Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writers, Assemble!

I've posted about writers groups before - some suggestions for making them useful and fun. But how do you get them going in the first place? Especially if you don't live in a big city? Well, there's good news and bad news.

Let's start with the bad news. Some of the traditional venues for writers groups have gone the way of the dodo. Indie bookstores used to be the perfect place to gather ink-stained wretches. You'd meet fellow enthusiasts browsing the stacks, and many of the stores had bulletin boards for just this kind of thing. Of course, Barnes & Noble killed the indies, and Amazon killed Barnes & Noble, and then cable TV and the Xbox dropped a neutron bomb on everything that was still standing, so the bookstore as writer's agora just ain't what it used to be.

The good news (at least as far as writers groups go - I can't do anything about declining readership) is that there are substitutes, analogues, and that overall gap-filler, te interwebz.

Substitutes - the sci-fi bookstore may be gone (adios, Dangerous Visions; farewell, Change of Hobbit) but comic and gaming stores remain. Any store that features games in the basement or back room on weekends, or has a bulletin board up front or an event calendar - in short, any store that tries to become more involved with its patrons than just shilling the latest graphic novel - is a possibility. The staff may allow you to meet in the back room; they might know about regular customers who also want to write; they might allow you to post a notice on their bulletin board; they might have other suggestions. They're a resource.

Of course, if you do try to use them, be cool. Don't ask for their help the very first time you enter the store. Make a point of going to the store long enough to establish a relationship; buy some merchandise; smile; be friendly and low key. Once they say "Hi, [your name here]" when you walk in the door, you can let them know you're a writer looking for other writers. And don't disappear after you've gotten what you want. Maintain that relationship. It's the classy thing to do. It's also the smart thing - you might both be able to help one another again. And looking for people through the game store might take some time and patience - so you don't ever want the staff to become sick of you.

But what if your suburb/small town/soulless urban wasteland doesn't even have a comic shop? Maybe it has a university or community college. Campuses are great places to go looking for fellow writers and nerds. Not only can you count on at least half of the students being able to read; colleges usually have organizations devoted exclusively to extracurricular activities, calendars of student events, and - wait for it - bulletin boards.

Say you struck out at the college and comic shop? Some cities - usually the larger ones, alas - have "adult enrichment" or "continuing education" programs, private and public, that feature writing classes. (In my glorious home town we have everything from the New School to CUNY to the Gotham Writing Workshop - but I'm lucky.) Obviously, a class is a pretty damned good way to meet candidates for your group. The caveat with classes, however, is that not many writers in a general writing class are likely to be interested in or good at F/SF. Writing spec fix takes a specialized knowledge base and an unusual set of interests; it's not blazingly likely you'll find a lot of like-minded folk at a general class. Of course, if you can find a class geared toward fans...

Which brings us to conventions. Cons are a hail-mary pass if you attend as a guest. You don't have a lot of time to look for writers, most of the attendees won't be living near enough to become involved in your group (unless it's a small, very local con), and everybody is distracted with panels, parties, cosplay and booths. However, if you volunteer to be one of the organizers, the picture changes. You hang out with fellow enthusiasts for long enough to become acquaintances - maybe even friends. You are plugged into the net of gossip, information and possibilities that swirls around any big event. Possibilities may open up that you would never have known about otherwise.

The same rules apply to volunteering that apply to the comic shops. Be cool. Don't be there just for your own purposes. Make sure to give help as well as seek it. Be present, and be happy to be there. If you can't do that (and we all have times in our lives when we can't) then pass on this possibility for now and try something else.

Up next - the sequence of tubes that we call the Internet.

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