The business of writing can be a lonely existence — even for the ultimate introvert. I get my energy from being alone, and I prefer intimate conversations to parties. I work better alone — always have — but even for me the writer’s life is extreme.
I estimate I spend about 96 percent of my “workday” alone — creating first draft material, editing, marketing, writing blog posts, etc. This is not counting my bi-monthly “writing date” with a local writer friend, my monthly writer mastermind group, or my annual (sometimes biannual) conference odyssey.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Even for those of us who claim to be introverts or even loners still need the connection of community. There is something energizing about being around other artists, and having a creative circle can make you a better writer.
Over my birthday, my husband and I were in Taos, New Mexico — a town that is known for its artists. It’s important to point out that Taos calls to me if I haven’t been back in more than six months. The town has a magnetic pull that seems to draw me to it, and I literally feel hungry for it when I’ve been away too long.
Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, and DH Lawrence have all resided in Taos, and Mabel Dodge Luhan turned her sprawling home into a salon for creatives such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Carl Jung, Willa Cather, Ansel Adams, and Aldous Huxley. To this day, Taos and the surrounding area is flush with writers, painters, sculptors, weavers, jewelry makers, and other craftspeople. It isn’t hard to see why. The dramatic mountain views, the Rio Grande, and the wide-open spaces filled with fragrant sagebrush practically beg to be painted.
For me, it’s being surrounded by so much artistic energy that really revitalizes me creatively. This trip, my husband and I stopped in a weaving shop in Arroyo Seco that had an old-fashioned Rio Grande-style walking loom. We spoke to one of the artists there, and I was confounded by the time, effort, and skill that it took to make a single wool rug. I returned from Taos, like I always do, with a voracious need to write and make something with my hands.
This is the primary benefit of surrounding yourself with art and artists. The creative energy is infectious. There is no envy or ego required to marvel at what other people have done, and it’s easy to draw artists into a lively conversation about their process, materials, and work.
But for me, a place really isn’t enough to fill my cup. I need direct, one-on-one interactions with other writers to make me feel that I’m not alone. By meeting with other authors regularly (both in person and over Google Hangouts), I get to see that my struggles are not unique. I get support for the work I’ve done and that I’m trying to do. And I often get brilliant ideas or solutions for how to solve a problem that’s troubling me.
Other authors also have connections. They may know great agents, editors, cover designers, marketers, PR people, or have a dentist’s cousin’s wife who can help you in your career.
But it’s important not to begin with this as your primary objective. In my experience, these connections happen organically, and usually not for a year or more after striking up the original friendship. This year, one of my good writer friends became my chief marketer, and I introduced her to my agent. I hooked another writer friend up with some freelancing work close to four years ago, and since then he has invited me onto his podcast, introduced me to my idols, provided free marketing advice, and allowed me to tag along with him at my first-ever writers’ conference. My point is that relationships with quality people are worth their weight in gold, but they must be reciprocal to work long-term.
So how do you forge these wonderful connections? Where do you find other writers, and how can you nurture these relationships? Your writing soulmate may live states or countries away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever meet her.
Here are the best places I’ve found to look for writerly connections (in reverse order):
5. Local writing groups and events: Some are great, some are terrible, but you won’t know if you never go. When I lived in Columbia, Missouri, there was a writer’s guild that I attended a few times for meetings and critiques. I won’t say that I got much out of these meetings, but there are writers present. I got some free self-publishing advice and a referral to an accountant from one writer, but I found some of the others a bit persnickety.
The quality of a writer’s group depends entirely on its regular attendees, and every locale will be different. You can check your local library’s website to learn what’s available in your area. These meetings are usually free to attend, though they may ask you to become a member for a small annual fee.
4. Industry conferences: I have made some truly fabulous connections at the Smarter Artist Summit in Austin. This coming year will be the last year the conference is held, but I plan on attending the Sell More Books Show Conference in Chicago hosted by my friend Bryan Cohen. (20BooksTo50K is yet another conference held in Vegas, which seems to be gaining a lot of steam.)
Both the Smarter Artist Summit and the Sell More Books Show are small, and they are geared specifically toward independent authors. (Full disclosure: I have never been to an industry conference or trade show where the primary participants were traditionally published — mainly because I’ve never had any interest.)
The indie author scene appeals to me because these spaces are always buzzing with energy, optimism, and ambition. Indie authors who attend these conferences also tend to be out-of-this-world friendly. They are there to get new ideas, to make friends, and to forge business partnerships. In other words, they are there to network and gain specific information that will boost their writing business.
If you are published or if you are an aspiring indie author, it is well worth your while to attend one. Tickets generally go for about $500, but the connections and inspiration alone are worth the price.
3. Facebook Groups for authors: Facebook Groups, like real-life writing groups, can be hit or miss. They generally have their fair share of complainers, bullies, and trolls, though good Facebook Groups will have moderators who try to curb bad behavior.
You will often find the same individuals posting heavily, and if you like what they write, you may think of striking up a conversation and perhaps forming an Internet friendship. But beware: People who spend too much time posting on Facebook may not be the most prolific writers. If you find one person posting all day long, he or she may not be your go-to source for legitimate information on writing or publishing.
