I probably don't need to tell you that having critique partners is invaluable for improving your writing. I also likely don't need to tell you that regularly scheduled meetings with other writers are great for accountability. The benefits of having *a* writing community have been extolled countless times, so I will save you the reminder.
What you might not hear as often is the importance of finding the *right* writing community. Meeting with any group of writers, even the not-quite-right ones, will often still result in at least some of the benefits you've read about, but the right writing community will lift you up in a way that I can't even properly put into words (but I'm going to try).
The right writing community is one that:
- Provides mutually beneficial feedback, advice, and accountability
- Is safe, supportive, and encouraging
- Leaves you feeling energized and inspired
I belong to a local writers group. It is a mash-up of all types of writers: beginners and experienced, published and unpublished, fiction and nonfiction, and so on. These writers bring all kinds of perspectives to the group, and they provide me with accountability. I'm driven each week to get something writing-related done before the next meeting. It's a great motivator!
But most writers in the group don't have a lot of insight into the world of children's literature. Sometimes (though not always), they aren't able to fulfill all of #1.
That's why I branched out and joined SCBWI, the 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, and a couple of kidlit Discord groups. These communities allowed me to connect with peers who not only provide accountability, but also provide informed advice and lived experience on creating stories for children. In some cases, such as with the Queer Kidlit Discord, I was able to get advice and support from peers who understood the specific challenges of writing while queer.
Which brings me to #2. The right community is going to be not just a creative outlet but an emotional one as well. The "not-quite-right-is-better-than-nothing" rule only applies when you're safe and supported. If you're part of a marginalized community especially, it's important to find a community where you are safe, supported, and understood. If you are in a group that is toxic or otherwise dangerous, move on...unapologetically.
I recently had to leave a critique group that I loved. Everyone in the group was wonderful and kind and provided insightful feedback. Everyone was supportive and encouraging. It was a safe community. They were all writers and/or illustrators of children's literature. So what happened?
It fell apart at #3. We'd been together for several years. Members of the group had reached exciting new personal and professional milestones that were keeping them busy. And it was starting to feel like hard work getting everyone on the same page at the same time. Instead of feeling inspired, I was feeling bogged down. It became clear that it was time to move on. I was sad, but I also knew that it was the right move.
I'm still part of several writing communities. Some are the perfect fit; others are a little baggy. But they all tick the three boxes in their own way.
Do your current writing communities check all the boxes?
Jes Trudel a Canadian author, editor, and instructor based in Timmins, Ontario. She has written and presented for various outlets, including Children's Book Insider, SCBWI, 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, and BoldFace. Jes founded WritingCommunity.ca.