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Lonesome road: How to establish support networks when you're new to writing
Hello duck eggs! I hope you’re doing okay. Long time no write! I, like a lot of people, have been a bit artistically in the doldrums, presumably due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. A very foolish part of my brain thought I could write every day this summer and put out a blog post a week, and this is the first one so far. (And the writing has also suffered. A different foolish part of my brain chose to watch fourteen seasons of Supernatural in the past three months, instead of writing. Brain! Why you do this?)
Anyway, since I miss writing with people in person, I was inspired to write this primer on resources for writers seeking community so they don’t have to slog through it alone. Enjoy!
Writing is, in particular, a difficult art form. Unlike physical arts such as drawing, painting, or crochet, you cannot just flash your product (draft or finished) in front of just any bystander’s face and hope for external validation. I know this from experience. As someone who can passably draw, I know how easy it is to say “LOOK AT THIS THING” and gain the awe and wonder from a relative or friend who says, “Wow, how did you do that? I could never,” as though putting shapes on a piece of paper is god-level witchcraft.
With regards to writing: If you’re not talking about flash fiction or poetry, you’re talking about keeping another person’s attention for anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours. That’s a long time. And from my experience, that’s often too long to ask normal people to care.
It took me a long time to find a cohort of supportive, engaged readers for my work. I did not find them in my family growing up. The Counsell household is not particularly literate or engaged. My father is an alcoholic and my mother reads books so seldom that once, when my brother and I discovered she was reading a book, she sneezed and we assumed she was allergic.
Maybe this is the way of things, but I didn’t start to find other people interested in writing the way I was until our house got internet in 2005. I sound like someone in the early aughts saying this, but the internet is a fantastic resource for people trying to find like-minded people. There are fanfiction archives and meetup groups, National Novel Writing Month and writing workshops—almost any type of writer group and experience you can think of!
It’s important to have other people engaged and interested in your work before you get published or famous. External validation can reassure you that your work is worth writing during those hard moments when you feel like giving up. And on a deeper level, it lets you share a part of yourself that not everyone sees. Your writerly self shouldn’t be a dark secret you have to keep from everyone in your life (unless you really want it to be). There are people out there who are looking for the same writing camaraderie.
In this post I will explore some routes with which to make writerly friends who can support you even before you have gained a large readership.
My first foray into writing was fanfiction.net—I was fourteen and Avatar the Last Airbender and Naruto were syndicating on television, and I was inspired. I read fanfiction before I wrote it. (I read a lot of Zutara.) And then I somehow got into a Naruto RP (roleplay) on the forums. Three other writers and I would take turns posting, each inhabiting the narrative focus of a different OC (original character). This was a fantastic time for me. I literally remember sitting with one of my friends in The Wharf and getting so animated and excited talking about it that I got LOUD (which as an adult I try to tone down, but hey it’s nice to feel passionate about something).
Anyway, fanfiction.net is a great place to start if you’re looking for like-minded readers and writers. (Archive of Our Own as well—I’ve never written on there, but I wish I had, because it seems like a great community and their tags system is exceptional!) You might not know for sure if users on fanfiction.net will be interested in your original writing outside of the fanfiction.net site, but if they enjoy the same fandoms as you do, it is much more likely that they would engage with your work than say, your grandma would.
As I said before, live role-playing on forums was a big element of my original interest in writing. Honestly, I’d like to get back into it, but I feel kind of self-conscious now. (The childlike joy has been replaced by frownyfaced cynicism.) But I do know a few places that have forums for role playing. Obviously there’s fanfiction.net. There’s also Flight Rising (if you register, say I referred you! My username is finder77 !), Gaia Online, and Neopets. Other options include games such as WOW (World of Warcraft), which has designated role play servers, Runescape, Minecraft, and VR chat.
There’s also Dungeons and Dragons (Pathfinder, Warhammer, etc.). Not only will playing tabletop games with friends inspire you, but those improvisational muscles are important to exercise for when you get stuck. Playing DnD is great practice for brainstorming what should happen next in your stories. These skills allow you as a storyteller to resolve problems that you’ve created for yourself in the plot. (Which happens much more frequently than any of us would like.)
Online Writers’ Forums
Reddit may be a good place to start if you’re looking for a place to post your original work and get writerly feedback. There are a lot of writerly threads on Reddit, but here is a list of some to get you started. Since they are divided by genre, age bracket, and NSFW-itude, you can pick and choose what fits you best.
