Monday, April 27, 2009

Writing Tip #44 - Build Community

Claudia Jones: Black Feminist Reading Group

It is easy to let yourself get caught up in the isolation of being a writer. You spend a great deal of time by yourself (working on that next great blah blah blah) and before you know it days have gone by since you've engaged other people in any meaningful way. But I submit to you that this isolation is actually harming your writing. What can live and thrive without air, light, and stimulation? That is exactly what community provides to artists of every strip.

As you take the leap and try to find the right community, you must be clear about what exactly you are looking for. Is it feedback? Friendship? A sounding board? A great group of people to procrastinate with? You need to figure this out before you join up with artists that are not a match for you.

Join a writing group. Visit a few (you can find info on Craigslist, Facebook, library bulletin boards) to get a sense of how they operate and if the other members have the same goals and expectations as you. If you can’t find an existing group that works with your writerly quirks, start your own group. This is a perfect way to bring together a group of like-minded folks that will be helpful to each other. Now keep in mind, just because you started the group, folks may not be interested in a hierarchical system where you are the boss of everyone. Again, check in on expectations.

Get into a writing class. Almost every city offers classes. You can find free ones at the library, paid classes at community colleges or writer’s centers. Looking for a shorter commitment? Local authors and facilitators are always offering workshops in your area. Again, check out Craigslist, local libraries, and bookstores for leads. If you are in the D.C. area on May 2, 2009, I am offering a one day workshop from 10:00am – 1:00pm. Check out . We have two slots left.

Volunteer with younger writers. There is nothing like helping someone to recognize their skills and discover their voice. You would be surprised how many kids don’t consider the vocation of writer because they believe only certain kinds of people are allowed access to that world. I work in partnership with the Prince George’s County Women’s Bar Association to provide writing workshops for the young women at Waxter’s Detention Center in Laurel, MD. Every workshop is an extraordinary expedition into these young women’s lives and I am always the better for going along on the journey. Off the top of my head, here are a few organizations that would love your time and talents: Girls Write Now, New Moon Girls, Write Girl, and DC Writers Corps. If there are any other groups you think folks should know about, send over a link and I will post it on the blog.

Book clubs are still cool. They are not just for your granny anymore. There are thousands of book clubs operating all over the country. They specialize in sci-fi, Christian, mystery, erotica, African – American authors, women or whatever suites your fancy. They tend to meet once a month and spend a couple hours reviewing the selected book. Again, this is one of those communities that you need to really investigate before joining up. I’ve heard horror stories of folks who found themselves in groups where the memberships’ reading taste was so different that shouting matches and crying jags were a routine part of the book selection process.

Check out online writing groups. This route doesn’t necessarily get you from in front of your computer, but it does connect you with other writers (and sometimes in real time for a cup of coffee). A general Google search will yield literally hundreds of options. I personally belong to a screenwriter’s group, a publishing group, a local writers’ association, and a filmmaker’s resource group. Online memberships really allow you to express a lot of your writing interest and build up resources without having to run all around town.

And if all of that sounds way too stressful and formal, then drag a couple of your good writer buddies out to the park (they’ll appreciate being asked) and spend a few hours in the sun dreaming up new stories, talking each other off the “I’m not good enough” ledge or eating ice cream and getting a tan.


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