I'm a little overdue on this blog post (for the sake of my pride, please at least pretend to be surprised!) so I wanted to keep it simple this time. I know community building is an area where a lot of writers, especially new ones that are just starting out, really struggle to get their footing. Writing can be such an isolating activity and joining social media often just makes you feel like you've arrived at a party only to find out you're the only person that doesn't already have friends there. Everyone else is laughing and chatting away, while you sit sadly in the corner and play with the cat. Everyone's been there, right?
Well, to prevent you from being the sad cat lady at the party (ahem) let's first look at why you need to build community as an author and then we'll jump into how it's done!
I know what some of you are thinking! So what if you don't have a strong sense of community in the writing world? No friends or betas? You don't need friends to sit your ass down at the keyboard and write an amazing book! You're a loner. An introvert. And besides that, it's scary out there, damn it!
You're not entirely wrong! Writing is pretty solitary. You sit at your desk (or bed or couch or car) and you create your story. A lot of it happens inside your head while you're driving or taking a shower. You don't necessarily need other people for that part and it can be very intimidating to put yourself out there and try to make new friends. We're adults now, so making new friendships is more difficult than it was in grade school when all you needed to make a friend for life was a new set of shoes to show off or a chocolate pudding cup to share.
You do need community as an author, though, and I'm going to give you some pretty solid reasons why.
First, writing friends can help get you unstuck. They understand writing and it's problems better than your second grade bestie that's still loyal because of those light up high-tops. They get structure, themes, and writer's block. They will tell you honestly when something isn't working, help you brainstorm plot points, or suggest names for your characters. If you need another set of eyes or an outsider's POV, you can't go wrong with a writer friend.
Well, actually you can, but that's a blog post for another day. For now, just keep in mind that you want to look for writer friends the same way you look for regular friends. Find someone you genuinely like. Someone that cheers for your achievements but is still honest enough to tell you when you've got something in your teeth.
Second, author friends are smart. Author friends are experienced. Author friends have connections. If there's something you don't know (and I assure you, there is) author friends are the people that can explain it to you. Don't really understand the querying process? They do! Don't know how to format a self-published novel? They do! Need recommendations for agents to query or need to know where to find a good editor, cover designer, etc.? They know it all! And they will tell you! For free!
Third, they are often willing to help you out with the hard stuff. Query letters, synopses, editing, revisions. If they have the skills, they are usually willing to give you their time and knowledge to help you polish it all till it shines. A good beta or critique partner is priceless. They help you catch your spelling errors or your plot holes before you send that stuff out for other people to see.
But the biggest reason you need writer friends? They understand rejection. This is a harsh business. Querying is terrible. Low sales in self-pub is brutal. There's no way to pursue writing without also dealing with self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and failure. Another writer is going to be the best support system you can have. No one else, no matter how much they love you or want to support you, truly gets that experience. A writer friend will be there for that first query rejection and the hundredth. They will commiserate the entire year or more that novel is on sub. They will help you feel better when your self-pubbed novel doesn't do as well the second month as it did the first. And best of all, they won't ask you every single time you talk to them if your book is out yet. They know better.
Okay, so maybe there's a few good reasons to have a friend, but making them is impossible! Right? Well, not exactly. Is it hard? Yes! A little! But not too hard and certainly not impossible.
The first step is to go where the writers are. Sometimes you can find them in the wild at bookstores and coffee shops, but your best bet is to find a local writer's group or look for them on social media. There are thriving writing communities on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and more. They're everywhere!
Your next step is find the kind of writer you want to befriend. Like I said, they're everywhere. So many of them! You can't be friends with everyone so look for people with the right qualities. For most of us it's probably going to be people that write in the same (or at least similar) genres. Maybe you want people around the same age or that share similar beliefs. It's just like making a normal friend, so don't feel bad for eliminating people from the pool of possibilities! Spend some in your group or social media site and look for people with those qualities. This is where hashtags and events can really help narrow things down. Attend an event for writers of a specific genre. Look up hashtags for the genres you write and see who's using them. Your people are there somewhere!
Okay, you found them. Now what? The kind of hard part starts here. You've found some people you think might be cool. You want to get to know them. So you attend those events! Say hi to people. Participate in whatever activities they're offering. The same applies to social media. When someone asks for betas, say yes if you have time and have an interest in their project. Comment on people's posts. Don't just like it. Comment on it. You have to be friendly and try to start up conversations so a like just won't do! You're going to have to do it more than once! It will take time but you can do it!
This part of the process is where you have to act like you're already friends with people until you really are. It's really a classic 'Fake It Till You Make It' approach! And it works!
Once you start to know a few people, there are so may things you can do to help push this along if you're creative and willing to reach out. Join groups on Slack or Discord. Or make them yourself! Make a group chat and ask if other writers would like to join! You'd be surprised how many other people are in the same place you are!
Now, there's a little trickiness to this that I have seen people get hung up on and I want to address it. Don't get your heart set on specific people! I know it can be hard if you like someone and they aren't really responding to your attempts. But, honestly, it's okay! There are so many other people out there and if that person isn't the one for you, someone else will be! Don't take it personally. Sometimes they're just busy or they have already made a full circle of friends so they don't have time to invest properly in a new relationship. If you give it a shot a few times and it isn't clicking, move on and find other opportunities!
As a very shy introvert with high level of social anxiety, this process was a real struggle for me. I want to be honest that it did take me time and some pretty low feeling days to get friends of my own but I've got some rock solid people in my life now and I'm in a few active and supportive writing servers on Discord. It was absolutely worth every socially awkward moment to get here. They definitely get a big part of the credit for the books I have coming out because they were there for me at every stage of the process.
So, go! Make friends! You need them!