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Advice for writers: Networking

Posted by Robin Abrahams  March 7, 2008 03:53 PM

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Yeah, that's the one that sounds kind of dirty to you, isn't it? Yes, I want to write! Yes, I want to live and learn!

Ewww, I have to network?

The word conjures up images of sleazy things, of relentless self-promotion that goes against the natural introversion of most writers, of slimy flackery that goes against the impulse of truth-telling that at least ought to drive the desire to write (current events be damned). Which is why I used it--because it's a misunderstood, maligned word that needs to be reclaimed.

You may write if you don't network, but you're probably not going to be published. And you're probably not going to be as good a writer as you could be without it, either. Networking just means getting out there--meeting people, talking about your writing with them, talking about their ideas. Brainstorming.

One of the misconceptions people have about writing is that it is primarily a solitary activity. It is, in a sense--nobody is writing this for me--but in another way, it's profoundly social. We write to be read, after all. So why not start those conversations with potential readers before, and during, the writing process?

Mr. Improbable and I are probably somewhat unusual--but not unique--in the extent to which our writing is the expression of a communal effort. My column wouldn't exist without the people who send in their questions. My readers also suggest blog posts, participate in online chats, send in tips and advice for "My Word." My book will be what it is because of the questions you've sent in--I'd never thought about the diversity of values, priorities, and experiences in an organized way before, but your questions taught me that this is what's on people's minds. Mr. Improbable's blog, magazine, and the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony reflect the sensibility and contributions of hundreds of contributors and volunteers around the globe.

This kind of writing isn't for everyone, but in my experience, most writers benefit from making their writing to some degree a social process. I know a lot of people who have started to write novels, but the only people I know who have finished them belong to writers' groups. I think the primary benefit of degree and certificate programs and conferences lay less in the skills you learn than in the sense of connection to other writers. The reminder that however isolated it feels at times, writing is primarily about communication. Maybe even communion.

And of course there are practical benefits to programs and conferences and all that, too--the less spiritual sort of thing, the sort of benefits that the term "networking" conjures up. Connections to editors and agents and others with the power to bring your work to the public. You need to meet these people, so get over whatever shyness or misplaced idealism is keeping you from going where they are and schmoozing. Because, if you're good, they need to meet you, too. Everyone is looking for talent. Everyone wants someone who can deliver the goods, consistently and without drama. If you're that person, get out there and let the world know. (If you're not, figure out why. Maybe you only think you want to be a writer. Maybe you think you want to write something that you really can't. Maybe there's some psychological block that you need to work out.)

And that's it, that's all I know about how to become a writer. Learn from every piece of writing that you do. Keep your mind and heart open and don't hate on the day job. Write as a member of a community. Take opportunities and make them.

And that might not be enough--you still need a dose of good luck. Which I wish for you.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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