As we’ve said before, science writing can be lonely. And, if you find yourself on a professional plateau, it can be difficult to regain your momentum alone (see Chapter 12: The Loneliness of the Science Writer by Stephen Ornes (bio)). Connecting with colleagues can be a lifesaver in these situations. Even better, enjoying beers together at annual meetings, like NASW’s ScienceWriters, is fabulously fun. But once a year? That’s just not enough.
Online groups are one place to connect with colleagues, but for real, live interaction on a regular basis, you’ll need a local group. Some great ones are already out there, like those in Washington, DC, New York City, and Northern California.
But what if you live in a small town?
A few months ago, Merry asked me if I would help her create a local group, and I, of course, said yes. With Ithaca College’s Park School of Communications and Cornell University nearby, we figured we could grow our network to include writers with diverse beats and diverse experience, and develop professional friendships and opportunities along the way.
Here’s what we’ve done so far, and, admittedly, we’re just starting out. None of this is rocket science, but it does require initiative and follow-through. Do you have more ideas to add to this list, or your own success story? Let us know!
Spread the word
Merry and I were able to come up with a dozen or so writers who we knew casually, so we just sent out an email to gauge interest. A handful of people responded. Creating a diverse group was important — we included university news writers, college professors, newspaper reporters, and people we met at parties who expressed an interest in writing as a career. We invited our invitees to spread the word within their own networks. We didn’t tap into it, but the NASW directory is also a potential resource for finding writers in a specific region. Heck, you could even try an announcement on Craigslist.org, but beware of the crazies.
Start a Facebook group
To stay connected, we decided to start a Facebook group. Already via the group, we’ve learned of an editor at a university magazine who occasionally needs freelancers — score! But, we also are aware that group members don’t necessarily see all our posts, so Facebook is definitely an imperfect mode of communication. Other options to consider are email lists and Meetup groups.
Plan a gathering
The type of meet-and-greet you choose can really set the tone for the group you’re creating. Do you want things to be strictly professional? Try a conference room at a library. Friendly and casual? A potluck perhaps. Include alcohol or avoid it? We chose the lovely Tap Room at the Ithaca Beer Company, which offered a comfortable place to sit, quiet enough to chat, and plenty of food and drink options. We also sent reminders and directions — and we let our hostess know that latecomers might be looking for us, so she could direct people to the right table.
Discuss the future
At our gathering, we brainstormed ideas about what we want the group to become, and how often we should meet. For now, we’re keeping it casual, and we’ll probably meet quarterly. But perhaps formal professional development opportunities –like presentations on craft– are in our future.
Remember what’s important
Our group is small, at less than 20 people right now. But it’s not the numbers that matter — it’s the quality of our interactions. Our conversation was lively and fun. Story tips exchanged. Job possibilities discussed. And this is just the beginning.
Do you have experience or tips for starting a writers’ group? Please share them in the comments.
Image Credit: Olaf E. Caskin from the 1909 Tyee/Wikimedia Commons