Friday, March 19, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - Networking

The following post originally appeared at The Romance Studio on March 12, 2010.

This month's writing tip is short, because I'm editing a manuscript and getting ready to go off to a writers' conference. Appropriately enough, my March tip to aspiring writers out there is this: network.

Yes, I know it's hateful. The sort of person who likes to sit alone in a room and make up conversations about pretend people is NOT the sort of person who likes to mingle and chit-chat and shake hands. Self- promotion can be the hardest aspect of the job for any writer, and networking is very similar. They both require you to take time away from your imaginary friends and go out and talk to real people. At least occasionally.

Networking is important because - let's face it - knowing the right people often leads to lucky breaks. I got my first journalism job because an editor liked my story ideas and my writing samples. But I got my second journalism job because the editor was a friend of a friend - thus I heard about this particular job opening before a lot of other people heard about it. And from what I've seen after a few years of writing fiction full-time, it works the same way. Your talent and your productivity are your most important assets. But having a few friends and acquaintances in the right places doesn't hurt either!

Networking with other fiction writers can be difficult, since by its very nature, the job tends to be isolating. Then there are the constraints of time and budget. Very few novelists are able to make a significant living from their fiction writing. Mostly, they squeeze that writing stuff into those tiny spaces in between their jobs and their families. So it can be hard to find time to get together with other writers. Still, it's an activity worth pursuing.

If, like me, you live in a rural area, you may not be near any major professional writing organizations. But lucky you, the Romance Writers of America sponsors chapters all over the country, and most of those chapters hold their meetings on Saturdays. Once in a while, you can make a day - or even overnight trip - out of one of those meetings. Ask at your local library or community college - they often host writers' critique groups or meeting groups. Sometimes, joining a book club can be a way to meet other writers, since most writers are also compulsive readers.

You can also join a lot of great writing groups online. These groups are great for writers in remote areas, writers with weird schedules, or writers with small children. One of my favorite online groups is Elements, a broad-based chapter of RWA that supports those who write non-romance novels that include elements of romance in their subplots. Another great group is Guppies, for Sisters in Crime members who are not yet published.

Many larger writers' groups also sponsor annual retreats or conferences, which can be fun ways to get away from real life for a few days and hang around with other people who talk about things like story arcs and inciting incidents and the hero's journey. Writer's Digest magazine is a good starting point for info on various types of writing conferences nationwide. For info on more genre specific get-togethers, you can check the websites for groups like Romance Writer's of America or Sisters in Crime.

Joining various writing groups and going off to conferences can get pricey and time-consuming. Do make sure you aren't using up the family's entire vacation fund for writing junkets. And be careful not to spend so much time "conferencing" that you forget to actually write your book! It's easy to let both things happen when you first discover all those wonderful writing organizations out there. Networking with other writers can help you brainstorm new story ideas and re-ignite your enthusiasm for writing, as long as you remember to balance it with your number one priority - writing your story.