Main Street: Kate Ristau on Building Writer Relationships

Take the pledge to build literary community at the local level and you’ll receive the Main Street Writers Movement newsletter once a month. We’re also featuring authors and publishing professionals who are doing good work in their communities here on the Forest Avenue website. Remember to use the hashtag #mainstreetwriters so other Main Street members can find your community’s good news and share it.

Here’s our first Main Street Writers Movement guest post, an essay by author Kate Ristau. Have a suggestion of someone we should profile or feature? Let us know. 

By Kate Ristau

Writing is lonely. For many of us introverts, spending the day by ourselves, sitting at a computer, maybe not even taking a shower, is . . . awesome! Am I right? I love being by myself. I’m high-fiving myself right now. I’m the coolest person in my home office. The funniest too.

Kate Ristau is the author of Clockbreakers and Shadow Girl.

But occasionally, even I want to get out of my shell – to peek my head out and see what’s on the other side of my computer. And sometimes, I need more support than my dog. I mean, he’s great. When I’m sad, he’s sad too, or he just wants to go out for a walk. You never know. That’s why it’s important to build your writing community.

I could cite a bunch of studies here about introverts, community, support, and loneliness. But I don’t want to. Instead, I’m just going to slap you and tell you that you need writer friends for support, encouragement, face-slapping, and direction.

Support

• When you’re struggling, they’ll listen.

Encouragement

• When you’re frustrated, they’ll encourage.

Face-slapping

• When you’re dumb, they’ll get sassy.

Direction

• When you don’t know what you’re doing, they’ll help you find your way.

These things are fantastic, right? But how do you build your own writing community? How do you find other writers and hang out with them in a not-weird way? I’m going to give you four possibilities. The fourth is my favorite. You can skim the first three if you want.

  1. Go to other people’s readings. The biggest way to build a supportive writing community is to emulate the type of community you want. If you want a supportive community, support other writers. Find local book launches and attend them. If you can’t afford to buy their book at the launch, order it from the library. Read it. Write a review of the book. Be the type of friend you wish you had.
  1. Go to open mics. Tell people when you like their stuff. Don’t just sit there. Make a rule that you attend two events every month to build your writing career and community, you talk to one new person at each event, and you say hi to friends you’ve met at previous events.
  1. Follow your new friends on Facebook. It’s hard being a writer. Most of us aren’t natural talkers. We want to write stuff down, not say words out loud to people with faces. Luckily, Facebook makes this easy. It’s a great way to keep the conversation going with new friends. After each event you attend, follow the people that you met. See what they are interested in, and find out what events are coming up next. Go to those events. Talk to a new person at that event, and high five the old one.
  1. Host a writer’s night. After you’ve been going to different events for a while, and you have a few writer friends, invite them over to your house to do . . . nothing. Just hang out. Eat food. Talk about what you’ve been up to. I’ve been hosting writer’s nights for about three years, and they are my favorite nights of the year. I invite every writer I know, I clean the house, and I make a food thing. Or, more likely, I buy a nicer food thing. People come, they bring a food thing too, and we get to know each other, without the pressure of critiques or readings or workshops. The only rules I have for Writer’s Night:

Writers only – no partners. Then everyone at Writer’s Night knows they can talk about what they’ve been working on. I use this as my conversation starter with most writers: What are you working on? It’s an easy entry into shared interests.

Introduce yourselves. Everyone goes around in a circle and says their name and what they’re working on. Everybody hates it, but they also figure out who is working in similar genres, and they know who they can talk to. Plus, everyone is united in the awkwardness.

Be kind. I say this. Explicitly. Twice. It sets the tone for the evening, and the expectation. I want this to be a place where community thrives, and where people get to know each other in a welcoming space. Be a dork. Tell people you want them to be friends. Walk around and connect people with similar interests. It will be weird for a moment, but worthwhile in the end. You’ll help make new friends, and create the community you’ve been wanting.

You are on your way. It may take a while, but it’s possible to find the community you want and the support you need. The first step is getting out your front door. If you can’t find writing events in your area, a good first step is heading to your local library or bookstore. Ask them what is going on in the next few weeks. Publishers Weekly also offers event listings for larger markets here. If there are simply no events to attend in your small town, here’s what you need to do: make your own. Try hosting a write-in at a nearby bar or restaurant. Let us know how it goes. We know you can do it.

And if you are ever in Oregon, shoot me an email and find out what is going on in our community. I look forward to meeting you.

Let us know how you are building your own community on Main Street in the comments below.

• • •

Kate Ristau is an author and folklorist who writes young adult and middle grade fiction. Her novels, Clockbreakers and Shadow Girl are now available from Indigo Sea Press. In her ideal world, magic and myth combine to create memorable stories with unforgettable characters. Until she finds that world, she’ll live in Oregon with her husband, her son, and her dog. If you can’t find her there, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or at kateristau.com.

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Comments

  1. Kate-
    Great advice!

    I love Kate’s Writers’ Nights. I always leave with new friends and new ideas.

    I’ve done something similar by holding Book in a Month classes, mostly because I want to be surrounded by writers so I can say things like “my characters aren’t doing what I say,” and no one calls the paddy wagon.

  2. Debby Dodds says:

    Yes! This is wonderful advice.
    And I agree, Writers’ Nights are a blast

  3. Yay! Totally on board with Writers’ Nights, and the rules Kate emphasizes. The first three, which I skimmed, were good for building up the list of people to invite, and I have tried all of them! It takes time, but the face-slapping is worth it.

  4. I tend to hang out with other writers in small groups at bars. I do like the idea of doing a writer’s night at someone’s house though. . . kind of like game night or craft night. Thanks for getting me thinking! Oh, and now that it’s (almost) spring I have the energy to get something like this started!

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