The Writer’s Life Is A Solitary Life. Or Is It? How to build a viable community.
A writer’s life is a solitary life. The very act of shutting oneself away to write a novel implies solitude, aloneness. If not physically, then mentally and emotionally.
Writers have to break free from the day-to-day, spend time with the people living and breathing in their heads.
“What story am I trying to tell, dear protagonist? Speak to me.”
Our predecessors lived with much more solitude than we’ll ever face. Since we have instant communication at our fingertips, literally, most writers have built or found a writing community.
ACFW is the source river of many writing communities. As we celebrate our 13th birthday this year, growing from an organization of tens to thousands, let’s celebrate the writing community.
But how does one join a writing community. Now that ACFW is over 2500 and our conference tops out around 700, finding kindred spirits can be difficult.
Take heart. The Lord will make a way.
In 2001, I became ACFW’s one hundredth member. The email loop was the center of our organization and I made a few friends online. But still showed up at the first conference in 2002 feeling like a complete outsider. How did all of the others have such solid relationships and connections?
Then Tracey Bateman, with whom I had a worship connection, as well as writing, invited me into her writing group of Susan May Warren, Christine Lynxwiler and Susan Downs.
As the group gelled and bonded, we bounced ideas off of each other. Brainstormed on chat. Critiqued for each other from time to time. But it was the friendship and emotional support, the like goal of writing novels, that blessed me most.
I didn’t need a critique partner. Critiquing never worked for me over the long haul. My friend and fabulous author, Robin Lee Hatcher, had the same experience.
I don’t write well by committee. I need to wrestle my story to the ground on my own. My agent demanded that I leave my (critique) group because she could see what it was doing to me and my writing. That was more than 20 years ago.
However, I get inspiration from my author community. The conversations that go on via email are enlightening and instructive (assuming you are in the right group of authors). And I’m part of a brainstorming group which I consider one of the most valuable relationships in my writing world.
Do any of you feel like Robin? I did.
How does one find a community that offers emotional as well as writing support? Here are some suggestions from fellow ACFW authors.
It takes time. Trial and error. It is as easy as finding people, add water and “woosh!” you have community. Community involves building relationships with one another — no two communities are the same.
Talk out what you are looking for, be willing to take the risk, and be willing to admit when it’s not working. –Author Beth K. Vogt (Catch A Falling Star)
When I think of building a community, I think of friendships forged at retreats and conferences. When Susan May Warren held the first Storycrafters retreat, those of us who attended bonded quickly and intimately, becoming partners in prayer and writing. So I think smaller retreats and conferences, get-togethers, can help build community.
Open your heart to others, be transparent and share the pain as well as the joy. Pray. Pray. Pray. For one another. –Carol Award Winner Lisa Jordan (Lakeside Reunion)
Don’t be afraid to start chatting with someone on the ACFW loops. If someone posts something you agree with, email them privately and begin a dialogue. You just might find some best friends and a crit partner that way. You may find you have like interests.
Years ago when the doctor thought I might have MS, I emailed Kristin Billerbeck. We began talking about our common health issues, became friends and eventually crit partners.
How about if you love someone’s book, email them, let them know. Think of ways you can help that author by posting reviews or blogging about it. Look for ways you can help and encourage others. Build up others and community forms naturally out of that. 🙂 –Best selling, multi-award winning author Colleen Coble (and our CEO)
I love what Colleen wrote, “Build up other and community forms naturally out of that.”
Don’t look to be served. Look to serve. The Lord will open doors for you.
In 2003, I was the ACFW Conference Coordinator. But as I showed up in Houston that year, I was still a bit of an outsider. Or so I felt. My new community from the 2002 conference was still fresh and new.
I had no guarantee of finding favor with any one or finding a “better” community. As the coordinator, I was so busy and on the go, I barely had time to sit down for meals.
So I prayed, “Lord, you put me with the people you want me to be with because I’ll pick the wrong ones.”
Serious now. You know how it is. You see Jane Author and think, “I’d love to hang with her,” but she’s building something with Betty Writer and her crowd. And in-truth feels, Jane feels about as insecure as you do. If not more.
Meanwhile, Susie Novelist is dying to get into a relationship with you but you can’t see for looking elsewhere.
Am I the only one this has happened to in life? (Please, no show of hands.) So pray, ask for God connections. I could write a whole post on the amazing connections He’s given me in the last ten years of my writing life. And the ten before.
Award-winning, best-selling Tamera Alexander offers these wise words:
Whenever I hear an aspiring writer say they can’t find a crit group or writing group, I encourage them to start one!
Put a notice in your bulletin or committee or neighborhood enewsletter for a “Calling all Writers,” and go from there. Pray about it and then go forth and conquer. If only two people show up, then you’ve got two more than you had when you were the only one.
Develop structure and plan, then stick to it. Structure and accountability is huge. Loosey goosey will kill a group before it’s off the ground.
