The Traveling Writer community on Twitter

A writing friend just joined Twitter, and I’m trying to come up with suggestions of tweeps for her to follow. That got me to thinking: wouldn’t it be awesome if I could give her a list of all the readers of this blog?

A while back I built a Twitter list that includes members of our Ning group for writers of travel memoir. It’s been a great way to grow our community outside of Ning, helping us communicate on another platform.

I’m a huge fan of Twitter lists; I need to find time to build more of my own. They serve as a filter so you don’t miss important tweets, help you find people to follow and showcase your knowledge of players in your industry. Wow, I’m realizing I should write an entire post about how to create lists and use them effectively. They are one of Twitter’s best features.

For now though, I simply want to create ONE list, and that’s a list that includes all of YOU. It will help me connect with you and help you all connect with each other.

From now on, whenever I’m helping a writer or traveler or blogger get started on Twitter, I’ll have a list of tweeps for them to follow: TravelingWriterCommunity.

So leave your name and your Twitter handle below in the comments, and I’ll add you to our Twitter community!

How to find a critique group

I recently critiqued several chapters for a writer I met on Twitter. She knew it would be beneficial to join a critique group. But how, she asked, was she supposed to find one?

Lots of writers have blogged about the value of critique groups. (If you’re still not convinced you should join one, read these posts by Ami Spencer, Chip MacGregor, and Kristi Helvig.) But Ami Spencer at Write Out Loud and I wanted to take that discussion one step further. So today we’re collaborating. At Ami’s blog, you’ll find a post about how to create a critique group that works for you. And I’m going to give you hints on how to find those people.

Finding people is one of my specialties; it’s something every reporter has to do well. The challenge with finding a critique group or writers to form one is that they can’t be just any writers — they have to be good ones. Writers who are at least at your level, preferably better and more experienced than you so they’ll help you improve. And I can tell you from personal experience that good writers can be difficult to find.

Here are a few ways and places to look:

Join your local writer’s guild. Search for their Web site. My chapter, the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, has a page on their site that’s dedicated to writing groups. Yours might, too! Do any of the groups look like they’d work for you?

If not, tell them you’re starting your own group. When I first moved back home to write my book, I asked the Guild to post an ad for me, one that described the type of group I was looking to create. I got lots of e-mails from writers hoping to join. Most of those writers weren’t a good fit for me because they were in the beginning stages of learning to write. But at least I made connections and had people to choose from.

Ask at the library or bookstore. Your local library might have a group — ask a librarian. The same goes for bookstores in your area. Large bookstores like Barnes & Noble host groups, and smaller, independently-owned stores sometimes do, too.

Use social media. Facebook is probably the most useful social-media tool for this purpose because you’re likely to be friends with people who live near you. (If you’re not on Facebook, you should be.) Post a status update asking whether anyone knows of a local group. Even if your friends aren’t writers, they might have friends who are in a group. You can also search for groups or fan pages for your writing chapter or any local writer’s organizations. Even if you contacted the writing chapter through their Web site as I suggested above, it’s worth posting on their Facebook wall saying you want to form a group because some writers won’t visit the site but will stumble upon that wall.

This same strategy works on LinkedIn, although I think writer’s organizations are less likely to have a presence there.

Use Twitter, too. (Twitter’s incredibly useful for writers.) Yes, tweet that you’re looking for a group; someone might retweet your note so it makes its way to a writer near you. But you can be even more proactive by searching for tweeps who write in your area. Mashable has a helpful post on ways to find people on Twitter.

Look in online groups. Check out SheWrites, Writer’s Digest and Red Room. They’re not location-specific, but you might find someone who lives in your area. Also browse MeetUp — that’s how I found a French group to join that gets together monthly to practice speaking the language.

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You’re not an aspiring writer. You’re a writer.

I can’t stand when people tell me they’re aspiring writers.

I know what they mean. They mean they’re aspiring to become a paid writer, or a published writer, or even a respected writer. But aspiring means you haven’t put your pen to paper or typed a story on your laptop. Aspiring means you’re thinking about writing, that you haven’t yet actually done it.

If you were training for a marathon, would you say you were an aspiring runner? No. You’d be running every day — maybe very slowly, maybe with walk breaks, maybe short distances — but you’d be running. That makes you a runner. An aspiring marathoner, yes, but also a runner.

The same goes for writing. If you write every day, you’re a writer. So stop saying you aspire to be a writer! Don’t sell yourself short. You’re a writer.

Think I’m being too picky? Maybe. I’m a grammar freak, a nerd when it comes to using words properly. (Do you laugh — not a little giggle, but an all-out, hearty cackle — when you read The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks? If so, you may be a grammar freak, too.)

When I started this blog under the title Aspiring Author, several readers told me (graciously) that they didn’t like the name, that it didn’t do me justice. I was already an author, they said. But here’s where the grammar freak in me comes in. The truth is, I’m not an author — yet. I’m a journalist. I’m a writer, one who has been published in newspapers and magazines. But to become an author, I need to be published. When my first book is on store shelves, that’s when I’ll call myself an author. Until then, I’m aspiring.

But you, yes YOU, since you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a writer. Maybe you’re already an author. Maybe you’re an aspiring author like me. But if you’ve already begun writing your memoir, your novel, your self-help book or some other project, then you’re no  longer aspiring to put words to paper — you’re a writer.

Writers’ Roundup

Happy Friday! A few insightful links from this week:

  • Writer Jody Hedlund explains the challenges of convincing others that writing is a valid career choice. Their reactions, she says, can result in writer’s guilt.
  • What do you call yourself? Do you deserve the title of writer, author, or something entirely different? More than anything else, I still consider myself a journalist. (This post reminded me that I’m still not set on Aspiring Author as the title of this blog. Some readers say that title doesn’t give me enough credit because I’m a published journalist. I argue back that regardless of my writing credentials, I’m still aspiring to become an author. And yet, I’m always trying to think of a better title.)
  • Check out this new blog called Pimp My Novel, created by a guy who works in a publisher’s sales department. He explains what happens to a book after it’s acquired by a publishing house.

After taking the last few weekends off, this Saturday and Sunday I plan to write and edit. See you Monday!