Deb Amy And The Art Of Finding A Tribe, And A Kitten Sweatshirt

When my kids were little it was easy to make friends with other moms. When I was married it was easy to make friends with the wives of other golf-obsessed husbands. When I was in college it was easy to make friends with sorority sisters and the students within my major.

I found myself in the same place, and having the same experiences as these people. I didn’t need to know much, only that there was a toddler nearby.  I didn’t need to know where a woman lived, only that she was alone with her kids on Sunday mornings because her husband had a tee time.  I didn’t need to know a person’s GPA, only that he or she was building a homecoming float or studying for the same final.

It only takes a tidbit to bring people together and give them the reason to find out more.

And the same goes for writers — at least for me. Usually.

I’ve only been to one writer’s conference and that was in 2008, I think.  I did not enjoy myself. I left a day early. I went to one valuable workshop amidst many. I thought folks were cliquish and unfriendly and I was shocked by the sloppy casual appearance of most attendants. Let’s not discuss the overabundance of embroidered kitten sweatshirts.

Fashion is definitely subjective. If this is your style, you can find it at and I will love you anyway.

But I don’t blame anyone but myself that it didn’t work for me. That was not the right conference for me. And since flying to a conference has not been an option, I’ve needed to find my tribe online.  So I did.

I have belonged to Backspace, The Writers Place since 2007 and I put out a call for Chicago area writers and found my now, long-term critique partner and good friend, Pamela Toler. But it wasn’t a matter of just knowing we lived thirty minutes apart. We emailed, we found out we were in the same place in our novel-writing journey, that we were around the same age, and had similar sensibilities. We lucked out. I also met other friends and my mentors on Backspace.

Pamela Toler, me, and Author Karen Dionne, co-founder of Backspace

I’ve had my own blogs since 2006.  I started out as an atypical mommy blogger.  I was single and my kids were not in diapers, but I made many writer and blogger friends who are still part of my life, even though my blogs have disappeared from cyberspace.

I read scores of writer, author, editor and agent blogs and commented. You may not know this — but those comment sections are like little online coffee klatches and everyone is welcome!

I’ve joined smaller, special interest writer groups like RWA-WF, which has active Yahoo email loops. Did you know RWA-WF hosts a mini-con at RWA Nationals? Now you do!

In 2011 I started Women’s Fiction Writers simply because I wanted to connect with others who were reading and writing what I was reading and writing. That has probably been one of the most rewarding efforts of this journey.  It’s all things and people I like in one place.  If we could share chocolate along with the interviews and blog posts – it would be perfect. But it’s pretty close.

And all of this led me not only to The Debs (who became my friends in about twenty-seven seconds), but to a group called Book Pregnant, which is a safe-haven for 29 debut authors. We also have a blog. BP member, author Julie Kibler and her family were swinging right through my fine and tiny town on the way to a family event.  So I asked them all to stop by!  We ate a lot and chatted a lot.  And while Julie and I were friends before we met, we agreed upon parting ways that if we lived nearby, we’d hang out. So we hang out online. Daily.  And we text.  And we talk about things besides writing. I was also lucky to meet another BP member, Erika Robuck, our Deb friend, a few weeks ago when her book tour landed near Chicago!

Me and Julie Kibler, author of the forthcoming novel, Calling Me Home, to be published February 12, 2013 by St. Martin’s Press. She looks tall and I look short because we are.

I’m part of a few other small online groups as well.  Once you get to know a few writers and you all click, you can form your own group where it’s easy to communicate and share messages.  There are not only Yahoo email groups but private Facebook groups, in addition to just using your personal email addresses. It might be scary to reach out — even scarier than going up to another writer in a hotel bar during a conference — but do it anyway.  It’s worth it.

And don’t forget Twitter (where it’s really easy to meet writers — I’ve found local authors that way and now we meet for lunch, dinner, and critique groups) and on Facebook. I interact on both. I’ve also participated in many online workshops through the years — and I always speak up (metaphorically) so I get the most out of them.  One of my first online workshops back in 2006 or 2007 (we can never remember), introduced me to one of my IRL best friends.  The first time we met she flew from New Jersey to Chicago with her daughter, who is the same age as mine.  And now they’re friends too.

Annmarie Lockhart, founder of Vox Poetica and unbound CONTENT, and me, drinking writer-water this summer at her house in New Jersey.

Maybe it’s all been more work than if I’d made some friends, connected at the bar or over a bagel at that 2008 kitten sweatshirt conference, but this is what has worked for me. Connecting online has been my writers conference that has lasted about five years.

The important thing is that I’ve connected.  I am part of something much bigger than myself — a community of writers who make me laugh, have my back, critique my work, text me jokes, meet me for dinner, plan writer-weekends, and listen to me kvetch.  With writer friends — just like with the mom friends I made long ago — we inherently have something in common. We speak the same language, have the same concerns, have experienced the same highs and lows.

I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s not. Not if you work at it slowly, over a period of time.  I’ve also found that writers like to stick together, so if you meet one, there will probably be a few more nearby!

And it’s never boring, because everyone always has a story!

Have you found your writer tribe? What are some other good places to meet writers?  Share your thoughts! 



27 Replies to “Deb Amy And The Art Of Finding A Tribe, And A Kitten Sweatshirt”

  1. FANTASTIC post Amy! I love the way you found your tribe! I have an online tribe too, and I love each and every one of my online friends to death – present company most definitely included.

    You also make a great point about conferences. It’s important to find one where the attendees and focus are a good fit. Online tribes have the advantage there because it is easier to find your kindred spirits without as much time and expense, and also waiting. I have to wait all year to see my RMFW friends in person, but I can see them and you and my Other twitter writing friends every day!