I’ve also heard that the hip young kids like Wattpad. I don’t think I’ve written there since… 2016(?) when I entered The Magicians short fiction contest (I wanted that ten grand) but it seems to have an incredibly active userbase.
National Novel Writing Month
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is an online community dedicated to writing novels in November. Every year, writers block off their social calendars and attempt to write 50,000 words—the minimum required length for a novel—all during the month of November. I want to say the point is not to win, but maybe that’s just because I don’t win very often. Winning is pretty cool if you don’t sacrifice too much quality in the process. Regardless, NaNoWriMo is a great way to meet writers, as they host weekly online and in-person writing meetups, and have ongoing discussion forums available to their users.
In-Person Paid Workshops
I’m a bit divided on in-person paid workshops. On the one hand, I think it’s incredibly valuable to meet in person with writers and spend actual physical time with them—this is how I’ve established some of my very good friendships in the writer community. But on the other hand, it’s very obviously cost restrictive. And I’m not sure how much I actually learn from any workshops I’ve been to. Not that they’re not trying! I’m just not sure that’s how my brain works with regards to writing. I think a lot of the most valuable work you do on your own writing is figuring out what you want to write and then figuring out how you WANT to convey that to your audience, and I’m not sure if anybody can answer those things except yourself.
Regardless, if you have $1500 lying around, I do recommend applying for Viable Paradise. It has a host of star-studded instructors and has been time-tested by many years of attendance. There are craft lectures, story workshops, sing alongs, and jellyfish walks. (Note: You do not have to pay the $1500 unless your application is accepted. Even then, they do have a couple financial and minority scholarships, and they are trying to provide more every year.)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions
Writing and reading conventions also cost money, but usually considerably less than most multi-day writing workshops, and they are a great way to meet people. Each convention has its own feel—they can range from small conventions like Fourth Street Fantasy or Sirens, all the way to much larger ones like the World Fantasy Convention or Boskone. Even though I’m a huge extrovert, I find even the idea of larger conferences too overstimulating for me. This is something to watch out for if you are prone to fatigue or emotional exhaustion—it will be worse at cons, so prepare in advance and take care of yourself. Even Fourth Street Fantasy, which is incredibly small (by comparison), wipes me out, and I’m usually crying by day two just because I’m zonked. It is always okay to skip a panel and go hide in your room for a few hours to recover. Your tiny puppy heart will thank you later.
Having Friends Introduce You to Other Friends
Perhaps the greatest benefit of cultivating friendships… is more friendships! And before the introverts in back freak out, you don’t have to be friends with them all at once. I’m just saying that the friends you make can help introduce you to other friends. Sometimes the people you meet at a con or a workshop don’t vibe with you perfectly. Maybe they write adult sci-fi and you’re more of a middle grade fantasy writer. But they can introduce you to the writers they’ve met, and help you make connections you wouldn’t have made otherwise. It’s kind of like an Austenian party—you need someone you know to introduce you to the people you don’t know. Rituals! They make people more comfortable. Some of my greatest friendships in the writer community are with people who, for example, went to Viable Paradise, but weren’t in my graduating class—they were introduced to me by someone else.
There are so many benefits to having writer friends when you are a writer: You can talk to them about your work and feel seen; you can trade drafts and provide each other constructive criticism; you can bemoan the injustices of being a struggling writer (which we all are); and you can introduce each other to new friends!
And then there’s that sort of intangible stuff, like that feeling of all working studiously together—that reason people go to a cafe or a library when they want to get stuff done. Or the excitement of having someone other than yourself be pumped about your novel. Those are great benefits too. Writing can feel like a lonesome slog at times, but it doesn’t have to be.
Support networks are something you grow over time, and they (hopefully) improve with regard to quality as well as quantity over time. I’m always looking for new people to drag into my whimsical writing life (literally anyone who will listen, but especially people who have an eye for narrative analysis).
That friend who I gushed about my RP community to when I was fifteen—she didn’t read my stuff then, but she does now almost fifteen years later. Your friends and experiences and even your writing change, so even if you’re feeling unmoored and adrift without people to read your stuff and encourage you now, that could change with time. Just keep at it, keep writing, and speak loudly of your dreams to anyone who will listen.
Special thanks to Jonathan, who helped me brainstorm some of the more gaming niche writer communities. And to Laura, who kindly gave me a beta read. 😊