Ten Ways to Enjoy Networking With Other Writers (However Shy You Are)
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a writer who was a full-on extrovert. Most of us tend towards the introvert end of the spectrum. And many of us struggle with networking.
Let’s face it, anyone who wants to spend lots of time alone with their thoughts, and who prefers to communicate those thoughts by words on a page (or screen), is going to find social interaction at least occasionally challenging.
I’m certainly no exception. While I’m not painfully shy, I’m not a naturally outgoing person. I feel awkward about meeting new people and striking up conversations.
I get on OK with more structured situations, like speaking in front of an audience, but I find more casual one-on-one chit chat with strangers a bit of a challenge.
When I do get out and about to meet other writers, I find it enjoyable, but also tiring: I need time alone to recover.
And yet – I want to get to know lots of fellow writers! It’s great fun, and really encouraging, to chat to other people who love what I love. It’s also useful to know people to pass clients on to, people who might beta-read for me, and so on.
A quick note on “networking”: I know the word “networking” can seem cold, like you’re playing some sort of numbers game. (I think for us Brits, it can also feel a bit American.) To me, networking just means getting to know people who you can help, and people who might want to help you in return. It’s not about amassing a collection of business cards, or “working the room”.
#1: Understand You’re Normal
Sometimes, you might feel like the world is set up for extroverts (maybe that’s a bit of a perception bias – we tend to notice them more than introverts).
If you’re shy, if you find yourself struggling to know how to start conversations, if you worry that you came across as a gabbling lunatic, if you would rather spend time with fictional people and real ones …
… you’re normal.
Well, at least, as writers go. 😉
#2: Spark a Connection on Social Media
Many shy writers are fine with online networking, because they can take their time, choose their words carefully, and be judged on what they actually say (rather than worrying about being judged on their body language, what they’re wearing, etc).
Social media is a brilliant way to strike up an initial connection. I’ve had plenty of great chats at conferences (including a few that led directly to paying work) with people who I already knew, at least a little bit, from reading their blogs and following them on Twitter.
#3: Join a Writers’ Group
This can be quite a big step if you’re really shy, but at least you know you’ll be among other writers. Join a local group – this could be one that invites guest speakers to give a monthly talk, or one that involves sharing your writing with other members on a weekly basis.
For me, at least, the worst bit is psyching myself up to go along to groups. Once I’m there, it’s not so bad! The writers’ groups I’ve been part of have been invaluable in my development as a writer, particularly as they’ve involved in-depth, sustained, feedback on my work-in-progress.
#4: Take a Writing Class or Course
If you’re anxious about joining a writers’ group, or if you can’t find one locally, try taking a class or course. These have a more formal structure, with a leader/tutor, and even if it’s just a one-off class, it’s a good way to meet people.
A couple of tips:
- Take a few spare pens, so you can help out anyone who’s forgotten theirs. It’s an easy way to be friendly and helpful.
- Get there a bit early. It’s often easier to strike up a conversation when it’s just you and one or two other people, and it’s also easier to learn people’s names when you’re meeting them one at a time.
#5: Find the Other Shy Writers
Whether it’s a conference, a one-off lecture, or a social meetup in the pub, look out for other people who are on the sidelines. I’ve had loads of great conversations with fellow introverts when I took the plunge and went over to say “hi”.
Even if someone looks like they don’t want to talk to anyone, chances are, they do (otherwise they wouldn’t be there).
#6: Look for Easy Opening Gambits
You don’t have to start up the conversation with anything scintillating. “Hi! Have you been here before?” works fine, as does (at least if you’re British) some comment on the weather.
Other easy things to ask early on are:
- “What do you write?”
- “What did you think of [speaker]?”
- “Have you come a long way?” (at a conference; this often gives you more talking points / background)
- “What other talks are you going to?”
Some people (extroverts, I guess) have a great knack for striking up conversations – they seem to be able to get to know anyone. I can’t do that! I have to psyche myself up to talk to new people, but I normally find myself having a good conversation.
#7: Plan for Recovery Time
Most introverts enjoy company, but find it drains their energy. If that’s true for you, make sure you plan in some recovery time when you’re attending events when you need to be out and about among people a lot.
That might mean booking a hotel near to a conference venue so you can slope off to your room if you need to, or slipping away to a coffee shop or even a local library to get some down time.
(There’s also nothing wrong in saying “Sorry, I’ve already got plans” when someone asks you to hang out over lunch – even if your plan is to sit on your own and read a book while eating a sandwich in peace.)
#8: Use Any Negative Experiences in Your Next Novel
I can only think of a couple of (mildly) negative experiences I’ve had when getting to know other writers – basically when it became quickly clear that a writing group wasn’t a good fit for me and my writing.
Even if your networking attempts go hideously wrong – you accidentally say something that comes across as incredibly insulting; you spill your drink all over someone’s shirt – you can use them for a hilarious and/or cringe-making scene in your next novel.
(I realise this may not be much comfort in the moment!)
