I haven’t done a post about the writing life for a while and I know some people like that sort of thing. (Hey, I don’t judge: I just go with things that people respond to.)

So, for any would-be writers wondering how to meet other writers (or even if they want to bother) here are some thoughts.

Writers’ groups online or in real life

Even before I was published I was a member of the writers’ forum – Absolute Write. Absolute Write allows you to share your work and other writers in your genre will critique it. When I was active in it, the Historical writers were a lively bunch. Their critiques were often brutal but I learned a lot. Find a group like that and they will be a really valuable resource.

I know people who have joined ‘real life’ writing groups but listening to their experiences I’m not impressed. There seems a danger that groups can attract people who write occasionally as a hobby and the group can just become a place to pass a pleasantly social hour or two while telling each other how great your work is. If that’s what you want, then fine. On the other hand, if you want to improve your writing, the occasional brutality of the Internet can be your friend – it’s easier to tell somebody that their precious words aren’t really very good if you don’t have to look at them over tea and cake while you do it. And, of course, it’s easier to slip away and digest criticism in private. Real-life writing groups work for some people but I would look seriously at online support.

Online support for writers

Online support for writers goes well beyond critique groups. There are groups on Facebook for people writing in particular genres or for the more commercially minded who want to chat about cover design or marketing strategies.  (See, for example SPF Community or 20booksTo50K.)

Twitter fans might be more comfortable limited to 240 characters. There are thousands (I guess) of writers on Twitter and one advantage is that it’s very democratic. You could find yourself talking to Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat), me (@TomCW99) or someone whose first novel is still an exciting gleam in their eye.

Twitter is a peculiar place and there are, indeed, many deeply unpleasant people on it but you really don’t have to see them. There is a ‘block’ function to remove horrible folk (you can use it to block horrible subjects too) and what’s left can be fun. If you’re like me it will be anonymous and pointless fun for a while and then gradually you will make friends there. I’ve even met one or two in real life. Stick at it. As when you first arrived at a new school, don’t expect to make great friends overnight.

Real-life genre specific groups

There are also real-life groups for various genres of writing. These will usually have an on-line presence as well, but once you feel you know them, you might want to venture out of your writing room/shepherd’s hut/cave and see them in the flesh. As I mainly write historical fiction I’m a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and I’ve found them amazingly friendly and supportive. The same is probably true of other genre-specific groups.

But what do I know?

It’s important to remember that all these thousands of writers will have hundreds of different opinions on how to write (and how to sell your books once you’ve written them). Inevitably (do the maths) most of them will be wrong – or, more accurately, wrong for you. Find other writers: use them for support; use them for critiques; use them to get you home when you’ve drunk yourself to a stupor. But don’t, whatever you do, let them tell you how to write. That one’s down to you.

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