Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Being Part of a Writing Community

Scott's Note: Sam Wiebe has a piece here today, about a topic quite relevant to many.  Sam's third novel, Cut You Down, has just come out, and it's more evidence that from his base in Vancouver, he is writing topnotch private eye novels. Cut You Down is the second book that features his private investigator Dave Wakeland.

And so...Sam?

Being Part of a Writing Community

by Sam Wiebe

           A writing community is almost an oxymoron. Writing is a solitary endeavor, as is reading, and most us have few interactions with the authors of the books we enjoy. Writers aren’t exactly social butterflies; the job tends to attract introverts and the socially anxious. And yet the search for a community of peers and mentors is important, and something I think about quite a bit.
            I didn’t go to creative writing school, but I think one of the benefits of doing so is that inborn sense of community. You surround yourself with people striving for a common goal, some of them better or worse than you. That can be inspiring.
            But for those of us without that resource, who either didn’t have the money and time to pursue an MFA, or who write the kinds of genres those programs typically look down on, where do we turn to find community?
            The answers “online” and “locally” come to mind. Odds are there are writers who live near you, who write roughly the same kind of things you do. There are also online communities that are welcoming and which offer tremendous resources for writing and publishing—LitHub and Aerogramme Writers Studio come to mind (to say nothing of Do Some Damage).
            It wasn’t until Last of the Independents came out that I truly felt part of a writing community, and began realizing the benefit of having people to talk to about the craft and business of writing. E.R. Brown, Robin Spano and Dietrich Kalteis were people who really helped me out in terms of making those connections and offering advice.

            Four years later, I’m on my third novel, Cut You Down, which comes out today. The launch party was a few days ago, and well-attended. I now feel embedded in the Vancouver crime writing community, happy to be part, and hopeful that it will grow and diversify.
            The question I think about now isn’t how to find people, but how to vet and interact with them in a beneficial way. There are writers with little in the way of publication experience, who nevertheless weigh in on writing topics with the authority of a Bronte sister. (Seriously, tweet the tired-as-shit question “pantser or plotter?” and just watch as people come out of the woodwork telling you why what works for them will work for you.) I don’t want to be one of them.
            The advice I normally seek out is rarely about craft—those are questions I feel comfortable working out alone. But the business of writing baffles me, and can be demoralizing. I love talking shop with people smarter than myself, who know the business and have an eye for spotting ways to be more professional.
            That word ‘professional’ has become important to me, as a standard to live up to.
            What fundamentally complicates this search for community is that reading and writing take a hell of a lot of time. If the entry fee of being friends with a fellow writer is to read everything they write, that limits the amount of people you can befriend.
            If I’m doing research, or on a classics kick, or trying to broaden my horizons, your book might not fall into that. That is not a judgement on the book’s quality. It’s about what I need from my reading right now.
            That doesn’t mean a writing community can’t be supportive. What it means is that there’s a line to walk, being encouraging and positive without being disingenuous.
            What I can offer a writing community, and what I expect from it, is respect. On a personal level, but also in the shared recognition that the work we do is difficult but worthwhile. By that perspective, anyone at any level of writing experience, from someone starting out, to a published author looking to stay motivated, is welcome.

            Vancouver has a great local crime writing community. Dietrich Kalteis, Linda Richards, Owen Laukkanen, Sheena Kamal, E.R. Brown, Robin Spano, and Cathy Ace have all worked hard to make me feel a part of that. Those people have my back, and vice versa.
            Those are the most recognized names, because they all have books published. But there are dozens of other members of our writing community. In the years we’ve been running the Noir at the Bar reading series, or the Cuffed Festival, that community has grown. People who volunteer, or who show up to readings, who pitch in on social media or offer encouragement. Irene Lau and Tricia Barker, to name only two, are tireless advocates for Vancouver crime writers.
            Aspiring writers make up a large part of the community. It’s been gratifying to see people like Merrillee Robson and A.J. Devlin go on to publish their own novels. No doubt they’ll be influencing others to come.
            Conferences like Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and Thrillerfest are all great places to expand your writing community. There’s something great about finally meeting a writer you’ve interacted with on social media. Those conferences can be expensive, though. A cheaper alternative is to invite out of town writers to take part in a reading series like Noir at the Bar. In Seattle, Michael Pool and Will Vilharo have done Noir at the Bars featuring writers from California, Oregon or British Columbia. Likewise, we’ve had American authors take part in the Vancouver events.
          What a community boils down to is professionalism and respect.  Feeling that you don't quite belong can make you shy or defensive, but those feelings are in fact your ticket of admission.  If you're in this for the long haul, you'll need to rely on an awful lot of other people for support, advice, and expertise.  If there isn't a community around you, build one.  It pays off.  I promise.

Sam Wiebe is the author of the critically acclaimed series of novels featuring Vancouver PI Dave Wakeland. His latest novel, Cut You Down, comes out today. Visit samwiebe.com and @sam_wiebe  on twitter.

You can find Cut You Down on Amazon right here.


Sandra Ruttan said...

"The question I think about now isn’t how to find people, but how to vet and interact with them in a beneficial way. There are writers with little in the way of publication experience, who nevertheless weigh in on writing topics with the authority of a Bronte sister."

🤣 That was one of the down sides to the blog wave 13 years ago. In publishing and life it's true that if you don't know where you're going any idiot can lead you there.

Dana King said...

Outstanding post, Sam. You hit all the key points, not least of which is how hard it is to keep up with even your friends' books. As I told The Beloved Spouse just the other day, pointing to a substantial To-Be Read pile: "And the bastards just keep cranking them out."

Keep cranking them out. I'll get over it.

John McFetridge said...

Sandra... 13 years ago?!?!? Seems like yesterday :)

Sandra Ruttan said...


Steve Weddle said...

Saw Sam at Bcon in Carolina. I think he was hanging with McFet on the edge of the bar in the lobby.
So I run across traffic to the other hotel bc that's where the book room is and buy a Sam book. Bring it back for him to sign and he's gone.
What a letdown.

Sam said...

Damn, Steve--you're definitely one of the people I wish I'd connected with at BCon. Hopefully next time...