I feel I often bore you senseless with NaNoWriMo references, though it is a large part of my writing life. This time, I pinky-promise to use it only as a launchpad for my main point.
Over the past month, I’ve come to know two NaNo members particularly well: one through spending time together at meetings before the rest arrive, and one by corresponding mainly online. I’ve known both parties for some time, but by conversing so frequently, I feel I understand them better as individuals and as writers.
Notice the order of those words: ‘individuals’, then ‘writers’. I believe we can create better professional connections by first knowing a little more about the other person.
We’ve all probably passed sales reps on the street who ask, “Who’s your electricity supplier?” without so much as a preliminary, “How are you?” Three thoughts occur to me when I hear the electricity question:
- It’s annoying.
- It’s too personal and abrupt when you haven’t built up even a little trust.
- It signals that the seller is interested in you only as a customer, not as a person.
I’ve seen the people-first principle succeed before. I have a ‘day job’ in the civil service, and my department began experimenting in around 2010 with an internal social network modelled on Twitter. The rules told us that the site was primarily for business talk, but that some social and recreational chat was permitted. In practice, the social talk was predominant, and it led to a lot of in-jokes and banter. Yet when someone wanted to talk business, the others were more inclined to help because we were already acquainted with one another.
I still speak to some of these people today, though the network has long since closed. Of the replacement websites introduced, none has created the same sense of community. I believe that’s because the social club aspect has been relegated in favour of a business-first approach that doesn’t prompt the same connection.
So where can a writer meet with other writers without feeling as though they’re being sold something? Where I’m from, we’re lucky enough to have a regular monthly meet-up where any writer can drop by and interact with other writers on an informal basis. We meet in a bar aptly called The George Orwell, and there are no readings or speeches. If somebody does have work to promote, it never feels pushy because we all know each other socially.
If you ask your nearest library, they’ll probably be able to direct you to such a nearby group. And if there isn’t one, consider starting your own; it’s not easy, but it can be hugely rewarding.