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Competition vs Community: 5 Tips for Building a Writing Community

Updated: Jun 7


The experience of writing is unique for all writers.


Some write at the kitchen table with the bustle of family around, and some writers rent a cabin and write in seclusion. Some write while sitting with excellent posture at beautiful antique desks... and others write from the comfort of bed with a 15-year-old whiteboard as their make-shift desk (guilty).


The writing community is full of independent people with independent processes—so it can be easy to feel that when you succeed, you succeed alone, that when you fail, you fail alone... and by extension, that it's your writing up against everyone else's!


Hierarchies permeate every aspect of life, and while they serve a purpose, the competition they create really gets in the way of what writing is supposed to do—connect people.


 

On Competition

a piece of paper on a desk reads "am I good enough." A pencil and pen lay across the paper on the table.

For writers, competition often amplifies self-doubt and brings out an ugly, bitter side of us that's born of the desire to be praised and validated, to be good enough.


In a world where resources and opportunities feel finite, it's easy to get swept up in the idea that other writers are the competition—the enemy, even.


After all, there's a limited number of bursaries, writing awards, mentorships, contests, and publishing opportunities available.


But still, this belief is an illusion that can be easily dispelled; If you've written something that lands, that really reaches out and grips hold, then you've got gold.


You've already won.

 

On Jealousy


And as a writer, you can choose to tear down other writers or help them. You can choose to be inspired by the success of other writers, or you can choose to be jealous.


Jealousy is pretty normal, especially where passion is concerned, but it's important to transform your jealousy into inspiration to improve yourself before it turns into a bitterness that spreads and festers and causes destructive competition.


I've seen jealousy, disappointment, and self-doubt drive a lot of nasty behavior in writers' circles. I've seen tears, meltdowns, and storm-outs. I've seen insults hurled across classrooms. I've witnessed writers ranking each other on scales of 1–10, even writers refusing to read each other's work and give feedback at all.

 

On the Benefits of Competition


A woman jumps over a deep valley between two small hills at sundown. She is a silhouette against the sky in a mid-air jumping position.

There can be benefits to a competitive environment.

For some, their competitive spirit pushes them to new and greater heights!


But for others, it can drive them into the pits of despair.


 

Community is the Antidote to Competition

 
A woman types at a mechanical type writer. Her hands are on the keys. There is a red notebook beside the black typewriter.

The solution to the feelings of isolation and self-doubt faced by every writer is simple. It's community.


A supportive community that collectively recognizes the beauty of story-telling in of itself. A community encourages you to continue developing the art and craft of writing despite where your work falls on a judging panel. Community is what helps you bounce back after failure. When it's time to celebrate your sucess, it's your community that will cheer for you.


Having a community is vital to combating the loneliness, bitterness, jealousy and negativity that competition creates.



Where does building community start?

For so many of us, it starts in creative writing class either in primary school, secondary school, or post-secondary school.


Truthfully, I remember exactly which of my former classmates gave me balanced feedback, commenting with sincerity, honesty, and encouragement. And I remember well who tore apart my writing, wrote cruel and thoughtless comments, and who handed back blank story drafts void of feedback, as though my writing wasn't even worth the ink from their pens.


These exchanges are the first chances you have to build a community—to bolster others, support them, and find a common purpose through the deep-felt desire to tell great stories. You can choose to develop friendships or alienate others. The fact remains, the choice is yours.


Just because the experience of writing is one often done alone doesn't mean that it needs to be a lonely pursuit. Writing is not done in a vacuum—writing responds to writing that came before. Stories respond to stories. So don't be afraid to make connections with genuine people in your community.


 

5 Tips for Building a Writing Community

 

1. Attend literary events / Volunteer at literary events

Here in Calgary, there are two major annual literary festivals—When Words Collide & Wordfest.


In the past I volunteered at When Words Collide and was able to meet some wonderful people with similar interests. And, I was able to talk with writing experts and purchase products that help me write to this day—for example, I met Angela Ackerman and purchased some of the Writer's Thesaurus's she created with Becca Puglisi, such as The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus.


Last year, I purchased a full pass to the Wordfest festival, held in October, and attended as many events as humanly possible so I could learn about what was going on in the broader literary community, get the chance to hear and support marginalized voices, and of course, I supported writers through purchasing books!

2. Join a writer's group


There are usually plenty of writers groups you can find through Facebook that either meet up in person in your local town or city (usually at coffee shops!) or meet online (homemade coffee!).

3. Attend creative writing classes / writing retreats


I love creative writing classes, and I think they can help writers of every level improve. Writing retreats, like creative writing classes, are a time to focus solely on the craft. Further, some writers benefit from having deadlines set by these types of classes or retreats. The people you will meet in these environments share an important common interest, and if you connect with someone you meet there, keep in touch!

4. Intern, volunteer, or work for a literary magazine—get involved!


Virtually every city has some form of publication body, whether it be a newspaper section, a lively blog, or a literary magazine! I encourage writers looking for a sense of community to volunteer or intern for the local publishing body. There are levels of community, so why not start with the local level!

5. Join your local writers' guild


Writers' guilds can guide writers towards valuable resources—such as beta readers and editors—and provide publishing or mentorship opportunities. Further, they organize writer events, such as webinars, open mic nights, galas, and so much more. They also usually send out original newsletters with information about the local literary community.


 

At the end of the day, I truly believe that the positive aspects of a writerly community are the best anecdote to the negative aspects of competition. Remember, constantly comparing yourself to others is really damaging. No two people write the same. So don't try to be anyone but yourself.


The world needs YOUR stories, written the way YOU write. I think competition done right in a writing context means taking inspiration from the success of other writers and letting it drive you to improve your own craft in order to outrank yourself!


 

Affiliate Link Disclosure: Please note that links included in this article may be affiliate links and that if you purchase through them I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

 
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