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?