5 Tips to Finding Your Writing Tribe

Group Hug IIIThis is going to be brief. Why? Because I’m about to dash into the terrible Chicago weather to go hang out with other members of my tribe, the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.

Oh, yeah. We’re big ol’ mystery nerds, and we like it that way.

But how did I find this tribe, you may wonder, and how can you find your own? Five steps:

Pay your dues (literally).
Look around. In your line of writing, what magazines do the writers read? What conferences do they go to? When they come out of hibernation (writing), where do they hang out? For mystery writers, it’s pretty defined. We have organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Go to the meetings, join the group. We have Mystery Scene and Crimespree. Get subscriptions.

Start your research with the authors you love. Attend their readings when they’re in town, for starters. See those people sitting in the chairs around you?

Say hi.
If you’re early enough in your writing efforts, you might still think writing is a solo sport. It’s not. The WRITING is, but everything else is a team effort. It’s hard to get used to this (I still am), but when you’re just about to go from solo to pro (team), you have to start talking. To everyone. Say hi. Ask questions. You will not insult another writer by being curious about how they got to be so awesome. But don’t just ask questions, be curious. If this is really the thing you want, and the kind of writing you want to do, listen up, soak it in, and see that writer at the front of the room with a new book?

Read the book.
Do you wonder what you’d ever say to a published writer, little ol’ you who hasn’t published anything and has barely finished anything as a matter of fact? You will also never insult a published writer by talking to them about their books. Buy one. Read it. Get it signed. Tell them why you liked it, or what kept you up at night, or how you shoved it on all your friends. Don’t be disingenuous. If you didn’t like the book, best not to say you did. But there is probably nothing as powerful to say to another writer as “I read your book.” Read their books and the shared canon of the mystery scene and look for the moment when you can jump in.

Be useful.
It’s not all chatter and flattery. At the tribe level, a lot of opportunity exists for service to the group as a whole. Show up to meetings and help set up chairs. Or, better yet, offer to help plan meetings or events, sign up for a committee, or make suggestions for future gatherings. At one of my first meetings of MWA Midwest, I heard the newsletter editor was retiring after 14 years (!). You know what I can do? Newsletters. So I volunteered to take it on for a while, and it’s not just an opportunity to help out—it’s an opportunity to reach out to any member of the group I want to talk to. When you bring value to the group, you have value in the group.

Keep showing up.
As I’m getting busier and busier with book launch stuff, it could be very easy to take a back seat in my communities—but that’s the last thing I want to do. These writers have been so generous and welcoming to me, the brand new mystery writer. My job now is to pay it forward, to engage other new writers and welcome them as others have welcomed me. Today I’m headed out to help run our monthly chapter meeting and plan our holiday party for next month. And then I’ll need to write up a little piece on our speaker today for the newsletter, and put that together to go out soon. It can be a lot of work, but being a part of this community is worth it. It’s worth everything I’ve put into it and more.

If you’re in the Midwest and a mystery/crime writer, check out our meetings at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore. You don’t have to be a member to come to the meetings. Bring a friend! Our schedule is here.

Are you having trouble finding your tribe? What do you write and where do you live? Let’s see if we can matchmake here in the comments.

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

11 thoughts on “5 Tips to Finding Your Writing Tribe

  1. Perfect advice, Lori! I think the “read the book” is particularly important because writers take, take, take from other writers, but I know MANY who don’t then turn around and support the helpful author by buying their books.

  2. I feel like a lot of writers are hesitant to pay dues to or join a group before they are published. But it’s that pre-pub period when putting roots down in a community is so important. And dues are tax deductible as part of your small business as a writer 🙂

  3. I completely agree with this post and the comments so far. There’s no such thing as starting to build a tribe too early; that’s exactly when aspiring writers should be learning and absorbing from others who’ve already been there.

  4. Lori, this is wonderful. I’ve always felt that having a “tribe” for whatever passion one pursues is essential. I am moving to Charlotte, NC in December and would love to find a group there. I’m an academic, so I try to keep my academic writing life and non-academic writing life separate which can be isolating at times.

    If anyone in the Charlotte area is interested in creative non-fiction or short story writing, I’d love to connect!

  5. Hi Jennifer,

    Lori and I went to grad school together in Chicago, but my fiancee and I just moved to Charlotte last month. Being new here myself, I don’t know the local literary scene very well, but would be happy to connect once you’re in town. My publications have been mostly CNF and screenwriting thus far, but I’m currently trying to get some short stories and a novel in shape.

    Anyway, I DO know of at least two great bookstores in Charlotte, and the MFA programs at UNCC and Queens (and the English Dept at Davidson) are fairly active, with a good number of events for the general public, so thus far, Charlotte seems like a fairly literary city. Welcome to NC!

  6. Great advice, Lori! I’ve never attempted to meet other writers at author readings but it makes total sense. If they like the same books/authors I do, chances are, they’d be great to join writing forces with. I’m in Kansas City and would love to find some like minded writers who also write historical fiction/mystery. I freelance as well! Thanks for sharing these tips.

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