Finding a critique group is standard advice for writers who wish to improve their craft, but the benefits of a writing community go far beyond the words on the page. The right community can give you hope, support your goals, and sympathize with your challenges. For both your writing and your wellness, it’s worth taking the time to find and connect with fellow writers.
Community “makes you feel like you are a part of something greater than yourself,” says Crystal Hunt, who co-founded the Creative Academy for Writers, an online writing community, with Donna Barker and Eileen Cook four years ago. “There’s a lot of research […] around feeling like you are part of something and contributing to something that really does have positive mental health impacts.”
Hunt, who holds a master’s degree in health psychology with a specialization in social support, further explains that community can offer not only practical advice, but also emotional support: “You can come to the community and you can say, ‘Okay, I just got my heart stomped on by my fifth rejection letter on this one piece,’[…] and you’re talking to people who understand what that feels like.”
Betsy Warland, a writer, manuscript consultant, and teacher, also mentions the importance of finding support from other writers, saying that “most people don’t understand the writing life.” She has built many communities throughout her career, including the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. Building community takes time, she says, and “we have to learn how to recognize each other.”
Because writing is an intensely solitary vocation riddled with rejection, it’s no wonder many writers feel isolated and inadequate. “As writers, I think sometimes we really struggle with issues of our self-worth and what our labour is worth,” says Natasha Deen, one of the mentors for this year’s BIPOC Writers Connect, a mentorship event organized by the Writers’ Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets. She acknowledges that this struggle can take on additional dimensions for marginalized folks. “How we exist in the world as women, how we exist in a world as part of the queer community, if we are Black, if we’re Indigenous—the world does not turn the same for us.”
And the risks of going without community? “You quit,” says Deen. “The reality of writing versus the romance of writing is so huge. […] If you’re not engaging a community, you may not necessarily have a very realistic view of what publishing is and you may not have a very realistic view of what it means to be a writer.”
Hunt agrees that newer writers might feel like they have to learn everything on their own. Without a community, she says, “your risk of getting stuck, or of getting incorrect or incomplete information, at any stage in the process is very high.” That can be not only demoralizing, but expensive, too. Inexperienced authors might get caught in exploitative contracts, not knowing how to value themselves or where to go for guidance.
Knowing the importance of community is one thing, but how do you go about finding the right one for you? Warland advises that it’s a long game—and it starts with self-reflection. “Learning to figure out what makes community within yourself as a writer is really crucial to writing,” she says. For her, this includes things like how she takes care of herself as a writer, her writing environment, the writers she reads, and language and narrative itself.
Deen agrees. “You have to know who you are as a human being in the world before you start building your community, or else what you’re going to end up doing is going out into communities where you don’t quite fit, and then it’s not going to be what you deserve, [and] it’s not going to be what they deserve.”
Your values, goals, dreams, and personal history can all factor into what type of community is right for you. Other aspects to consider are what sort of relationships you want to build, how much time you have, what you can be flexible about, and where you set your boundaries.
The aim, according to Hunt, is “finding somewhere where […] you have to edit as little as possible of who you are in order to participate.” In fact, you should feel welcome even when you’re not at your best. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the social media illusion that everyone else is wildly successful and never has a bad day.
“Don’t hide if things aren’t going well,” says Hunt. “If we all show up when things are not rosy and perfect, it means that any of us feels like we can show up anytime.”
The benefits of community are deep and wide-ranging—but like any relationship, it doesn’t come at the snap of your fingers. “For most writers, you have to put in the time and help make it happen,” says Warland. “It is a balancing act, it’s always changing. […] You always have to be adapting.”
For those seeking community, perhaps one of the most important questions is what you’re willing to bring. “As you’re asking them to bring treasure to you, what is the treasure that you’re going to bring to them?” says Deen.
Engaging with a community today can have effects long into the future. What you give, you will get back. Find your people—and treasure them.
Take a writing class, attend a conference, or go on a retreat. Sometimes the best takeaways from writing events are your fellow attendees. Pay attention to whose work resonates with you and connect with them.
Follow publications you love. Subscribe to their newsletters and follow them on social media. Attend and promote their events. You may soon recognize others who share your artistic sensibilities.
Go local. Search within your community and region for writing groups. Libraries and educational institutions are great places to look.
Go global. Especially given the pandemic, many writing groups have moved online—this can be a great option for introverts who are less comfortable meeting people in person.
Just say hi. Read something you adored? Attended a thought-provoking panel you enjoyed? Reach out to the people involved to thank them. A polite, complimentary note will rarely go amiss, and it could be the beginning of a connection.
Build your own. If you’re not seeing a place for yourself, find a few like-minded writers and build something new.
Cadence Mandybura is a writer and editor based in Victoria. Her fiction has been published in Pulp Literature, FreeFall, NōD, Fudoki, and the Bacopa Literary Review. When she isn’t writing, Cadence enjoys martial arts and Japanese taiko drumming. Learn more at cadencemandybura.com.
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