Building a writing communityA couple years ago I moved from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. (What can I say, I like Portlands!) But despite the identical names, they're very different cities. I'd been in Oregon for a decade, spent much of that time immersed in the various writing and music scenes, made good friends, and felt well-supported within those communities. Then suddenly I'm in this new place on the other side of the continent with no literary connections — and having to use GPS to get around town too. Ugh! So I've done a lot of thinking over the past two years about literary community, what it means to build or join a community of writers, and why it's crucial to be a part of such a community. I've also done a lot of reaching out; I've attended many readings; I've joined a writing group that meets monthly; and what do you know, slowly but surely I've become a part of a new community of Maine writers that I turn to for mentorship, feedback, or just to grab a drink and talk about books we love. The solitude that people often experience when they move to a new town can be great for writing. You can be a lot more productive when your social options are limited. But at some point every writer craves that sense of community, or what Daryl Rothman calls a "literary network of resources, opportunity and mutual support which can help take your writing and publishing dreams to the next level."

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The Importance of a Writer CommunityI have a theory about creating a successful career as a novelist: we all need community; we succeed because of our community. Community is a three-legged stool. I have one of these stools at home, painted black and white, with pink udders under the seat. My creative grandfather gave it to me, and I smile every time I look at it because it’s fun, playful, and reminds me of him, and of my three-legged theory of success for authors.

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Online Writing Workshop4 ways to improve your writing through an online writing workshop

Writing is by nature a solitary profession. Whether you're just starting to explore your love of words or are wrapping up a novel, you can benefit from online writing workshops. They offer numerous benefits to writers at all levels and can give your creativity a boost. Consider these ways you will be able to harness your creative writing powers by participating in one right now.

1. You have a set schedule for writing

Writing is like a muscle. If you don't exercise regularly, you get flabby. At the beginning of a new workout schedule, most people are very enthusiastic. They tend to lose interest within the first month or so when distractions get in the way or their muscles start to protest. Joining a fitness class or playing a team sport is one way to stay on track. You have other people to keep you accountable. You need to learn to exercise your writing muscle on a regular schedule. Signing up for an online writer's workshop means you will be working at your craft even on days when the words don't come easily, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. You can gain the skills necessary to work through times when you struggle to find the right way to express yourself or you just get something down, knowing that you can come back to it later when your creativity well is a bit higher.

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There are many types of workshops, but none are quite as useful at honing a novelist's natural voice as a read aloud and critique workshop.

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I'm flawed. You're flawed. We're all flawed.

You know the feeling. Someone critiques your writing; you flash them the evil eyes and think, "You complete moron! You've missed the point of my piece entirely, and of course you did-- you're an idiot and I hate everything you've written anyways, so what do you know?" First you wish them bodily harm, then you start scheming your revenge, and then finally you think to yourself "Hmmm. Maybe they have a point?" The other day I posted a link to a Poetry Foundation article about the worth of MFA programs. While I've never been "officially" enrolled in any creative writing program, I did take three MFA workshop classes in poetry as a post baccalaureate at Portland's lovely State University when my schedule (and $$!!!) allowed.

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Anyone who’s spent serious time in a writing group or workshop knows that not all members’ opinions are equal.

Everyone has different tastes, biases, and motives. You may occasionally find the class or group split right down the middle on a particular phrase, character, line, or plot point– half of them pleading with you to take it out, half of them claiming it’s essential to your work!

So how do you listen to the good suggestions and sift out the bad? — Check out Kristen Lamb’s article “Can Critique Groups Do More Harm Than Good?”

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Running your own informal writing workshop can be a difficult but rewarding experience. It ain’t easy to get a group of people together who are promising writers AND critical readers, who are honest but nurturing in their feedback, who are committed to meeting frequently, and who don’t smell like cheap wine all the time.

But think of the American expats meeting at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Think of the Inklings congregating in the corner of some Oxford Pub. You could be the founder of a similar literary club that makes history! And even if you don’t make history, you’ll be making each other better writers. And THAT would seem to be the true measure of its success.

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