For the last few months, I've been interested in community building, by which I mean a creative, professional community related to writing. You will recall, I am sure, that what got me started on this was the Crafting a Public Identity Workshop I attended in September. Artist Sharon Butler discussed her commitment to becoming part of an arts community that was apart from her own art career. The experience of being part of the community was valuable in and of itself, but it also ended up helping her professionally.
Butler talked about how the Internet and social media helped with her community building. She was talking primarily about her blog, Two Coats of Paint. This blog can be found plenty of places on-line, but the "reviews, commentary, news, and background information about painting and related subjects" that Butler says Two Coats of Paint is about, seem to all be generated at the blog. The blog is the center of her creative community building.
So I've been working on building a writers' community here at Original Content. I got started with The Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar, which is all about building professional community here in this state. The various weekend reading roundups (which I should provide with a consistent name) are about rebuilding the on-line community I was part of years ago. My portion of the Next Big Thing Author Meme, which I'm still pulling together, is about writers helping writers and building professional community in that way.
Here's the thing with community building--it is hugely time consuming. It takes a lot of time to do it, and it takes a long while for the work to pay off, either in terms of becoming part of a community or in terms of the community providing any kind of help for a career.
In my experience, community needs to be more than just joining Facebook or a few other "people pools." I don't see a lot of "professional" interaction at Facebook. Writers network their blog posts or make announcements regarding their work, but lots of that just drops with no response. There's not a lot of the "commentary, news, and background information" that Butler describes in the "About" section of her blog. Goodreads, my other social media spot, is primarily lists of books read by members. Not much discussion of those. Writers on Goodreads will often network the same blog posts they've put up everywhere else. Again, not that much reaction. So while joining places like that is easy and posting doesn't take much time (especially if you're not putting up much besides your blog posts), I don't see how anyone can get a real feeling of community there.
There also may not be a lot of interest in real community building among some types of professionals, writers in particular. Artists like Butler have a very public face. Their work has to be shown somehow in order for people to see it. Artists have to get the work out there somehow, have to click with the galleries and groups that show art. They have to meet with people. That is less of an issue with writers. Yes, we have to market, and we have to spend more and more time doing that. But because in publishing there's what I call the "opening weekend" model for new books, writers sort of binge market when a book comes out and then disappear.
A lot of what we do is hit and run. Marketing is hit and run. Submitting is hit and run. Getting a first draft done is hit and run. Community needs to be maintained regularly. We don't work at anything regularly.
I'm a bit obsessive and recognize that there are no short cuts for most things in life, so I'll continue working on community for... mmm...maybe another half year? But any kind of community I manage to create is going to have to be one that can be managed in a time efficient way.
I've already started working on next month's Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar.