Today I continue my series on ReaderCon with two panels on how to engage with the writing community. The first panel is about choosing a writing program or workshop, and the second is on joining or creating a local or online writers' group.
Writing Craft and Mentoring Programs
There are now more MFA and writing programs than ever before. This panel addresses the question: how to choose between them?
The main distinction is between intensive workshops and credentialing programs (such as MFA’s). Intensive workshops develop critiquing facilities that you can turn onto your own work, as well as create instant community and give you a mutual support system. A credentialing (degree) program won’t do more for your editing skills than a workshop will, but is important if you want to teach writing. A degree program is like an apprenticeship, so if you decide to apply, pay attention to who you’re going to be studying with, and whether they are good teachers. Also consider what kind of program is right for you, such as whether you want a full-time or a low-residency program.
Beyond the high-profile workshops (Clarion, Odyssey), there are many local workshops and classes, for example, Grub Street in Boston and Gotham Writers in New York, as well as online classes such as Odyssey and Writing the Other.
The panelists also gave some recommendations for books on writing: Steering the Craft, Ursula Le Guin and Story, Robert McKee.
Finally, Kenneth Schneyer offered some motivational words (loosely paraphrased): "Rejection is part of an artists’ life. Be accustomed to the experience without being crushed, and get used to resending things. I’m reasonably successful, and my acceptance rate is 9%."
Making First Contact with Your Local Speculative Fiction Community
ReaderCon and other national conventions are great, but how else can you connect with the writing community in the meantime?
The panelists gave a lot of suggestions for connecting with the writing community, both locally and online. Here is a list:
- Search meetup in the city/state where you live. (I found the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers through meetup.)
- The local library and college are great places to start - you can approach the librarians and professors. Jim LeMay suggests asking at bookstores and coffeeshops; where he lives (Denver), well-known writers often show up to the bookstores. Matthew Kressel started a group in Hoboken, New Jersey, by advertising with flyers on boards in coffeeshops. Local writing events are a great place to meet writers and people with similar interests; Kressel suggests Fantastic Fiction at KGB in New York. Especially for people who are introverted, being at a reading allows you to just sit and absorb, and there is less pressure to interact.
- If you don't find anything local, you can form a group with people whom you know online. Lauren Roy formed a critique group with others who played on the same RPG server for World of Warcraft; the forum there had a writing section where people exchanged stories.
- Videochat with writing friends on a regular basis. Crystal Huff set up google hangouts with friends, for two hours every month. First they check in about what's going on emotionally (like if someone had an upsetting week). They they get to work, bouncing ideas and passing googledocs to each other. BSFW has also been experimenting with an online group, particularly for writers who have moved, or work night shifts and can't make the normal times.
- For online critique groups, Rob Cameron suggests critters.org. Kressel suggests Codex writers, which is a private forum of people who critique and give each other moral support, and has a straightforward application process. Subcommunities on reddit like /writing can also be supportive. SFWA has a mentoring program.
- Reach out to writers directly. Cameron met one of his favorite writers at ReaderCon and later reached out to them saying that he was writing a story with an element similar to theirs; this started a 2-month-long correspondence.