Writing may be a solitary activity, but we need people in our lives who are just like us to keep us going. People who understand us, and will put up with our quirks and weird behavior.
That’s where networking and meeting people come in handy. It’s one thing to bump into friends at a conference, but it’s completely different when you’re at a small local event, or bonding with someone over coffee or lunch.
I’ve written in the past about the importance of connecting with other writers on social media, but it’s more important to find them in real life. Here are a few places to find your fellow word nerds and ink slingers.
1. Join a writer’s group
One of the first Caroline Graham mysteries (Midsomer Murders) I ever read involved a group of writers who didn’t actually like each other. They met once a week to brag about their own work, without ever helping each other or being supportive. It got worse when one of the members started killing some of the others.
Avoid groups like that. If you can’t actually support each other, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
Where you live will determine the kinds of groups you can join. If you live in a small town, you might be lucky to find a writers group at all. But bigger cities often afford you a chance to find different genres and experience levels.
Some of them are actual writing groups where members take turn sharing and critiquing each others’ work. Some of them are educational groups where a speaker comes each month to share wisdom from their own career. And some of them are just reasons to get together and drink.
Make sure you know what kind of group you’re looking for, and if you can, be choosy about the group you join. If you’re a frequently published writer, you might want a group filled with more experienced writers. If you’re a poet, you may not enjoy a scifi writers group. And if you can’t find a group, start your own. Put a notice on Meetup.com and share it on Facebook and Twitter.
And when you do find a group, be sure to ask if there have been any unusual deaths.
2. Perform at open mic nights and poetry slams
One of the great things about Orlando is that we have a vibrant literary community. We have 12 – 20 different open mics, curated readings, and poetry slams every month around the city. I attend at least four to six per month, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of the writers in town as a result.
These are very supportive crowds, because we already know each other. We always hope to get fans and new writers to show up, but we’re really there for each other. We get to share our latest piece, or ask for feedback for a work in progress. No heckling, no judgment, no one will make you feel bad, because they’re going to read themselves, and they don’t want that either.
Another thing these open mics do is prepare you for when you do your own reading for your next book launch. When you publish your book, you’ll want to do a reading from it for the crowd of well-wishers who gathered to help you launch it. Open mics help you learn to perform your material to make it interesting and emotional.
3. If there aren’t any open mics, create one
Before I moved to Florida, I organized a curated humor reading in Indianapolis, because we didn’t have anything like it in a city of 1 million people. As far as I know, it was only the second curated reading in the city in the last few years.
We held it at a local independent bookshop that was designed to have large crowds for book launches and special events, and we filled up the space. It was a great way for Indianapolis writers to get to know each other, and to share material with an appreciative crowd.
Most of the open mics in Orlando are either at small bars or coffee shops on a weeknight, when the crowds are small. The bar or coffee shop benefits because they get a decent crowd during the slowest part of the week.
To organize an open mic, contact the bar or coffee shop and set it up with the manager. Ask if they have a PA system you can use (it shouldn’t be a problem if they don’t, and the place is small).
Promote the event on Meetup.com, Facebook, and Twitter. Make it a regular occurrence on the same night each month, because it will take time to grow. Don’t sell tickets, just encourage everyone to order something. (And don’t forget to tip the bartenders or baristas generously.)
4. Schedule one-on-one meetings
As a constant networker, I regularly meet with other people over coffee or lunch to get to know them better. I’m a strong believer in the idea of Givers Gain, which means if you can help enough people, benefits will come to you. But you need to be the one to give first, and do it without keeping track of who “owes you.”
Call it blessings, call it karma points, call it the universe restoring balance, but whatever you call it, you can help people if you know what they need. And the best way to figure that out is to meet with them in a non-group setting.
Connect with writers on social media, get to know them at group events and open mics, and then invite them out for coffee. Meet with more experienced writers so you can absorb their knowledge, and meet with writers who are just getting started so you can share what you have learned.
And if you can help them out in achieving their goals, by introducing them to someone or telling them about an opportunity that fits their need, do it. The goal is to create a loose network of writers you know well and can turn to for advice, support, or just someone to share stories with.
The whole point of networking is not to find new writing partners or to score some free editing for your next novel. Rather, you want to find your tribe — the people who are just like you, whose fingers itch with their next story, who understand that writing is an obsession, not a cute hobby.
As writers, we need people who share our quirks, and don’t look at us funny when we say we can only write with blue pens, or that we organized your books by color and thickness. And the best way to find them is to network with them on a regular basis.