Look for the folks who weigh in on occasion with detailed information and personal examples — people who seem to be genuinely looking to help. Many of these people can be good resources, especially if they have several books under their belt. Check their Amazon page to be sure.
Groups to Try:
2. Online mastermind groups: The mastermind group is a concept created by Napoleon Hill (author of The Law of Success and Think and Grow Rich). The purpose of the group is to facilitate peer-to-peer mentoring among individuals with a variety of viewpoints and expertise to contribute. Mastermind groups can create outer accountability, inspiration, and help you problem-solve issues with people who may have more or different experience than you.
I’ve been a part of two different mastermind groups throughout my career, and I’ve seen a lot of success emerge from both. Three of the men in my original group are now household names in the indie author community. The women in my current group are all creating fabulous work, and I find it inspiring just to be around them. For me personally, mastermind groups have given me great friends, great ideas, and increased visibility for my work.
There are many mastermind groups that you can pay to be a part of, but you can also form your own by seeking out writers with similar goals or who write in your genre. These writers do not have to be local. Both of my groups were facilitated via Google Hangouts, and the participants have been scattered across the country. We would meet about once per month, but you may wish to meet more or less often. Be prepared to hear “no” a lot when you ask — people are busy — but eventually, you will find your group.
1. Writing retreats and workshops: In my experience, writing retreats are the best places to make genuine connections with other writers. Writing retreats differ from conferences in that they are generally much more intimate (anywhere from 10 to 70 people), and writing (not the business of writing) is the primary focus. Another distinguishing feature is that they are led by seasoned authors and teachers who usually offer some form of instruction.
This past May, I attended a writing retreat in Santa Fe led by Natalie Goldberg. I found Goldberg’s teaching style unorthodox, but in the end it was a valuable experience for me. Attendees participated in timed writing sessions and then read their work aloud, both in small groups and in the large group. This often felt more like therapy than writing, but it was Goldberg’s instruction on Zen meditation I found most useful — that and the great friends I made.
As it turned out, one of the writers in Santa Fe lived in my city. She and I have been meeting twice a month to write and talk ever since. Another lives in Atlanta, but she came out to visit me on a lark and stayed for several days. This connection I can only describe as instantaneous. It felt as though we must have known each other in another life, but we never would have met if it weren’t for the retreat.
I’ve known both of these women for less than a year, but I already consider them great friends. We know each other through our writing, and it’s this shared passion and sensitivity that has allowed our friendship to flourish. If you have the opportunity and the means to attend a multi-day retreat near you, I would highly recommend it.
A Few More Tips:
1. Talk about your writing. I met most of my writerly friends after I had already put out several books. That’s not because I suddenly gained some supernatural ability to socialize; it was because it forced me to talk about my writing.
Other writers will rarely reveal themselves if they don’t know they’re in good company. But once you start talking about your own work, they will often admit that they like to write, too.
2. Don’t dismiss a quality person just because you’re on different journeys. With 15 books under my belt, it’s rare that I meet a more prolific writer outside an indie author summit. However, I frequently rub elbows with authors who are more successful with fewer book or — yes — better writers. I know people who aspire to be traditionally published and who don’t aspire to be published at all! It doesn’t matter if someone has 100 books or zero. It doesn’t even matter if they write in the same genre. What matters is a person’s attitude and character. Every writer has something to teach you and a friendship to offer.
3. Do NOT ambush writers at cafés. If there’s one sure-fire place to meet fellow writers, it’s at your local café. Writers love coffee shops. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the caffeine, the free Wi-Fi, or just the gentle background noise.
There’s one café in particular where I know I’ll always find another writer. I know this because I am frequently interrupted when I work there. If a writer sees me writing, he may come over to introduce himself. He’ll ask about my work, he’ll talk about his — one guy even wrote me a poem. I use the masculine pronoun because they are always men. Men, here’s some free advice: Do not sneak up on a woman you do not know while she is immersed in her writing. She may get the wrong idea and elbow you in the face.
Do not be a coffee-shop ambusher. I like to see other writers frantically scribbling in a Moleskine as much as the next person, but if a writer has left her cave and come into public, she is probably there to write. Do not ambush a writer at her table — particularly if she is wearing headphones. She is probably not there to socialize, and you will definitely disrupt her flow.
When you first start out on your writing journey, you can sometimes feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill. You are on this seemingly impossible mission, and there’s no one but you to depend on.
You may think you’ll never meet another writer that you like, but I would encourage you to keep putting yourself out there. It’s a lot like dating in that there are a lot of bad matches out there, but there are also some really wonderful people. When I started looking for writer friends, I began to think all writers besides me were old, grumpy, and a little bit pretentious. Many would look down their noses at me the second I revealed I was independently published — until they heard I was making a living from my work.
But I’ve learned that setting is everything, and it will determine the writers you meet. Great venues attract quality people like bees to nectar, and if you just keep putting yourself out there and shake enough hands, you will find your people.
Photo by Ben Duchac