Writing societies, collectives, and salons.
Before I published my first book, I received an invitation to join a collective called the Toronto’s Writers Salon. It wasn’t exactly a secret society, but it was exclusive, and I felt lucky to be invited. In the Salon, seasoned authors (famous ones!) were hanging out with emerging writers, like me.
We took turns hosting events, which could be fancy cocktail parties, potlucks, or backyard hot tub parties. We met to discuss special topics, like How is running like writing? or Who's a good agent, really?
In this community, I learned the business and craft of writing much more quickly than I could have alone. It was so valuable to be with other writers: the whisper-network education (sometimes called “gossip”), editorial advice, and deep, difficult, delicious conversations about money, power and psychology were enlightening. I remember hearing authors I admire confess to feeling stuck on a story problem, or hurt by a bad review, and thinking — hey! If that's how they feel, maybe I am a real writer!
The Burning Rock Society, a small and mighty writing collective in Newfoundland, is where authors Lisa Moore, Michael Winter, and Jessica Grant got their start. These writers tapped into the power of interdependence, and gathered to support and motivate each other for years. Unsurprisingly, Canadian publishing experienced a Newfoundland-lit wave around that time.
Because when writers get together, they literally create culture.
The Binders Full of Women Writers Facebook group is another powerful writing society: these members understand that they’re much stronger when they pool their resources and talk to each other about the business of writing.
The publishing industry is built to be competitive, and as publishers compete in the market, writers are pitted against each other. Big money is at stake when an author is nominated for a prize! Writing prizes keep the writing economy running, and that competition can be exciting. But it can be really alienating for writers, who actually need to work together to feel connected, secure, and creatively tapped in.
It also feels like the industry keeps a lot of important parts of the business a secret, like which teams have the best publicists, how much writers make in their advances, what certain editors are working on already, etc.
Writing happens in a network, and we need to be part of it.
We are much stronger when we work together. This is why writing collectives exist.
Writers (myself included) need to evolve from being independent, and learn how to trust the power of a network.
Where are you on this journey? Are you inspired by writing societies? What are you doing to expand your network this year? Do you believe there could be a community that would truly support your success? What would that look like for you?
So many writers resist community. I get it: I'm a fiercely independent only child and a stubborn non-joiner. I spent most of my young life feeling like nobody understood me, and I formed a bit of a callus around that identity. As an adult, I defiantly called myself a “writer” knowing it could also be a signal for “intellectual loner”.
Hahaha! That was just personality armour. I’m neither intellectual nor a loner, really!
What would it mean to grow into healthy interdependence? We need a community that puts writers first, where we feel curious enough to transcend our ego and put energy into the more exciting thing: the culture that we’re creating.
We could take up space with the stories that are meaningful to us individually, and create a meaningful culture, through our stories.
Here’s what I'm doing: I’ve created the Centered collective, and it’s growing. Our members are beginning to contribute more and more to the programming. I’m learning, and they’re learning, and it’s pretty cool.
Photo credit (top): Alex Harmuth on Unsplash.