A Northwest Based Literary Journal

Forming a writing squad: How can DIY & low-residency MFAs build writing communities? By Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber

Writers need friends for lots of reasons: to cheer against rejections and celebrate soft declines (very hard to explain to non-writers!); to hoot and holler over acceptances; to help keep focused on long- and short-term goals. Every writer needs a pal, a boo-hoo buddy who can commiserate, then say chin up, chest out, and soldier on. If a writing community is what you desire, then be your own best character and put desire in motion. Even if you’re not able to participate in a full-time MFA program, you’ll need a writing squad.

 

Here are thoughts from some writers who have managed to build and maintain mutually supportive connections to other writers.

 

Tip #1: Many urban centers have writer’s workshops. See if any free write-ins or sample classes are on offer before you commit!

Jean Wang of New York City has taken classes in person at the Gotham Writers Workshop. She said that this “opened the door to the writer’s community for me. The last writing class I took before Gotham was my freshman English composition, and that was a long, long time ago. Now,” she said, “I have writing buddies, reading groups, and weekly and monthly booth sessions: a little community, and it’s expanding.”

 

Tip #2: Take the initiative! If you are part of an online class and want to connect with other writers and share work but opportunities are limited, don’t be shy. Invite others to join you!

Susan Cohen of Raanana Israel formed a writing exchange group with seven other writers she met via a One Story Online Class last spring. She said taking the class gave her “the intoxicating feeling that I suddenly had access to a whole community of likeminded people. This was important to me, especially since I live abroad, and there are fewer opportunities to attend writing workshops or attend MFA programs.”

 

Tip #3: Use Twitter and social media to stay in touch and celebrate success with writing connections! The goodwill of celebrating even small victories is contagious.

Californian Bree Barton has taken a variety of classes via Eckleburg Workshops. “I’ve definitely felt I’ve been a part of a community,” she said. “One girl and I hit it off so well that we became pen pals, and have corresponded regularly for the last 18 months, reading each other’s work, cheering each other on.” Although forging friendships that leap into real life is an exception, she felt Eckleberg “fostered a sense of community; I’m Facebook friends with all the participants, which gives me the chance to ‘like’ their posts every time they publish a new piece, and also gives ME a chance to thank my teachers and classmates whenever I get a piece picked up that I wrote in the workshop.”

 

Tip #4: Not every workshop is conducive to finding community, so you might need to put your squad goggles on to find a few individuals or small groups you can join in large class settings.

John Lugo-Treble of Cornwall, UK is currently enrolled in the University of Iowa MOOC, “How Writers Write Fiction.” This free, 8-week, 24/7 massive online open class has over 2,000 students enrolled worldwide. He said, “it is a great course but the sheer scale of it means you can drown in the numbers.” He said to combat being overwhelmed, he linked in with other writers within the course. “I joined two groups on the course, the Story Talk and the GLBTA+ because I wanted to connect with other writers who write GLBTA characters.”

 

Tip #5: If you are part of something special, cherish it and preserve it if you can.

Iowan Audra Kerr Brown recently completed a FastFlash® Workshop with Kathy Fish, and found that she wanted to keep in touch with her cohort of classmates. “I’ve never experienced such an outpouring of encouragement,” Kerr said. The group decided to set up its own site once the class was over, named it “The Fish Tank” with the blessing of their teacher, and are using it as both a generative workspace and a place to critique works in progress. Kerr said of her new writing community, “What I appreciate most is the knowledge. This is not Writing 101; it’s a well-read, highly educated group of passionate writers.”

 

In sum: find opportunities to expand your knowledge of the writing craft through classes and workshops. Make the most of the experience by being supportive of fellow writers, and cultivate a squad of writing friends, to career along with on your writing adventure.

 

 

A.E. Weisgerber’s story, “Sleeping Beauty: Markson Fangirl,” will appear in TLR issue 5, coming out December 1. Besides teaching literature and composition, she is Fiction Editor at The Indianola Review. She has work forthcoming in the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. She has a BA in English, an MBA in marketing, and is currently working on that DIY MFA as she writes her first novel. She lives at home in New Jersey with her husband, three sons, and two kids named Snapdragon and Socrates.

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Categorised in: Fiction, Nonfiction