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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to Find Your People

Julie Owsik Ackerman

"I don't know any successful author who doesn't have a writing community," said Alma Katsu, author of The Taker, this weekend at the Philadelphia Writers Conference. This makes perfect sense to me.

I've been serious about writing for the past seven years, and over the past two years, I've been coming out of my writer shell, building a community of writers, and seeing what a huge difference it makes. So how does one find/make a community?

My two key strategies: 1) start a writing group 2) go to writing conferences.

Writing group: I searched far and wide for a writing group to suit my needs. I tried several over the years, but when nothing quite worked, I started my own. I posted a notice on a listserv that know about from showing up a writing conferences (more on that below), I recruited a neighbor when I ran into her at another writing event I didn't feel like attending, but dragged myself to, another friend joined, a mom I know from our babysitting co-op joined, and voila - writing group. We meet every other week, bring up to four pages, and have no homework. That's the format that has worked for us. We encourage each other, we read each other's work, we make suggestions. Most importantly, we break the isolation of trying to do this thing alone.

Conferences: My first writing conference was traumatic. Probably my expectations were unreasonable. Also I had never really had my work critiqued before and the teacher was pretty harsh. Thank God it didn't scare me away from conferences forever, because every writing conference I've ever attended, including that one, has given me something valuable.

Here are just a few things I gained from the amazing Philadelphia Writers Conference, which just concluded:

A new screenwriter friend, and an idea of starting a screenwriting group. One of the best educational experiences I've ever had with Mark Lapadula, legendary screenwriting teacher. Solid revision technique for my novels from Alma Katsu. Getting to chat with Judy Schachner - creator of SkippyJon Jones, some of my favorite children's books of all time. Pitching my novel to an editor of a small press who really understood my protagonist and story and really wants to see it, who told me the name of an agent who she thought would love it. Practice pitching my novel to other people, and talking about my book a lot.

I never know what I will get out of a writing conference, but I always come away energized, inspired, and with new connections. Every time. One small step at a time, over seven years, by attending workshops and talking about my writing to lots of people, I have cobbled together a writing community, and that is what has sustained me when I feel discouraged, when it seems pointless, when I want to give up or shut up.

Maybe your pastime is painting, knitting, gardening, or dancing. Whatever your interests, go find your people. Passions are so much more fun, vibrant, alive when they are shared. Trust me.


  1. Julie,

    It often strikes me that the writing passion is so much deeper, wider, higher than the art of the storytelling. And let's face it, without people as readers, it's incomplete. So I understand why your writing group and conferences are such rich resources for you. And you're right about this applying to any passion. I participated in a gardening group at one time that was such a joy. I am impressed that you organized your writing group; that takes energy and commitment. (It's so much easier to join.)

    I hope some of these leads turn to gold for you.


    1. Thanks, Chris. Organizing the group helps me, that's why I do it :) But I'm glad it helps others too!

  2. Julie, the support of other writers has been so valuable to me. I know I could not have finished two novels without it. My writing journey is a little different than yours, I started at a local Writing Group before I'd written anything. They encouraged me to "just write" and opened up a new world to me.
    Like you, I've had wonderful experiences at writing conferences over the years, among them, meeting YOU :)
    I'm with Chris on hoping your leads turn gold.

    1. I know, Carol, you were my very first writer friend! Talk about beginner's luck!

  3. Julie:

    Thanks for your insights. It's so inspiring to see the steps you took to arrive where you are today. That gives me hope to keep pursuing my leads. Keep it coming. Good luck. ~ Meg

    1. Thanks, Meg, I'm so glad you felt inspired. Thanks for reading!