Writing in Community: graffiti on brick wall says Together We Create
Don't Write Alone

I’m a big fan of setting up a regular writing ritual — one so pleasurable you are drawn back to it every week. And most of the time, this is alone time. It is a universal truth that no one can write your book but you.

And yet.

I’m really not a fan of writing completely alone. 

It’s a bit like having a personal trainer or a workout buddy. You might have difficulty showing up for a 6am sweat session all by your lonesome, but if you know someone is there waiting for you, the odds are high you won’t stand them up.

Building a writing community has been critical for me. Over the years, this one thing more than anything else has kept me writing when I might have put the pen down or shut the laptop.

If I’d written this blog post a couple of months ago, I’d be referring to developing community in-person. But even though a lot of us are at home right now, it is still possible to achieve this and it’s also possible that it’s really never been more important to create and sustain community in all areas of our lives.

There are different ways of writing in community. The key to knowing which option is the best one for you right now is to get clear on what you are looking for:

  1. Do you need personalized critique on a piece of writing, to know if it’s working and/or to improve your craft? [and/or]
  2. Do you need inspiration and encouragement (or coaching) to keep you writing?

While these objectives aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, I think there are times when critique of our work isn’t necessarily what we’re looking for, so I’ve broken my suggestions down into two sections — critique and non-critique.

Writing in Community: Critique Options

 

1. Write with a Writing Group

This might be a good time to find or even start a writing group if you don’t have one. You can meet virtually, via Zoom or Google Hangouts, for now and then meet in person once things get back to normal. Or, it might be an opportunity to be in a writing group with people you might never even consider asking to join you because they live out of town…but right now, that’s no obstacle. 

Writing groups are each a little different and yours can be organized any way you like. Often though, writers take turns submitting work and then the writer who submitted for that session sits quietly and listens, taking notes, while their colleagues give feedback on the writing sample. In my writing group, we start the session with a go-round just checking in with one another about what’s going on in our writing lives as well.

If you’re going to do that in the current situation, you’ll need to set a time that works for everyone to have a little quiet time, ideally behind doors with locks. And use headphones and a good microphone so you can hear each other properly.

 

2. Find a Writing Mentor

I’ve written about this before and for years I worked with different mentors, both privately and throughout my MFA program. There’s nothing like deadlines and feedback to keep you focused and making progress on a manuscript. Typically with a writing mentor you work one-on-one on a specific project, though you learn things about your writing craft that will transfer to every other project you take on over the course of your writing life. You’re set deadlines and have to submit a certain number of pages for detailed critique. 

Working with a writing mentor can be transformative for your writing and I highly recommend it, if you can afford to do so at any point. (Prices range quite a bit but start at about $75/hour.) 

Sometimes people will call themselves “book coaches” and that generally means the same thing, but you really want to work with someone who’s already written and published books in the genre in which you’re writing, not just someone who’s studied writing theory. 

My fiction writing mentor Gail Anderson-Dargatz is someone I highly recommend for anyone writing a novel, and for poetry, I’d recommend Griffin Poetry Prize nominee Sandra Ridley. (Depending on the genre you’re working in, I can offer other recommendations as well — email me if you’re looking for suggestions.) I also take 1:1 manuscript consultations, although those spots are full at the moment, but you can reach out by email to see if I have open spaces for new consults within the next month.

 

Writing in Community: Non-Critique Options

 

3. Write with a Writing Buddy

If you don’t want to start up your own writing group, you can still have a writing buddy. Someone who also writes — perhaps in the same genre, maybe something else entirely — and will agree to meet up so you can write together at the same time. You can do this for now via Zoom (again with a good set of headphones, and a door that closes/locks) and then meet up in person once that is possible again. Set a timer for an agreed amount of time and just write together.

Of course, it’s also possible that your writing buddy might end up becoming one of your beta readers when you finish your writing project and in that case you might offer each other critique as well, but if you’re early in the process or just want to rack up your page count then I’d recommend focusing just on setting up those joint timed writing sessions.

 

4. Find a Writing Mentor

I’ve written about this before and for years I worked with different mentors, both privately and throughout my MFA program. There’s nothing like deadlines and feedback to keep you focused and making progress on a manuscript. Typically with a writing mentor you work one-on-one on a specific project, though you learn things about your writing craft that will transfer to every other project you take on over the course of your writing life. You’re set deadlines and have to submit a certain number of pages for detailed critique. 

Working with a writing mentor can be transformative for your writing and I highly recommend it, if you can afford to do so at any point. (Prices range quite a bit but start at about $75/hour.) 

Sometimes people will call themselves “book coaches” and that generally means the same thing, but you really want to work with someone who’s already written and published books in the genre in which you’re writing, not just someone who’s studied writing theory. 

My fiction writing mentor Gail Anderson-Dargatz is someone I highly recommend for anyone writing a novel, and for poetry, I’d recommend Griffin Poetry Prize nominee Sandra Ridley. (Depending on the genre you’re working in, I can offer other recommendations as well — email me if you’re looking for further suggestions.) I also take 1:1 manuscript consultations, although those spots are full at the moment, but you can reach out by email to see if I have open spaces for new consults within the next month.

 

5. Take an Online Course

There are a lot of different online writing courses available. Some of them are even being offered for free at the moment — Kathryn Mockler is an experienced writer and editor who offers some free mini-courses. I’d recommend finding a course in the genre you most enjoy and write in most frequently, OR in line with your current writing goals. Typically with a course, you are more or less on your own to complete the lessons so a course takes more discipline to work through. Look for courses that provide at least some contact with the instructor beyond just pre-recorded video lessons.

(I do offer a course to accompany my 12-week group coaching intensive, the First Book Finish program, and enrolment for the Spring 2020 session will open in mid-April. This program is for writers ready to finally finish a book-length project.)

 

6. Connect with a Facebook Group

There are sooo many Facebook Groups for writers — you can find a list of some here. In most cases, you won’t be sharing your writing for feedback in these groups but they are a good place to find and connect casually with other writers and ask for advice.

Female writers may wish to look for a group called The Binders, which is an entirely female group of writers dedicated to supporting one another in various aspects of the writing life.

 

7. Join a Regular Membership for Writers 

Perhaps you’d like to write regularly but are having trouble somehow just setting to it…maybe you intend to do it, you plan to write but then the time comes and you find yourself doing something else…you could consider joining a monthly membership. There are a few available, and they all have a different focus so it depends on what you need. 

I host a membership program called The Writer’s Flow Studio, which is designed to move writers from a state of fear to a state of flow. The program offers accompanied writing sessions and live Masterclasses, which provide a space to just meet and write with other writers. 

There is something a bit magical about showing up to write with other writings who are also writing at the same time, sharing your intentions and writing goals and discussing the issues that often stand between us and the page. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, you can check out The Writers Flow Studio here. Enrolment is now open on a limited basis (just for my email subscribers and followers for the moment).

 

However you do it, find yourself a writing community so that you’re not writing alone. 

 

Writing in Community: 7 Ways To Do This Right Now