How to Forge Community, Make Connections, and Write Your Masterpiece

how to forge communityNote from John: Kevin Johns is an author of the novel The Page Turners and a creative writing instructor. In this guest post, he writes about the importance of developing relationships for writers. I think the lessons are valuable no matter what profession you are in. 

Here’s Kevin:

Sweat clung to my clammy brow. My heart pounded at my ribs like hail rattling on a tin roof. I placed my fingers against the keyboard of my laptop, but my hands didn’t seem to possess the strength to type.

I was about to begin writing my first novel, and I was terrified.

I hadn’t yet drafted a single word, yet already I wanted to quit, throw in the towel, pretend it never happened. Every inch of my body was telling me to close the computer, grab a snack from the kitchen, and sit my butt down in front of a television for some mind-numbing TV time.

But I couldn’t quit.

In the three other rooms of the small apartment that I was in sat writers struggling with the exact same fears and doubts as me. If I gave up, they would know; it would be a public failure.

So rather than give in to fear, I began to type.

Eight years later, the novel I began drafting in that moment was published.

The other writers in the apartment that day were my wife, my English Literature Master’s thesis adviser, and his wife. The four of us had committed to spending three days over the course of a long weekend locked-up together writing fiction.

We drafted during the day, then read each other our work and shared advice over a communal dinner in the evenings. It was an exciting and invigorating experience, and it launched my career as a novelist.

But what we undertook that weekend was nothing new.

The Myth of the Solitary Writer

People love to perpetuate the fantasy image of the writer as a loner and outsider; the guy sitting there at two in the morning, cigarette dangling from his mouth and a glass of whiskey at hand, desperately typing away on an old typewriter.

In reality, this writer archetype rarely proves accurate.

Here at Smart Business Revolution, John writes articles, hosts podcasts, and teaches an excellent course about the importance of building relationships for business people and entrepreneurs.

Successful, professional writers – the type of writers whose work is read for decades to follow – are no different than the business people and power-players John writes about.

In fact, increasingly the two roles are merging, as business professionals have had to become content producers to be noticed in our increasingly noisy world.

Masterful writers aren’t loners. They are networkers, connectors, and influencers. Great writing, like any worthwhile project, is a collaborative effort, and successful writers feed off the support and idea exchanges that come from strong relationships and networks.

That’s why it is absolutely essential that you get out there and connect with folks if you want a successful career in writing.

Literary Movements are the Result of Creative Relationships

The idea of the loner artist originates in the Romantic age with poets like William Wordsworth and Lord Byron. Yet despite what we think today, neither of these men were loners.

Wordsworth worked closely with Samuel Coleridge and their friendly competition inspired both to greater and greater work. Lord Byron was intimate friends with the poet Percy Shelley and his wife, Mary Shelley.

(In fact, Shelley’s masterpiece, Frankenstein, originated when the three writers decided to try their hand at each crafting their take on a ghost story!)

The productive and collaborative relationships amongst artists was not isolated to the Romantic age.

Modernists like Virginia Woolf reached out to other English writers such as E.M Forrester early in her career, while Gertrude Stein brought together expatriates like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound in her famous Paris salons.

C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien shared ideas about fantasy fiction as co-members of The Inklings, a literary discussion group at Oxford University, while Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs broke new literary ground together as the Beat Generation.

Writing is a solitary act, but none of the great writers covered here wrote, published, or marketed their fiction in isolation. They reached out, shared ideas, and furthered their literary careers by making strong connections with other writers.

The Power of a Simple Letter

Chuck Palahniuk recently announced a sequel to his cult masterpiece Fight Club. Rather than publish the story as a follow-up novel, Fight Club 2 will be produced a short comic book series.

When it came time to decide who to collaborate with on the covers for the series, Palahniuk chose artist and writer David Mack.

In 1999, after seeing the Fight Club film, Mack contacted Palahniuk by way of a good ol’ fashioned paper and pen letter. A relationship through correspondence was struck up, which eventually burgeoned into a long-term friendship.

Now, fifteen years after that initial letter, Mack is collaborating with Palahniuk on the sequel to his most famous and successful book.

You can do the same thing.

Seek out the artists that inspire you and write them a letter. Today they’re your literary hero, but fifteen years from now you could be collaborating with them on an exciting project.

All it takes is a letter.

How to Make Connections and Forge YOUR Literary Movement

The internet provides a myriad of ways to connect with influencers, as well as other writers with whom you can learn and grow your craft. Here are just a handful of methods:

Social Media – A quick Twitter search for #amwriting or #amediting will reveal thousands of writers for you to connect with. Facebook fan pages allow you to keep track of your favorite authors while connecting with writers who are also fans of similar work. You can start a board and pin your favourite book covers or author quotes in Pinterest, then watch who follows, or join writing and publishing focused groups on LinkedIn.

Forums – Discussion boards like Absolute Write Water Cooler provide the perfect opportunity to ask questions, help out other authors, and build relationships.

Blogs –There is no shortage of wonderful blogs for writers. Subscribe to your favorites, leave comments, or email the bloggers directly. Better yet, forge community by crafting your own blog. Then start interviewing these authors yourself. John has done that here with authors like Jeff Goins, Guy Kawasaki and Dan Pink. You can too.

Get Out There

Nothing compares to real world interactions, and there are plenty of opportunities for a writer to get out there, shake hands, and make friends.

  • lists writer meet-ups and critique groups in virtually every major city in North America.
  • Local author readings hosted by libraries and small press publishers can be an excellent place to network with influencers in your local community.
  • Conferences, such as those regularly held by Writers Digest, can provide unparalleled access to agents and publishers; some even include pitch sessions where you can try to convince an agent to represent you there on the spot.

Make it a Habit

No one can do the writing for you, but the impact that a strong and motivating network can have on your career must not be underestimated.

I recommend you review the above methods, put together a weekly practice, and then hold yourself accountable. Your weekly plan could look something like the following example.

This week I will:
– Email a favorite blogger
– Post five blog comments
– Share my expertise by answering three forum questions
– Be an active participant in my local critique group

Place a checkmark next to each task once they have been accomplished, and treat them with the same importance you do your weekly or daily word-count goals.

The Path to Crafting Your Masterpiece

How might Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books have differed had Lewis and Tolkien remained at home typing and not taken the time to meet and discuss literature with other intellectuals?

Would they have reached the same heights of imagination and craft? Perhaps not.

What heights might your work be taken to by making a new connection?

There is only one way to find out: start forging meaningful and productive relationships today.

Kevin T. Johns is an author and creative writing instructor. Grab a copy of his free ebook, 12 Common Mistakes Rookie Authors Make (and how to avoid them!).


Photo credit: Flickr/twylo