Writing is, at its root, a solitary occupation. Sure, you may be sitting in a coffee shop, surrounded by chattering, or at the kitchen table, fending off hungry children. You may have a collaborator, another writer with whom you discuss ideas and share writing and edits. Eventually, you’ll want to add a whole team–an agent, an editor, a publisher, printer, distributor, bookseller and thousands of adoring fans…but in the end, the words and the work begin inside you…just you.
I have to admit, I like this. I’m an introvert, and I like being alone in my head. I love my family, my friends, and am genuinely interested in the stories random strangers love to tell me, but in the end, I spend some of my happiest hours at home, with only my characters to keep me company. Still, even the most introverted among us needs to get out and relate sometimes, and then there are all you extroverts, who find your energy comes from interaction. Let’s face it: most of us would like to discuss our writing joys and worries with someone who can understand what we’re talking about. One way you can meet other writers, learn the publishing ropes, and, in some cases, obtain benefits and legal advice is to join a professional organization.
There are many professional writing organizations out there, ranging from large groups which welcome both amateurs and multi-published authors, to those which focus on a particular ethnic group or professional status. Groups often have national and regional/local chapters. No matter what your genre or writing interest, you’ll find an association that fits. Writing organizations offer various opportunities for members to share information: e-mail loops, publications, websites, chapter meetings, and conferences. As a member of the RWA (Romance Writers of America) and the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), I can ask and answer research questions, learn more about an agent or publisher, figure out a knotty grammar dilemma, or participate in an online critique group, all through e-mail. Groups like the RWA sponsor writing contests, which allow participants to garner valuable feedback, as well as a chance to win a review with an editor or agent. Some organizations even offer legal advice, union representation, and health benefits.
I would definitely recommend that any writer join a national organization, but there are a few drawbacks. First, of course, is the expense. Annual membership dues may not fit into your budget. Second, is the potential for distraction. Most of us only have a limited time for writing. If you know that you are a person who will be readily sucked into organizational activities, such as running for office, and that this will adversely affect your writing, then you may want to forgo membership. Also, be prepared for your e-mail volume to jump. A lot of the messages I get are interesting, but I’ve had to learn that I cannot participate in every discussion, lest I spend all day on the computer, none of it writing.
Interested in finding a group of your own? Here are a few to check out:
Romance Writers of America (www.rwanational.org)
American Christian Fiction Writers (www.acfw.com)
Academy of American Poets (www.poets.org)
Horror Writers Association (www.horror.org)
Mystery Writers of America (www.mysterywriters.org)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (www.sfwa.org)
Sisters in Crime (www.sistersincrime.org)
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org)
Western Writers of American (www.westernwriters.org)
The Author’s Guild (www.authorsguild.org)
American Crime Writers League (www.acwl.org)
None of these for you? An online search for writing organizations will turn up many more options. Know of a good one? List it in the comments!