And if you live in an area that has an ACFW chapter meeting, by all means, attend. When I lived in Colorado there was no ACFW connection, so I attended a writers group at the library.
What great advice.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you go about building or seeking a writing community.
1. Rejection breeds rejection. Can I be pastoral a moment? If you struggle with rejection, seek the Lord about healing. Because crowd dynamics guarantee some kind of “being left out” dynamic. Don’t take things like this personal. Even if they are, take them to the Lord. But if you start feeling rejected by people, more than likely you’ll project that and others will, unwittingly, reject.
2. Take special care to find other newbie’s. Take 2 minutes to smile and to talk with them. Or look for the loneliest person in the room and talk to them. Try to make friends with people at different stages in the writing journey.
3. Ask the Lord to lead you to the right relationships and friendships. I’ll be honest, there were two groups of writers I wanted to be involved with when I started out but they never invited me in. So, I bloomed where I was planted. And how it has blessed me ever since.
4. Look for ways to serve, get involved. Most of my relationships these days come from co-laboring with others at a conference or retreat, or mentoring.
5. Find what works for you. If you thrive with critique partners, go for it. But if you find the critique dynamic doesn’t fit your schedule, your writing process, look for a brainstorm group or other types of relationships. Author Cara Putman organized a prayer and support group by reaching out to writers with whom she felt kinship.
6. Be patient. Pray. Seek. Knock. Ask. Love at all times.
Whether you’re new to ACFW or a standing member, being a part of a writing community is a joy and pleasure.
Rachel Hauck is an award winning, best selling author. She is past president of ACFW and now serves on the Executive Board. Rachel is also a writing teach and craft coach, and mentor. She is the book therapist for My Book Therapy.Com.
Her book, Once Upon A Prince, May 2013, earned a Starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.
Visit her web site at http://www.rachelhauck.com
I enjoyed reading this article. I’ve never been to a writers conference or to a writers retreat. All of the points are helpful and practical and so easy to remember. Thank you.
Good post, Rachel. I joined around the same time (though I let it slip for a couple of years). Like you, I loved the e-mail loop and message board. By hanging out there, I got hooked into a group with Robin Miller, Dineen Miller, and Ronie Kendig. I learned more about writing from those three than I could have in a lifetime of conferences. But I also discovered that I simply could not keep up with a large group, especially one of high-performance writers like those three (I think Robin Miller finishes a manuscript over breakfast each morning).
I do crave the input of other writers, though. I like the MBT Monday night chat, but still need some one-on-one. I’ve been posting on Gina Conroy’s Writer Interrupted blog for some time, and we have recently been brainstorming together. There is some critiquing where needed, but most of it is two writers just thinking up great murder plots and helping each other where we need it. I love having a woman writer’s input on my scenes where a female character is involved, and I’ve given her some insight into the male brain, which as you know, can be a frightening place.
It’s also important to find someone who matches your writing pace. I felt guilty when I couldn’t critique every chapter of my previous group. They never complained, but I still felt that I wasn’t doing my share. My new partner is a busy mom. I work a full-time and part-time job. Our writing pace is almost a perfect match. And we don’t fret if we have to cancel a chat or postpone a chapter. It makes the writing life much less stressful.
By the way, the insanely awesome ladies from my old group still offer me encouragement and advice. I will always remember that year as the year I became a writer. A good partner or group will make you feel that way.
And, of course, ACFW does a fantastic job in bringing all of us together. We are lone wolves, but we require the fellowship of other writers, especially Christian writers. No one else understands us!
Great post, Rach!
You could be speaking right to me! I attended the 2011 conference for the first time and I was so lucky to have a roomate I knew.
I did’t go last year but hope to go this year, unfortunately I would be going totally solo which terrifies me. It’s a catch 22 because how do you make these great connections if you don’t take a risk and just go?!
Will definitely pray about it!
Good to know a lot of others feel the same way.
Great post, Rachel. Sometimes we can forget how much we can give to other authors, even when we’re a newbie.
Rachel, Thanks for an excellent and thought-provoking post. Thanks especially for extending validation to those of us who don’t do well in critique groups.
True, writing can be a solitary endeavor. As Meg Chittenden said, “Some people hear voices when no one’s around. They are called mad, and sit in a room all day and stare at the walls. Others are called writers, and they do pretty much the same thing.” Yet, there are times when it’s nice to be in the company of others who understand this quirky life. ACFW has given me that opportunity.
After only a few years as a member of ACFW, I was asked to run for office. I agreed, not thinking there was a chance I’d be elected, so why not? God had other plans, obviously, and I’ve just completed my two-year term. During that time, I got to know lots of people and felt I was contributing to ACFW. Now that the governance of the organization has changed, so that rather than an elected Board there exists the opportunity for numerous volunteers to keep the wheels of this great group turning, I’d encourage everyone to pitch in.
Again, thanks for a great post, and for your work as a member of the Executive Board.
Well said and I am taking many of these things to heart. God bless.