Find Your Writing Tribe

Photo by Letcombe on Flickr.

Since starting this blog in October, I’ve met some amazing readers and writers. It’s been a blast.

It wasn’t until I started talking with other writers daily  — on Twitter, on Triberr, on Goodreads, via email, via IM, ad nauseam — that I realized what a huge impact it had on me. Having a group of like-minded people who support you, and whom you can support in turn, is a truly invaluable resource. A successful “tribe” of writers can pick you up when you’re down, spread the word about your work, and grant you insights you might never have come up with on your own. And you can do the same for them.

So what makes a successful tribe?

They must be writers.

I truly think this is key. Your non-writer friends are great people, I’m sure. But you need someone who understands your passion from within.

For example: my dad is a mechanic. I love my dad. But I don’t have clue one about how automobiles work, nor do I care to learn. When it comes to matters mechanical, I have nothing to learn from him, and he sure has nothing to learn from me. He might be able to relate his frustration to me about some mechanical problem he’s having, and I could sympathize. But could I help him address it? Not really. That’s why to get real help with your writing problems, you need another writer.

By the way, “aspiring” and utterly unproductive writers don’t count in this equation. I know that may sound unforgiving. But more than once, I’ve seen people who don’t write drag down the people who do write by responding with jealousy, dejection, and angst. It can get downright toxic. If you’re anything like me, you have enough trouble just finding the time and energy to get yourself to write, much less someone else.

Now, I don’t mean leave your non-writer friends out in the cold — take them out for coffee or to a movie or something. Just don’t put all your energy into trying to motivate someone else. That’s not your responsibility.

They must have a fresh perspective.

While old friends might understand you on a deeper level than new ones, a fresh set of eyes on your work can bring amazing insights to bear. Someone who doesn’t know your story from a hole in the ground will give you a different reaction than someone who’s been hearing about it daily for the last five years. They’ll see things you may never have seen.

This has payoff from the other end as well. As a reader, I love seeing new works-in-progress from writers I haven’t known very long. It’s exciting to learn more about who they are through their writing, especially when you read something you had no idea was in them. It’s a rush.

They must be supportive, and they must be tough.

Because what’s writing advice without at least one flat contradiction? Being “supportive” is a tricky and sometimes treacherous thing. Unalloyed compliments and cheerleading aren’t always helpful — in sufficient volume, they can be downright destructive. On the other hand, someone who unfailingly lambasts your work isn’t that helpful either.

Ideally, you need people who will be honest without being cruel — people who want your writing career to succeed, and are willing to deliver a few gut-punches to make that happen — but not for the sheer joy of punching. There’s a fine line sometimes between “tough love” and being unnecessarily hard on someone, and if we’re going to support each other as writers, we’ve gotta learn to walk it.

Most of all, I think we need people who understand that as writers, we’re in this together. Writing is, by nature, a lonely and isolating business, which makes finding people you can talk about your work that much more important.

So who’s your tribe?

24 Replies to “Find Your Writing Tribe”

  1. Here, here! *raises glass* I could never imagine the type of support I’m getting from the social media writing community. Amazing people, truly.

  2. Well said! A great group of like-minded individuals can really make all the difference. I know it has for me 🙂

  3. Being isolated by nature and by locale, I had no idea how invigorating and soothing and exciting it would be to find myself amongst fellow writers. I don’t know how I survived without the support, camaraderie and writer-to-writer mentoring that my tribe affords me.

    And that two-way street of receiving and giving between fellows is a lovely way to travel. I feel just as excited and pleased and proud to support someone else’s work as I do my own – okay, probably even more so, because I don’t suffer any of the angst of pushing ‘publish’!!

    Fresh eyes on our work is essential – love your take on this – someone who hasn’t heard about the story every day of the last calendar year! Oh, and the bit about discovering things about our fellows through their writing – love that surprise! Yeah, ‘rush’ is the perfect word there!

    And yes, we must have even-handed support. Sage advice. Speaking the truth in love. Tuff but fair. For the love of the words and the story and the readers and the craft – and for the love of us, their fellow storytellers.

    I ‘plus one’ this post to infinity. It’s that meaty and timely and dead-on!!

    1. Wow, what a terrific comment. Thank you, Ruth. I’ve felt the same way these past few months. It kind of makes me regret waiting so long to try to reach out to other writers, actually. 🙂

  4. Daniel, I love your point about the fresh eyes. What a miracle they can work. And the online community is one reason why I think it’s so good to be a writer in today’s world. Even if we’re alone in our house typing away, we can still have friends join us and encourage us from afar. 🙂

  5. Although I am (sometimes) “old eyes” on your work, I’m glad to be a part of this wacky and growing tribe. I’m starting to eck out my own on Twitter and through email. It’s an exciting time. Sometimes a bit trying.

    Sometimes heart-breakingly difficult when you have to cut ties with friends who are actively out to eat up all of your creative time/energy.

    But it’s all been worth it to have this great, new energy rise up, willing to Do The Work and keep me Doing the Work when I’d rather curl up on the couch with Murder She Wrote (don’t judge me xD).

    1. Agreed — unfortunately sometimes we have to make the tough decisions about how we’re going to spend our energy. Like any commitment, writing involves sacrifice. And that rush of energy is a great feeling. It’s been good to see you working again 🙂

  6. I appreciate your ideas here. As a writer, I am a tribe of one. I am something of a loner when it comes to writing, and just about everything else except my vocation. Still, I am writing a novel series about an urban tribe. I long for connection but do not want to spend the time and effort to connect. A few years ago, I was part of a blogging circle of colleagues in ministry. That was amazing but did not endure. Seasons, I guess. Tnx for a thoughtful post.

    1. I can understand where you’re coming from, Jon. I went through a long period of frustration trying to find and connect with other writers. It is work, and it takes time — time you could spend writing. For me, the payoff is well worth the effort, but we each have to take our own path. I do wish you the best of luck with yours.

  7. Right there with you, Dan! And thanks to social media it’s easier to find people who write in your genre to be in your tribe. I’d be completely out of luck if the only writers I had access to were in my town of 1,200 😉

    1. That’s a great point, Nicholas. I’ve had a lot of non-fantasy-readers read my work, and while I value their reactions, I don’t find them as useful as people who actually work in the genre themselves.

  8. Yes! Having a tribe full of writers is so much more encouraging and wonderful than I’d ever imagined before jumping into the social media fray last Spring and finding the right critique partner (as you said, one that’s supportive but tough) is difficult, but well worth the effort. Sometimes we need a healthy dose of tough love to improve our writing and bring our manuscripts to their fullest potential.

  9. “honest without being cruel”- that is exactly the kind of feedback I would like…although as a newbie, I am worried (a bit, not overwhelmingly so) that I am not going to deal well with pages of edits or suggestions for word changes. The reason I love writing so much is not only the story but also the actual choosing of specific words to convey the story. I have a feeling that the editing and critiquing phases of writing will be very character building for me!

    Great post again, Daniel!

    1. Dealing with criticism is rarely easy, even when it’s mild. Cutting a beautiful passage because it serves no purpose can really sting. But it gets easier. Thanks for the great comment, Jo-Anne.

  10. Awesome post and so true — for me it was finding my WANA people and joining up with a blogging class. Also meeting Anna and you and Dasia et. al — not a whole lot beats people you can break Twitter with. Bua ha ha…

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