We are often asked how we cultivated and maintain such a “large” critique group. When we started out, most of us didn’t have agents or book deals. As the years have gone on, many of us have moved on to different stages in our publishing careers. But given that we all have very different experiences and timelines, we thought we’d sit down and actively think through our process for becoming a group that provides consistent and stable support to each other no matter what stage of life or writing each person is at.
This part 1 of a 2-part series about cultivating a critique group and writer community! (Update: check out part 2 here)
(Note: when talking about building community, we can only speak to the specific communities we have successfully built. So please take our journey and advice with a grain of salt. What worked for us might not necessarily work for you and your community)
Building Our Community
Finding the best communication method
Though many of us had individually connected with other writers, our attempts at building one community space for all of us took some trial and error. We started with GroupMe, but that chat was very fast moving and required us to be present at all times to keep up with the flow. Some of us connected on Gchat, but it had the same problem as GroupMe in that there was a single forum and the chat moved too fast sometimes for some people to keep up with it (especially if we were busy with day-job stuff).
After a few other suggestions, we finally settled on Slack, which we still use to this day.
The thing that everyone liked the most about it was channels. The Slack helped split convos into specific channels so we didn’t subject people to discussing Hamilton if they didn’t care about it (but honestly, who wouldn’t care about Hamilton?!) or be able to discuss spoilers if not everyone has had the chance to watch that new Star Wars or read that newest Holly Black release. When it comes to channels like “The Bachelor” or “Star Wars” or “The Cruel Prince” we try to keep it contained to those channels so people can choose to or not engage with certain content. This way, we had a place to talk about all of our interests without the conversation becoming too unwieldy (which is natural with almost 20 people) and we could compartmentalize our chats as well. Also emojis in Slack are 👍
The channels also helped us cultivate “safe spaces.” Not only so that we could discuss sensitive topics, but also so that we could create spaces that were free of negativity or triggering discussions. This is actually where our “anti-salt” channel was born from. We wanted a space where we were forbidden from being negative about our writing and writing journey. And it organically became a place for us to share our favorite snippets from our WiPs and talk about our favorite craft topics in a positive way!
We would actually credit Skype with being one of the main reasons our CP group got as close as we did. When we were first getting to know each other, we wanted to be able to see each other face-to-face and hear each other’s voices. (Fun fact: there was a point where we asked everyone to voice record themselves saying their names, so we knew how to pronounce them! This is what happens when you meet people through the internet and only interact on text.)
Skype allowed us to have more intimate and organic conversations. It let us understand each others’ quirks in a way that’s just not possible on text. And it allowed us to grow a trust within the group so that when we eventually had to stop doing huge group Skypes we still knew we could have nuanced conversations in our Groupme and eventually Slack chats.
Connecting Outside of Writing
We’re all writers. That was always a given since we met each other through the publishing industry. But after we initially connected as critique partners, one of the main ways in which we were able to grow our community was by bonding over things outside of writing.
Here are some examples of ways in which we bonded outside of writing:
- Reading old embarrassing fanfic in shared fandoms
- Talking about key childhood bookish influences
- Starting a snapchat group that is almost solely snaps of our pets
- Talking about the Bachelor
- Having informal book club talks about recent releases or sharing ARCs that we received for anticipated releases
- Teaching Mara how to use a gas stove at the first retreat to avoid accidental asphyxiation
As we became better friends, it was only natural that we wanted to hang out and flail over books and writing in person too! We scheduled our IRL get togethers around things that we’d all naturally be attending, like conferences and festivals. In fact, some of us met the group in-person at a book conference first! Conferences and festivals are a natural congregation point for authors (because we’re also readers/fans). So, when we tried to figure out what would be the most cost-effective and easy-to-plan time to get together as a group, we found out that having a writing retreat (which we lovingly call our “cultreats”) right before or after an annual conference was easier and more convenient. We actually had our first huge gathering at ALA in 2017, and we’ve planned other cultreats around BTAF and BookCon.
We’re also lucky in that many of us are clustered around certain areas like Boston, NYC, or the Bay Area which gives us opportunities to meet up more regularly for writing dates or book launches.
Stay tuned for the second part of our “cultivating community” posts where we talk about growing and maintaining your community and setting boundaries.