As many of you know, supporting my fellow writers and editors is very important to me provided my schedule allows for it. Whether someone is new to the craft or not, I can relate to the challenges of networking. When I started forming a writer’s group a few months ago, I really had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t sure if there would be a large interest or a small one, or if we’d have a more professional take on it rather than something casual.
What I’ve learned is that forming an offline writer’s group is a lot harder than it looks. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve internalized over the past, few months with you.
1. Writing Groups Seem to Work Better when There’s a Tight Focus – Because the physical act of writing is often extremely solitary, I didn’t want to create an exclusive “fiction” or “non-fiction” group. Initially, I thought that because there’s often writers (like myself) that do both non-fiction and fiction, a generic group might allow people to network and grow in the areas that they wanted to write in. What I found was that the group needed a tighter focus. We’ve had many different people come to the different writer’s groups; but everyone seemed to be interested in something that I wasn’t prepared to provide. Some wanted a workshop sort of a scenario, with a more professional (e.g. paying dues) structure that offered support for professional (e.g. established) writers. Others wanted a casual environment where leads and other opportunities happened organically, with less of a structure. This experience taught me that even though I had the best of intentions for creating a more generic, more people-oriented structure, it would have been more successful if there was an outline and an agenda that I could offer people up front. This also brings me to my next point…
2. You Can’t Please Everyone – I’ve learned that no matter how much I want to try to offer a group where there’s a little something for everyone, in reality that’s pretty darn close to impossible. Writing as a career is so broad (almost too broad) that it’s perfectly normal to have two, very successful writers who have experiences that have nothing to do with one another. A romance novelist, for example, may have something in common with another novelist, but not with an editor for a business journal. Query letters might be necessary for fiction and non-fiction, but they aren’t for people who are employed full-time in a company. Throw in writers who have never published an article or a short story, and it’s possible the group ends up not finding anything to talk about without prompting.
Realizing that I couldn’t offer a group that would mean something to everyone was a very, difficult lesson for me to learn. Add my own “wants” and “needs” on top of that lesson, and I found myself facing one, inevitable truth…
3. There’s Only So Much of “Me” to Go Around – It is no secret that I’ve been restructuring my long-term writing goals. I have a limited amount of time to work with, because I have a “day job” that I am committed to, which means that I need to be extraordinarily disciplined and aware of my time away from work in order to remain professional and achieve my goals. I would like to point out that I am exceptionally fortunate that my team supports my fiction-and-game writing efforts outside of work; many of my fellow team members are writers or have other creative endeavors as well, too.
I had initially envisioned the writer’s group to be something that just took off on its own, so that I could fit in into my schedule without creating a lot of prep time or additional time sinks. What I found was that because the organic nature of the group didn’t happen as well as I had hoped, I realized that I needed to dump more time into the group to nurture it along. Unfortunately, I had a situation where I was prepping for other conferences and I couldn’t devote time into it. Because of that, the group is a lot smaller than I had expected. Sure, if I had put more time and effort into it I’m confident that I would have been able to help it get off the ground, but that’s time I didn’t (and still don’t) have. Part of it, too, is that LinkedIn (which is where I first started this group) didn’t meet all of our needs, either. That thought segues into my next point…
4. Functionality Online is Key to Offline Organization – Facebook has “events” that allow you to see whether or not people are attending. Those invites are great for booking invitations. LinkedIn also has “events,” but they’re not part of a group’s functionality, so you have to send people to a separate location to sign up for the event. Group emails (like Google or Yahoo! groups) can work, but since they’re separate from where the group’s info might be located, they can be limiting and they also need to be monitored.
Regardless of the tools I’d need to facilitate group communication, I’ve also realized that because not everyone spends the same amount of time that I do online, they might not “see” something I post for a few days, maybe even a week. I feel that I should have figured out what tools I needed to use before I started up the group; and I should have established some sort of communication structure beforehand. So what’s the lesson here?
5. It’s Best to Plan Before You Form a Writer’s Group – From researching established writer’s groups to figuring out how the group will function in the long-term, I’ve learned that starting a writer’s group does require time and special loving care. In my opinion, the tools that you need to create a writer’s group are:
Going forward, I’m still going to offer something for the existing group and see where it goes. It’ll be structured around a more “social” idea, though. Once a month I’m going to offer a chance for people to network, either through dinner or a cocktail hour. Then, on a quarterly basis, I’ll have a workshop or learning experience of some kind. For fall, I’m going to toss out the idea of attending a lecture that might be invaluable for people who want to learn how to get published in fiction.
Even though I’m not sure how things will progress for the group, I’m learning to move forward in a new and positive direction.