Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Six Tips to Find Your Online Writing Community

By Laurel Decher

The Fellowship of the Winged Pen. It takes a flock to get a story aloft.

Whenever you move from one place to another, it takes time to create a network. Expat writers can have some special challenges finding colleagues who want to exchange work, find support, and local writing friends to cheer on, especially if everyday life happens in another language.

If you write books for children, the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) can help you find like-minded writers all around the world. As an SCBWI member, you can meet other writers, exchange work for critique, and get advice on the mysterious world of publishing from your peers in the excellent and huge discussion forums.

One of the mysteries is how writers find colleagues and develop small hard-working collaborations that launch new stories out into the world. You can find examples of the kinds of groups I mean here.

Even though I've belonged to a lot of online and brick and mortar writing groups, joining a small online writing community puzzled me. I couldn't figure out how people got in on the ground floor.

Here's the story of how I got involved with a group of twenty-four writers called The Fellowship of The Winged Pen. If you've ever wondered how to find your own online writing community, maybe these six tips will help.

1. Find your peers through online contests or conferences.
I first met the writers who became the Fellowship of the Winged Pen at Write on Con, a brilliantly organized online conference that let participants upload queries, first pages, and first 5 pages in dedicated discussion forums. The conference let me find writers:
  1. With similar goals
  2. Writing for the same target audience, i.e. Middle Grade fiction
  3. Who were actively writing and submitting
  4. Whose stories I enjoyed reading.

Any contest that posts writing samples online can be a goldmine. Sadly, I don't see any signs that Write on Con will happen again. But there's still hope. Think about it: what's the easiest way to find writers who are actively writing and submitting?
Many contests require you to give feedback on a certain number of entries as a way of giving back. These are even better. You want colleagues with the experience to give and receive thoughtful feedback, don't you?
Need help finding a contest?
2. Comment on people's work. Give the kind of thoughtful feedback you'd like to get from your ideal critique partners. Show your work.

3. Tell people you're looking. Conferences and contests often let you express interest in finding critique partners. At Write On Con, I put up a comment in the "critique partners forum" and didn't expect anything else to happen. And it didn't happen through the conference directly.

4. Invite others. One writer took action and invited specific writers from Write On Con to a secret Facebook group. We'd seen each others' work and each others' comments in the Write On Con forums. The private Facebook group made a few more things possible.
  • A pool of 24 writers is a safe space to ask for critique. No worries about putting people on the spot. It's easy to put up a post and see who has time for a swap.
  • It's also a safe place to ask for advice for writerly challenges from how to write a pitch to agent and editor questions.
  • Industrious writers are inspiring. Finding out what other writers were trying to accomplish really raised the bar.
  • Learning by example is faster. I learned how to pitch and how we could support each other in contests and on Twitter and get a lot more feedback about queries.

5. Talk about who you are. Our lively discussions about a name helped form the group's identity. By the time we figured out our name, a logo, and a tagline, we knew much more about our group.
For example, some of us are more formal because writing is a profession. Others of us are more wacky because, well, we write children's books. It took a few go-rounds before we all agreed on a public image.
One writer in our group has a sister who's a talented artist. She made our beautiful Winged Pen logo. :)

6. Behind the scenes conversations led to interest in a group blog for some of the writers. Writers shared their experiences with other group blogs (how to, scheduling posts, editorial sign-up calendar) and I learned a lot. The Winged Pen blog was born!
The whole process of finding an online community showed me how much we can learn from other writers. Sometimes we don't act because the publishing world feels out of reach. But getting to know writers in your "class" is not as hard as it seems. And helping each other brings a lot of joy.

LAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include "Stretchy the Leech" and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She's famous for a nonexistent sense of direction, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. When she's not lost, she can be found on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She's still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! :) Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.