    1. Ditto, Susan! Isn’t it amazing how quickly the 2013 Debs connected so strongly? We’re lucky. I only hope everyone can find the tribe they need!

  2. Amy, thanks for a great, eye opening post. Like you, I had spent several years building my tribe online. Conferences so far have not been an option due to family and financial constraints so I enjoyed those relationships. During the last year or so I’ve let some family tragedies drag me down, subsequently neglecting those relationships and friendships. I’m behind on my critiques for my CP and several writers I loved to exchange comments with on places like Twitter and Facebook – well I’ve just been offline so much I guess they’ve forgotten me just as much as I’ve forgotten to keep in touch with them. Thank you for helping me realize that I need to get back. Back to my writing, back to my tribe. It’s time to pick myself up and move forward and let those tragedies go in to the past. I’m eager to start taking part online again, whether that be Twitter, FB, conferences or just good old yahoo loops. I really enjoyed your post!

    1. Chris,
      I am so glad to hear you’re getting back into the mix. One thing I’ve learned about online communities and Internet friends is that they — we — are very understanding. Since it’s obvious we all have real and other parts of our lives, it’s easy to get back into the fold. Just say you’ve been away and that now you’re back (like you just did) and I bet that your friends will open up their arms!!! BIG HUG to you!! 🙂

  3. Chris, tragedies have a way of turning us inward. Healing takes energy, and sometimes that means there’s just not a lot left for connecting. I’m so glad to hear that you’re feeling ready to get back to writing and your tribe!

    Amy, the first conference I went to left me feeling depressed and wretched for weeks. I didn’t want to go to another one. My roommate was totally lovely – somebody I met on Twitter – and I met a handful of other people that were wonderful and that I still connect with online. But for the most part, I felt out of place and miserable. Not sure, looking back, if it was the conference, or ME.

  4. Amy, thanks so much for sharing your story! I really relate to everything you’re saying! And although I’ve had good conference experiences, even then they are so limited – just a few days. Having an ongoing support group and cheering section (and base for caring criticism) is so vital. I found mine while taking a writing workshop at the Writer’s center in Bethesda, Md. A few of the other students and I really felt a connection and before you knew it, we had a critique group/friendship ring in place. I think you’re right though, everyone has to find what works for them, and that always takes time, and a little searching. But once you find it, it really changes the whole experience of writing from something so solitary to something you can share with your new group of friends. Thanks for posting!!

    1. Miriam, you’re so right! It’s huge when a writer goes from being alone to being part of an entire community. I’m glad you have that support. And thanks for your comments – they’re always so thoughtful and insightful! 🙂

  5. Wonderful post! I’ve been searching for my tribe for quite a while. I’ve yet to attend a writers conference, but it’s at the top of my to-do list. Thank you for sharing your experiences with both Backspace and RWA-WF. I go to both websites regularly, wondering if the rewards would outweigh the cost of membership. (Yes, being an unpublished writer has its financial drawbacks.) It seems like so many tribes now are comprised of aspiring YA/Dystopian/Fantasy writers, and I haven’t had much luck connecting with other women’s fiction writers. I’m obviously searching in the wrong places. I may have splurge and finally join RWA and RWA-WF. My sanity is worth the cost of admission, right? Thanks again for the suggestions!

    1. Kerry Ann,
      Maybe you do owe it to yourself to taste-test a few different groups and see what works for you. Just remember that you get out what you put in. Sounds corny — but its true. Let me know how it works out – and if there’s anything I can do to help. 🙂

  6. Great post, Amy. I just met Erika Robuck at NAIBA–she’s a real sweetie. 🙂

    I met most of my writing tribe online initially. I’ve since met a lot of them in person, which is great of course, but the day-to-day online connection is the best support system ever.

    1. Linda,
      Meeting online friends in real life has been great for me. As I mentioned, some of these people have become my closest friends. And if not, that’s ok too, because we all need different friends for things and parts of our life. Glad I met you here!! 🙂

  7. The writing community is one of the most supportive group I’ve ever been a part of. It just goes to show if we make just a little effort to put ourselves out there, the reward is exponential. I have yet to find my critique partner (not sure my WIP is ready for that yet) but I know where I’m going to look when I’m ready.

    And the reason you have such an awesome online tribe is because YOU, dear Amy, are awesome. xo

  8. Amy: What synchronicity!

    I am a women’s fiction author who just got my first book deal. Today I started a new series at The Blood-Red Pencil, “Countdown to a Book.” I knew where everyone thought I’d start—getting an agent. But for me, the long road to publication began in finding others, and that’s what I wrote about—today! If you have a minute and want to check it out, it’s at I follow you on Twitter—so I guess we were members of the same tribe who just hadn’t been introduced. Nice to meet you!

    1. Kathryn, CONGRATULATIONS!!! Good luck as you start this amazing journey to publication!! Nice to meet you too!! 😀 How fun that you’re blogging about meeting writer friends. It’s so important for all of us!!

  9. Amy,
    You know I’m a Backspace success story and it was a great conference where I met a ton of really excellent people that I’d already known from the forums (including Karen, who is lovely). I don’t get around there much anymore, and do wish I had the time, but will be forever grateful for that community.

    1. I’m quite sure we met on Backspace, Joanne. And I don’t get back there as much as I once did, but it was truly my stomping ground for years. You understand, I know that!!

  10. Thanks, Amy! I’m slowly emailing my writing friends and CP. I’m also making an effort to start jumping in on the loops I belong to as well. Hopefully I’ll be back in the loop in no time! Looking forward to your next post here!

  11. Awww! This gave me warm fuzzes and made me immediately start craving some good deli sandwiches and black and white cookies, because I just can’t get enough of those … OR my writer friends!

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