On finding a writing community

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One of the pieces of advice that comes up a lot on writing sites, writing forums, and articles with titles like 'The Top 10 Amazing Habits of Successful Writers', is to connect with a like-minded community of fellow writers, hopefully at the same stage in their careers as you are. As well as providing an occasional sounding board and a place to share common frustrations and triumphs, it can also be a helpful resource for learning of opportunities -- competitions or open calls for submissions, that kind of thing -- and getting early notification of new resources.

Today, I decided I should probably look into that.

Twitter

I already follow a few writing-related bits and pieces on Twitter, so I started by moving those into a new list. They were mostly resource-related; podcast hosts like Iain Broome and Mur Lafferty, link curation accounts like @AdviceToWriters and @ToWriteBetter, and a handful of 'proper' writers (I've never really seen the point of following celebrity accounts, yet somehow Stephen King, Douglas Coupland, Guy Gavriel Kay and Rhianna Pratchett had made it onto my Following list over the years).

Next, I added a few other active users of the online word-tracking tool I use, on the assumption that they are probably in a not dissimilar place to me (and ignoring anyone who doesn't appear to actively use Twitter and the lady whose tweets consisted of nothing but daily astrology updates).

Finally, I ran through the list of the other contributing authors to Panel & Frame, a Medium publication I'm listed in, looking for anyone with a vaguely interesting-sounding bio. Thanks to Medium's Twitter integration, it's incredibly easy to connect writers with their Twitter profiles, so a few more names joined the master list ... again, filtered for weirdness or, say, tweeting in Italian about nothing but pro-wrestling.

That brought the list up to 31 members, which seems reasonable for a first pass, although I plan to add other sites, resources or opportunities that I come across, should they have a Twitter account (and, let's be honest, who doesn't these days).

Searching the 100

Freelance writing website The Write Life published the top 100 best websites for writers earlier this year, so next I trawled through that mammoth list looking for useful content. While a lot of it is targeted at those seeking to break into the freelance blogging market (are there still any essayists in the world?) -- there are sections on entrepreneurship, marketing and SEO -- I was hopeful that in such a large list there would be at least one or two hidden gems.

Most of the resources listed -- or at least the ones that sounded interesting enough to me to open the tab -- are sites where authors (or occasionally publishers or editors) talk about craft, often offering podcasts or coaching/courses, but there were also some interesting outliers:

  • Aerogramme Writers' Studio publishes details of open writing competitions, together with the requirements to qualify and topic or theme;
  • Cathy's Comps & Calls is a similar list of open writing competitions;
  • A couple of names that I had constantly been hearing popped up: Jeff Goins and Chuck Wendig are both successful genre authors, and both run successful personal blogs;
  • Plus I joined another Facebook Group, because why not?

So that took me up to 42 names on the list, which my inner Douglas Adams tells me is just right. Time to move on to Tumblr.

Tumblr

A couple of the places where the stuff I write occasionally shows up are hosted on Tumblr, mostly because after ten years in the web development business I've had enough of setting up new websites to last me a lifetime. However, I've never really thought about using Tumblr as an actual social network before now, despite it being one of the top half-a-dozen in the world -- it has more users than either Twitter or Instagram!

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of writers on Tumblr. The site itself offers a spotlight page, which is sort of a weird mixture of the super-famous and the nonentity, but that's not much help for finding lesser-known or newer writers. There's a kind of live-search thing which is pretty cool, but it looks like entering a community is going to have to be a long-term goal, on this platform at least. One thing I did learn is that I should probably start using hashtags whenever I post anything there, since that seems to be the primary means of discovering anything.

A larger annoyance with Tumblr is that it's apparently impossible to either a) interact with the Tumblr community using anything but your primary blog, and b) switch to use one of your other blogs as the primary blog. Since I originally registered with Tumblr years ago and set up an incredibly rarely-used tumblelog, this is something of an annoyance, since it seems to mean that if I were to start actually using Tumblr, any activity would be flagged as "me-as-web-designer" rather than "me-as-writer." Surely the only solution can't be to just start again with a clean account, can it?

After a little further investigation, it seems that you can at least update the URL of your primary blog, so wiping all the old content and starting again as a continuation of one of the secondary blogs would be an option, although it's far from perfect. Grr.

Introversion and community

They say that networking is one of the key steps to success in most activities, but in creative arenas such as writing it's pretty much an essential part of success. Unfortunately for those of us who would prefer to hide behind a computer screen 24/7, that means we have to kneel on the neck of our social anxiety and engage with other readers, writers, editors and publishers, at least if we ever want our passion to become more than simply a hobby. It's hard, but at least in the modern world -- and thanks to services like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr -- we can engage via the familiar medium of words on a screen, hopefully putting off the need for face-to-face interaction until the absolute last minute possible. :)

Matthew Pennell

Designer, developer, writer, runner, gamer, devil's advocate, INTP. Senior designer for Booking.com. Founder, Refresh Cambridge.
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