Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Writing, as they say, is a very lonely job. It takes many hands to produce a finished book, from critique partners and beta readers to agents, editors, book designers, cover artists, etc. But while we draft our books, revise, revise again, query, get rejections, have crippling bouts of self-doubt, revise yet again, go on submission, get more rejections, and revise yet again, it can very much feel like we’re on our own. What’s more, whether we’re talking traditional or self-publishing, the public does not understand this process at all. If you tell a family member, “I’m writing a book,” they may come back to you with, “Oh really? When’s it coming out?” Well-meaning friends may suggest you write a book together, they’ll provide the idea, you’ll do all the writing, and you’ll split the profits, 50/50. Come to think of it, maybe those friends aren’t so well-meaning after all. But I digress.
My point is, when it comes to writing struggles, the people who understand them best are your fellow writers. They know what a big deal it is to get an agent, and what a long road you still have ahead. Writers understand those days when a critique partner’s feedback just hit the wrong way, and you need to process it (and, let’s be honest, sulk a bit) before deciding how or whether to implement it. They know how much rejection hurts, the excitement of a new idea you can’t wait to get down on paper, and how much you want to commission character art.
Social media can be a great resource for growing your writing community. I have found Twitter to be especially fertile ground for befriending my fellow writers. There are people I have known for years there, with whom I’ve swapped first chapters and query letters, shared resources and tips for revision, celebrated their highs and commiserated with their lows. So I thought I would share some tips for making these sorts of connections, in case others are looking for writing buddies, too!
- Know why you want to make writing friends. Be honest with yourself. Are you looking for kindred spirits with whom to discuss the writing craft and lifestyle? Do you want to meet people who will cheer you up on those hard writing days, remind you to be gentle with yourself, swap query letters and writing tips and general writing banter? Or are you hoping to increase your follower count/newsletter subscribers/potential readers? If it’s any of the latter, I don’t really think it’s writing “friends” you’re looking for, and this may not be the blog post for you.
- Interaction trumps transaction. When another writer follows me on Twitter, one of the first things I do before following back is look at their timeline. This is in part to make certain I am not following anyone problematic, e.g. transphobes, racists, general bullies, etc. But I also look to see whether the person actually engages with their followers and/or tweets anything besides promos for their books. Some authors will promo the books of others as well, in a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” sort of arrangement. If that works for them, fine, but I’m personally not interested in being spammed at, and I don’t think most people are.
- But do promote your book, if you have one. It’s part of your job as a writer. There is nothing wrong with sharing your cover reveals, Kirkus reviews, preorder information, if you made the NYT Bestsellers list, etc. And if you’ve made genuine writing friends, they’re usually happy to boost the signal. Think of that part as the frosting; the friendship and writing support is the cake.
- Hashtags are your friend. Many, if not most, of the writing friends I’ve met on Twitter have been through various hashtags, chats, and writing games. Way back in 2015, I first entered a writing contest called Pitch Wars, and while I never got in, following the hashtag got me a ton of writing advice, as well as helping me to meet other hopefuls who are still my Twitter friends today. There is a bi-monthly (I think!) event called #CPMatch I have used to find critique partners, and an event called #Pitlight which allows authors to pitch and share aesthetics of their works in progress for general cheerleading, connection, and fun. You can share snippets in various hashtags like #amwriting, #Thurds, and #1linewed. There are also icebreaker chats like #ASFChat, for adult speculative fiction writers, #MGChat for middle grade authors, chats for queer authors, romance authors, you name it.
- Talk about your book. If you want to. To the extent you want to. I don’t personally worry about someone stealing my ideas, but if that’s a concern, you could stick with sharing tropes, fancasts, or vibes.
- Talk to other people about theirs. This is so important. If someone makes an aesthetic you love, pitches a book that sounds right up your alley, or shares a snippet so lovely you want to cry, let them know! Hearing words of encouragement such as “I think your story sounds phenomenal and I’d read it in a second” can be a real boost to an author who just got a form rejection on a full request, or whose book sold poorly in its first week. And if someone is writing about the things you love, that can be a great conversation opener. You might have more in common than you’d think!
On a related note, don’t ask a writing question then ignore all the answers. I’ve seen people do this, I think hoping their Tweet gets some numbers, but it’s not a real interaction if you don’t at least look at, like, comment on some of the responses.
- Don’t just befriend writers who are as or more successful than you. And don’t dump your unagented or unpublished Twitter friends when you reach that milestone. It’s a pretty crappy move, for one thing. For another, people’s writing journeys are rarely straightforward; published authors can fail to sell their next book; the struggling querier may get a six-figure deal in the next year, you never know. But mostly, this sort of snobbery is uncool.
- Don’t take it personally if people don’t follow you back. And whatever you do, don’t complain publicly when they don’t. This never looks good. You don’t know how online people are, how busy they are, or whether they get anxiety when the number of people they follow gets too high. There are plenty of reasons people might not follow back right away … or at all. And frankly, it isn’t your business. People get to curate their online spaces, period.
- Vet those you follow. Whenever someone follows me on Twitter or Instagram, I always check their profile before following them back. How do they describe themselves? Are there red flags? Is he a Good Christian Man Just Trying to Live an Honest Life ™? Does the profile not say anything, or offer mindless platitudes? Those are people I avoid.
But it isn’t really enough to read somebody’s profile before you follow them back. It’s a good idea to look at their Tweets themselves. I don’t like to follow people who just throw book ads in my directions. And I’ll usually scroll down a bit to see if there’s any problematic political comment in their recent quotes, though of course the absence thereof is no guarantee. When a mutual follower tweets something like “Heads up; this person is a misogynist who bullies other writers,” that earns them a pretty quick unfollow even if I missed those Tweets. Because, again, People get to curate their online spaces, and that includes me.
- Finally, don’t feel you have to talk about writing to the exclusion of everything else. My writing friends are super supportive when I share struggles in my daily life, too. But also, we are all nerds. So geeking out over Castlevania or Shadow and Bone is never off the table, either.
These are just some tips that have helped me make the most of my online writer’s community. And if you’re looking for more writing friends, look me up!