Monday, September 07, 2009

Writing organizations

Current Project: Leg Shaving Leads to Trouble
Status: In progress...

I apologize for the quite tardy post today. I was camping over the weekend and thought I would have access to a friend's laptop this morning with a cellular wireless adapter, but it was so windy we couldn't get signal :( Just got home and am posting now.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about writing organizations and the reasons people choose to join them. All groups and organizations go through membership growth and loss and often it seems to happen in batches. Many times those batches seem to occur around dues renewal, especially in these economic times. That causes one to evaluate what they are looking for in an organization, what they are getting, and if it's worth the cost.

Before I joined RWA, I didn't hunt around for an organization that suited me. I learned of RWA and made a decision to join that specific organization because my understanding was that it's the premier organization for romance writers. Although I didn't make a decision between multiple organizations, I still had expectations of what to get from the organization. I had absolutely no experience with romance writing and hadn't been reading romance for very long. Once I started reading romance, I realized that the genre was what I had been looking for as a writer.

I went online to learn more about romance writing and came across RWA. I was excited to learn there was a chapter in Salem so I went online to learn more about the group. This was about a week before the fall workshop (about four years ago I think?) [holy crap, I can't believe it's been that long - think of all the books I could have written by now! UGH!] so I bit the bullet and signed up for the workshop. I had a great time and went to the next meeting. It was wonderful to see people at so many stages in their writing. I then signed up for the first beach retreat that happened a couple of months later and learned even more.

The group seemed so open, answering any questions asked, sharing resources. There was no sense of competition or jealousy - everyone was truly happy for one another. As I learned more about writing, my focus changed to learning about the publishing industry and honing my craft. I was able to keep learning on those topics. I've been to a couple of national conferences and received a wider view of the industry within the country and the world.

It has left me wondering if there are organizations that provide so many benefits within other genres. I haven't joined other writing groups yet. I'd like to know - what do you look for in a writing group? What are the important factors? What keeps you from joining a group?


Alice Sharpe said...

Lisa -- I hear you about the camping and the weather.

As for organizations -- I didn't join RWA until I had written many books. Not much of a joiner. I also don't expect a lot from the organization anymore although at first, I was thrilled to go to workshops and conferences. There was so much to learn although it eventually sunk in that I knew quite a lot of it, I just had never actually organized my thoughts.

I've found it very nurturing for a variety of people. A lot of the writers who belong don't technically write romances, but there are few other groups that are as big, offer as much support, and are as generous in spirit as this one. I'm not good at maintaining long distance relationships with near strangers, so the close friendships of the local group have been a nice addition in the last few years.

I don't know that it really matters what I look for -- it's what you look for that means something to you and it's probably a whole lot different. As for me, like interests, civility, an opportunity to be part of a community when the mood strikes -- that's what I want.

I miss those fall workshops!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I joined RWA after I already had a couple manuscripts under my belt, but I can't tell you how invaluable I've found all the info they've given me about the business. I love that I have a place to go to ask questions and get honest answers, and I love the spirit of generosity most of the members embrace. I've encountered a few bad apples in the group (there are always bad apples, aren't there?) but for the most part, RWA is an organization about writers helping other writers and growing the genre as a whole. Before RWA I'd never really encountered a group like this.

I'm interested in what others have to say about other writer groups. I'm considering joining Thrill Writers and NINC but keep putting it off for various reasons...mostly because I'm lazy.

Karen Duvall said...

Lisa, I love this post! It's a subject I haven't thought about in a long time and you've given me an idea for something to post on my own blog. :)

When I first started writing, it was a lonely pursuit and I was only writing short stories. I started my own little "pod" group of local writers for monthly critique before I learned there was such thing as real live writers organizations. :) I was such a newb. That's when I learned about Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, went to my first conference, and then wrote my first novel.

I later joined Mystery Writers of America and quickly discovered it wasn't the group for me. Very stodgy with lots of very strict rules. No fun at all. I had some RMFW friends who were members of RWA and, in fact, RMFW used to be a chapter of RWA in the 80s, before I knew about the group. RMFW got so much interest from writers of other genres that it eventually left the RWA nest and struck out on its own.

I joined RWA about 9 years ago, soon after my first novel was published. This was in Denver so I had 2 local chapters to belong to. I went to a few of the special meetings, but didn't get involved much because I had my beloved Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Still do. They're the best fit for me and at only $45/year, I can swing the dues. I attribute the majority of my knowledge about writing to RMFW.

