Writers and Community – A Good Thing

One of my Creative Consultants.

One of my Creative Consultants.

Many envision the writer as:

– the loner

– the hermit who sleeps during the day and types at night on an old Underwood portable

– the person no one has actually seen, yet like Bob Newhart, has Moo Goo Gai Pan delivered to his door at Thanksgiving instead of having the traditional holiday feast. Okay, that was a stretch. But I loved the episode.

In the morning? The woman who owns the house finds a small bag of trash sitting outside the writer’s door.  The rent check is taped to the door, just above the knob. The fortune from the cookie is crumpled up, and it sits next to the empty bag from Number One China Inn. A wine cork rattles around the empty rice container.

And most people think this paradigm works for writers. I am sure Stephen King must work in this manner, as does J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith.

Really? This only works in the movies. And if the writer is a man, then add an ex-girlfriend into the mix, as well as an unscrupulous agent or gambler. If the writer is a woman? Well, Hollywood hasn’t figured that out yet. I am sure they will eventually, as long as a thin and voluptuous actress can play the part.

In real life, writers need community. I associate with several. In the past, when I lived closer to them I was a participating member of the Hampton Roads Writers. Now I keep up with social media maven/writer/tribe leader Kristen Lamb, who has written quite a few books for writers about the need for community. Need to know about “how” to write or what “not” to do? Her group, the WanaTribe, is for you. And they are just plain quirky enough to be a real fun bunch. I have also recently joined the Mystery Writers of America. There is much to be gained here from these professionals.

Life wasn’t all kittens and puppies, though. At one time I posted material on another online writer’s web-community, one which shall remain nameless, but it did not work out too well. It was poetry heavy and novel light; but this was not the problem. The issue was the members would read your posted material, then add a comment such as “I loved your work. It was awesome! And here’s a link to my latest and greatest material. Thanks in advance for reading it!” The whole site was a self-serving vehicle to get as many people as possible to “like” your work and post comments about how great you were as a writer. When you didn’t reciprocate? You were taken out of the loop and no one would read your new stuff. And if you posted constructive criticism? It never went well.

I became the online hermit for a while after that experience. And I don’t even like moo goo gai pan.

Then I found Book Country, a writer’s community sponsored by Penguin Books. At the time they were looking for a second round of beta testers so I volunteered. No regrets since.  All genres welcome and there’s a map page to steer you toward the one you want. Diverse discussion boards are included, covering everything from the business of writing to character development to software and tech updates. The site moderators are very engaging and take Book Country and the members seriously.

I have been workshopping my latest novel on Book Country for a few months. The feedback I have received has been invaluable. I still have a ways to go before I would consider the novel “done” but it is at least readable for now. In fact, I was blessed with a gift from the site editors – my novel, The Apple Pie Alibi, was chosen as one of the editor’s picks for June – and they did a short interview with yours truly.

For a guy like me, being introduced on their website (and their Twitter feed) as “Mystery Writer D.J. Lutz” was very affirming.

And it all happened because I decided to stop ordering the moo goo gai pan and come out of the room at the top of the stairs.

If you are a writer, don’t just report on life – be a part of it. Join a writer’s community. If you don’t have one, try Book Country. Or find another. The point is – writers can become better writers by learning from other writers. And that means joining a community.

Put down the chopsticks and get going!

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