How to Find Your Writing Community
After I moved back to the US from London, where my writing career began, I wrote in isolation for seven years, feeling the loss of my community like a missing piece of myself. I had no idea how to start over — I’d passively inherited my UK group from my master’s program, so I applied to an MFA program here in Washington to try to replicate that. I had no idea how I’d pay for it, so maybe it was lucky I never made it off the wait list.
In my shame at failing not only myself but my recommenders, I retreated even further inside myself, surfacing periodically to complain about my loneliness to the non-writers in my life. They were sympathetic, but they couldn’t meet my needs: I craved engagement with other writers, for accountability and inspiration and understanding.
Then the pandemic hit, and amidst the collective international trauma of Covid’s physical and economic threats was a pearl of opportunity for people like me, living outside of major metropolitan areas: everything was suddenly virtual. I started devouring online classes and webinars, and in April, when my husband sent me a tweet from Meredith Talusan announcing that she was starting a series of online workshops, I immediately signed up.
I rarely missed a workshop during those spring and summer months, and when Meredith sent out a call for volunteers in her newsletter I did something new for me: I swallowed my social cowardice and joined. I’ve never been much of a joiner — too afraid of rejection, too lazy, too insecure about my ability to add value — but that summer really ignited my desire to help and reinforced my inkling that I couldn’t just expect life to hand me a community. I had to put myself out there and ask for it.
The Fairest Writer community rewarded my efforts beyond expectation. Not only did I find new friends in Meredith and the other volunteer admins, but I got another opportunity to help when Vanessa, another admin, suggested we start a series of Zoom writing sessions.
We began holding a writing space for an hour every month — a sort of virtual coffee shop where we could all meet, say hello, then get to work on our own projects, spurred on by each other’s presence. People showed up to work on screenplays, deadlines articles, grant proposals…whatever was plaguing them that they needed help prioritizing. As the sessions went on, we developed a steady group of attendees, many of whom expressed the value of the space and requested more time. So we gave it to them, in the form of two-hour sessions every other month.
But it wasn’t just the attendees who found value in the sessions. I love them too. I like the responsibility, the expectation that I’ll be in my home office, laptop open, ready to receive our group. Not only does it force me to make time for my own work, but it gives me the sense of community I craved for so long. I love seeing the regulars’ faces every month and getting to know new attendees as they come through. It’s an accountability practice, a motivation tool, but it’s also a balm for a lonely writer-heart.
And that wasn’t the only community I found last summer, either! I also founded a Facebook group for Creative Nonfiction writers, which a couple of amazing new writer friends help me run (Allison really does most of the work); I started a small critique group that’s been a heart-balm and a writing-savior for a few months now; and I joined a truly fabulous Twitter group full of querying writers. Both of those communities have provided support, encouragement, and much-needed levity throughout the past six months of strife – they’ve been worth every minute of invested free time. And they resulted from active engagement rather than passive consumption.
So if you’ve been feeling isolated, the best possible advice I can give you is to A) get over any lingering concern that virtual communities aren’t as valuable as IRL ones and B) seek out opportunities to be a part of the online communities you find – not just to take from them, but to contribute, even if that just means hyping up your Twitter friends or commenting on a Facebook post asking for feedback. Your value is in your engagement, your willingness to share your help, your ideas, and your self with the rest of the community.
If that scares you, that’s okay; you can start out as a lurker, wait until you’re a bit more comfortable in the new space. But eventually you really should push through your anxiety and give participation a try, because that’s how you get to the rich, fulfilling relationships that are the whole point of a community.
I hope to see you out there, in one of the groups I’ve linked or somewhere else in the wider writing universe. Hang in there, friends – I’m rooting for you!
Note: an earlier version of this essay was originally published on the Fairest Substack, under the title Writing Together, Even When We’re Far Apart