I'm very close with my RMFW friends and make sure I see them at least once a year at our annual conference (which starts in just 2 days! Squeee!). But I also have a number of very close online friends I "talk" to all the time, though we've never met face to face.

I like the local writers group here in Central Oregon and will make an effort to get more involved with them, but I need to renew my membership.

An aside: J. Reid, agent with FinePrint (and former Miss Snark) is coming to Bend after the Denver conference. She told me in a tweet on Twitter. Talk about a coincidence. She probably has friends or family here.

Alice Sharpe said...

Eli -- I forgot I also belong to NINC. Their newsletter used to come in print form and I read every word. Now that it's electronic, I tend to forget about it. I think writers often get tired of reading things on screen. It's not like we don't spend an inordinate amount of time stuck in front of one, right?

Anyway, I like the group although I haven't attended a conference. There are writers of all kinds and you have to have three books (or is it two?) published to become a member but the books can be any kind, fiction or non-fiction, etc. although I think at this point they have to be published in print form and the publisher has to pay royalties, etc. (the push is to keep writing a paying proposition that someone can make a decent living at if they work hard, etc...) They have a lawyer column I find interesting and Susan Wiggs writes (or wrote) an essay on different subjects that I always enjoy. And this year, they drastically reduced the price of their conference due to the economy which I thought was very cool. I'm kicking myself I didn't sign up!

Deborah Wright said...

Great post, Lisa! I've been writing for personal pleasure for years, always with the thought in the back of my mind of someday writing with the goal of being published. Our decision to move to Oregon two years ago spurred me to "get serious" about my writing. One of the things that I really wanted to find was a professional organization that would welcome unpublished writers, while remaining focused on the fact that writing is a business as well as a craft.

I looked at SFWA and MWA first, since my reading interests have always leaned heavily to the SF/Fantasy and Mystery genres and I assumed that I would be writing in them as well. I've read and enjoyed romance novels on and off for years, but I wouldn't categorize myself as an aficionado of the genre and didn't plan to write in it. Still, I had RWA as third on my list to look at.

I'll be blunt -- even if I were published in SF/Fantasy, I doubt that I'd join SFWA. I was turned off by the negative/condescending attitude towards unpublished writers by many SFWA members in blog posts/comments, as well as the public bickering between members regarding the organization. They have nothing I need that I can't get elsewhere. Mystery Writers of America looked interesting, save for one thing -- unpublished writers may only join as "affiliate members" without the full participation given to "active members." I can understand that point of view, but I was looking for an organization that wouldn't make me feel, even if it was only in my own head, that I was a second class citizen simply because I have not yet been published.

RWA fit the bill for me to a T. I love that there are local chapters -- joining the Salem chapter has been a huge influence on keeping me going! I love that there are programs/tracks for everyone, no matter where you are in your writing career, and that the organization encourages mentoring and learning. I can't tell you how impressed I've been with the national conferences I've attended. And I'll tell you something else that I love -- that the majority of members are women. I've spent the last 25 years in my other professional career in a largely male dominated industry. Every large professional event I've ever attended has always had fewer than 10% female attendees and usually that number is closer to 5%. It isn't that I don't appreciate the guys, but it's truly refreshing to be part of the majority for once!

Finally, I love that RWA is inclusive. I've come to realize that I may not ever write what could strictly be considered a romance novel. However, there will always be a strong romantic element in anything I write. And I love that RWA seems to understand and embrace that -- that novels with "strong romantic elements" are even honored in the yearly awards.

Deborah Wright said...

I inadvertently left something out when I was editing my earlier comment before posting.

I should say that not all SFWA members have the attitude I mentioned and I didn't mean to paint them all with the same brush. It's just that I encountered enough negativity while researching whether to join SFWA that I was completely turned off. YMMV.

Lisa Leoni said...

Wow, thank you everyone!! I really appreciate your comments. It's nice to see that everyone has had different reasons and different experiences with RWA, and to learn more about other writing groups out there. Thank you!

Paty Jager said...

While there are some e-book/POD authors badmouthing RWA- it has been the one organization that embraced me when I needed help and guidance with my writing and it was through RWA I found my CP's and some really good friends.

Through their contests and conferences I honed my writing and have networked. I believe good writing organizations are good for writers. It's nice to know you aren't alone and others have been where you are.

The local writing group is very supportive and is getting better and bringing presenters to the meetings that teach something. I'm always looking to improve my writing.

The Women Writing the West is a very encouraging organization and they help with promotion, so I'm glad I joined them.

Like Debbie I tried the Mystery writers and found them not helpful at all.