out there on the same journey can help immensely.
- Your writing will improve. Even if you’re not in a critique group, exposure to others will sharpen your game, help you ferret out old troupes and worn-out plots, and inspire you in new directions.
- You get to do scary things again and again and again. I know, sounds great right? But talking to strangers, reading your work in public, teaching classes, editing collections, and more all become much easier with practice. Believe me — I have had to become much more outgoing. I can’t promise that it gets easy for us introverts but I can promise you that it’s worth it. Being outgoing may not become natural, but it becomes a tool in your toolbox, so that when you want to approach your favorite author, write to a potential agent, or give a talk on something you’re passionate about — you can. And you’ll know how to feel the fear and do it anyway, because you’ve already done it before, many times.
- You’ll meet the best people. Congratulations! You have picked an interest with some of the kindest, smartest, and funniest people you’ll ever meet (even if they are sticklers for things like ‘Oxford Commas’). These people are the kind you’d hope to find one of, and instead you get a roving pack of them. Take the time to find some favorites, and you might even find yourself new friends to do things with like see movies, go to parties, and have picnics (maybe you extroverts already have a ton of these people, but it’s a big find for quiet folk like me).
- You’ll find all sorts of new opportunities. It’s the beating heart of business networking and it turns out to be true: knowing more people means you get to do things you never dreamed of. I have read poetry at UGA, met Georgia Hall of Fame writers, read a zombie story at Cine theater, met the founder of Rabbit Box, and more all because of putting myself out there. And the same opportunities are available to you: I will personally tranq dart and drag to the Athens Regional Library meeting rooms anyone who expresses even a mild interest in teaching a writing class (watch out, you could be next).
- Beta readers! Now, a word of warning: no one really has time to read your new manuscript. They don’t know if it’s any good, and as writers, AWA members are already living full lives AND are trying to find time for their own writing. But, that said, as you make friends and people learn about your work and style, you may find sweet, awesome people who will help make your novel better. If so, listen to them, thank them, ply them with chocolate and gifts, and hold no grudges if they don’t finish it/read it/like it. They are still an invaluable part of your writing education.
- You’ll learn that you aren’t as good (or bad) as you think. In dog showing, they call it ‘kennel vision’. If all you see is your baby, Lord Crestwoods Roving Rover, day in and day out, you’ll start planning the outfit you’ll wear when you win Best In Show at Westminster. When I came to my first group, I was the worst writer and it made me want to improve. That group also had a guy show up (for a couple of meetings) who had written a chapter one that made you want scream with envy — I don’t know what he’s doing now, but I know he made me better. On the flip side, it’s great to see how far you’ve come: you see the little baby writers (of any age) teetering about and you help them get better and feel proud of all you’ve learned since you were their age.
- You won’t take scary people as seriously. “Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” –Gilbert K. Chesterton. Editors, agents, traditionally published writers — up close, they look shockingly like you and me. They are afraid of talking to their idols, they worry about sucking, and they hate rejection too. And if you never meet important people, you may never realize that you have all the right ingredients to become one of them.
- You’ll get (even more) excited about writing. I have never left a writer, or group of writers, without a renewed sense of joy, inspiration, and a deep desire to get my butt in a chair and start writing.
- You will realize you are part of something larger. Whether in a social or spiritual way, writing is connection. We may write alone, but we are not alone. Others have come before us, others will trail after. Some shall inspire us and others will be inspired. In our own lives where we see confusion, others will find symmetry. In our work where we see a wandering exposition, others will find their favorite passage. And when we see only darkness, others will show us the light and lead us back to the path. It’s not easy to meet strangers, but strangers are the scared keepers of our best friends, if we have only the courage to go forth and meet them.
Oh, and the one reason NOT to network? Because you truly don’t want to and it offers you nothing. That’s fine. Because, after all —