Most of the big things in my life are not planned. In fact, I daresay a very bare amount of them are. I didn’t actually plan to be a writer, I wanted it badly but had no idea how to go about it, one development after another just kept opening doors. Same with the college I went to, all I wanted was to get out of my small town and I ended up at a place where I spent some of my favorite years. This is a trend, is what I’m getting at, and one that is still in strong force today. The best example relevant to this blog is the podcast Authors & Dragons.
For those of you unfamiliar with it, Authors & Dragons (A&D) is a podcast where several fantasy writers play D&D (actually, Pathfinder since the system was free, but fundamentally the same thing) very poorly. But in a funny way. And I am the DM trying to keep them from going totally over a cliff during the sessions.
We started A&D on a wild idea and a whim (sound familiar?) that caught traction and actually turned into something. That doesn’t always happen, either. Sometimes a fun idea dies as no more than that. With A&D, we got lucky, and now we’re coming up on two years of doing the podcast together, with most of the same cast still on board.
And yet, as much as I love doing that podcast, it’s not what I really want to talk about today. Well, aside from those first several paragraphs I just wrote about it, anyway. No, the point of this blog is an aspect of A&D you folks never get to see, the behind-the-scenes conversations that take place on our chat system. See, we don’t just meet up for games once every two weeks and that’s it. We have a constant chat going where all of us can share news, bounce ideas off one another, get feedback, or just generally shoot the shit. It’s a small little pocket of a community, and over the years I’ve started to realize how important that can be.
See, there’s an element of writing full-time that I don’t think most of us talk about too much, mostly because when you have your dream job it feels ungrateful to complain about the inconveniences that come along with it. But given the context of today’s blog, I think we can let it slide. Basically, one of the things you start to miss when doing this gig is, believe it or not, coworkers. Yeah, took me by surprise too. Now I don’t mean you wish someone would take the last cup of coffee without making more or steal your lunch from the fridge. It’s stranger than that.
When you work a normal job, you’ll often take for granted having people you can talk about it with. Bitching about the asshole boss, panning for upcoming events, asking someone for five minutes of input to shave an hour off a project. None of that exists when you work for yourself. Sure, there are your real-life friends, but there’s a limit to how much you can really talk with them about this stuff. My friends do not want to hear any more about the shifting payouts in Kindle Unlimited, they have made that very clear, and even if they did, that’s more of me talking at them than having a discussion.
That’s what makes the small pocket of comradery so important. Not only do I have friends to talk with, but ones that are in the same industry as me, who want to have the conversations that most others would (rightfully) find boring. And the more involved I get in the writer world, the more I think those communities are vital. Being a writer often feels like trying to navigate a dark room with holes in the floor and a thousand voices screaming directions at you. The trouble is, you can’t always tell who is yelling from the other side of the room, and who is yelling up from the holes in the floor. It’s all the more troublesome because the floor is changing as you move, so even good-intentioned advice from someone who made it across could still send you tumbling down.
There are endless places for writers to go talk to each other and learn, but many of them are so filled with toxic, lingering ideas that don’t work and people trying to claw one another down that it’s hard to step into them. There’s also social media, which is better in that you can see your sources more easily, but those conversations are hard to maintain over a long period, especially since interruption can come from anyone at any time.
So what’s the point of this blog? To tell you that it’s hard to find a good community when working for yourself? Well, yes, a little bit. But more than that, the point here is that I’ve realized bumbling into A&D was a huge break of luck I didn’t recognize at the time. Because humans are social creatures, we need to be able to talk, and share, and exchange ideas. Finding a community is something that should be on the “going full-time author” checklist, but I don’t know that it is. I’m not sure the need has been called out publicly enough. It is important, though. You will have bad times, and need hope. You will have rough patches, and need advice. You’ll have days where you just need to vent about industry developments to people who understand and care about those things.
Find a community, even if it’s a small one. Start with social media, that’s a great launching point. Look at the folks you get along with and respect the opinions of. It doesn’t have to be as involved as doing a podcast together. A simple critique group is a great option, you can workshop things and have the social element. Or just create a chat room where people can pop in and out as needed. Small or large, doesn’t matter in the slightest. All that counts is that it’s full of folks you like spending your time talking shop with.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other people. Chances are, they want that sense of community just as much as you do.