If something goes mildly wrong – you think you talked too much or too fast, you tried to be funny but it didn’t work, you sat in a corner all evening and didn’t talk to anyone – put it behind you, and move on. Other people are not thinking about you anywhere near as much as you might imagine.
#9: Gradually Expand Your Comfort Zone
If you’re comfortable interacting with writers on social media, take the next step and meet up with someone for a coffee and a chat about writing. If you’re happy in small group situations, try taking a class where you’ll be part of a larger group.
I’ve found that the more I do something, the less scary it becomes. I used to hate making phone calls – I’m still not thrilled when I have to call someone on the phone, but I don’t put it off for days, or find myself backing out half-way through dialling the number, any more.
#10: Get Some Voice or Acting Coaching
If public speaking scares you (and it scares pretty much everyone), focus on improving your skills. Let’s say you need to read from your novel in public: this is incredibly daunting, and more so if you’re worrying about going too fast or speaking too quietly.
When I was studying at Goldsmiths, we had some voice coaching to prepare for reading in public at our open day. I watched one fellow student (who was a brilliant writer but shy about speaking) go from mumbling at the floor to speaking loudly, clearly, and confidently.
If you do get the opportunity to have voice coaching or acting coaching, go for it! The coach will have worked with plenty of people who are more shy than you, or who have a weirder voice than you. (Sidenote: no-one likes hearing their own voice recorded, it’s not just you.)
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert – but there’s also nothing stopping you from becoming more confident in social situations, and building up a supportive network of writing friends and acquaintances.
If you’d like to get to know other writers – well, you’re welcome to start with me. 🙂 I’m on Twitter at @aliventures, and I read (and normally reply to) all the comments here on Aliventures. I’d love to get to know you better, so do reach out!
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?
The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
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#4 – If you’re in a writing class/course, make a quick sketch of the table and write down their names where people are sitting, and preferably a keyword or two as well. Then, if you have a list of emails or names, you can still get in touch with the person afterwards. I do this because I’m so terrible with getting lots of new names and info at the time.
Also, if you’re in a writing class or group, chances are the majority are introverts as well, haha. At least, that’s my experience. The first get-together maybe slightly awkward, but afterwards it just keeps getting better!
#7 – I’ve learned to say something along the lines of “I got plans that night” when someone asks me to do something, but I’ve planned for some down time. I purposely plan some quiet time/down time. One of the things I currently do is event planning. We had a big event with 200 people, which means (1) lots of work, so definitely need my energy for that, (2) it was in the evening, I need my energy to STAY AWAKE, (3) I knew I would need to talk to a lot of people, even if it was just at the registration table, so I purposely planned to have no plans at all the days before, and to sleep enough and have enough quiet time to make sure I was energized to work all day AND talk to people.
#9 – I’ve always been someone to go to lots of different activities and being involved in different societies at uni. Now, for an extreme introvert this may not seem the most logical, but I can honestly say I’m so much less awkward/uncomfortable. I may never be as comfortable as the quintessential extrovert, but I’m happy with how I am. I just keep pushing myself – it may sometimes not be fun, but it brings many good things in life with it 🙂
Though phones are still scary. Well, not so scary. My current job involves picking up the main phone. The first few weeks were horrible! And then you get used to it. It’s still not my favourite thing to do but it’s no longer horrible. Though I’m still not as comfy with it as my super-extraverted colleague (who’s nicknamed “schmoozer”).
Good point on other people being introverts too! It can take a little while to gel as a group.
I’m at my worst in the evenings — I struggle to focus on writing, I don’t generally feel like socialising at all — and I think you’re definitely onto something with having enough quiet time and rest in the run-up to an evening event.
I would like to introduce myself: Elizabeth Conte, Writerdeeva! Ha ha. You said you never met an extrovert who is a writer. Well, now you have. Love being with people, talking to strangers, hosting parties, and just plain being social! And I write. Go figure. I am an oddity…hence why I am a writer. One thing I would like to expand upon, ask questions. This is always a way of learning to be with people, but having he spotlight taken off of you. People love to talk about themselves. And this is a great way to gain fodder for your writing. When with people and starting to feel overwhelmed, turn to someone and ask them a question of what they do, favorite food, or where they traveled last. This will make any scary social event seem less intrusive and threatening.
How lovely to meet you, Elizabeth! 🙂 Of course there’s absolutely no reason extroverts can’t write — I think it’s just a profession that tends to attract slightly more introverted types.
What a great point about asking questions. This is something I notice that my more extrovert friends are really good at — I think it’s a skill I need to work on developing. (I knw it doesn’t exactly sound hard, but I often go blank and just can’t think what to sensibly ask someone!)
Hi Ali! Thank you so much for this post. I am a complete introvert and it is definitely getting in the way of my business lately. Right now I’m looking for new clients – particularly businesses who do something to help people improve their health, fitness, or overall well-being. I really like writing for spas, gyms, personal trainers, and nutritionists, but I struggle with getting in touch with these potential clients because I’m so introverted! Luckily today’s era of technology dependence means its gradually becoming more and more acceptable for me to reach out to potential clients via email and social media. I noticed a few of your tips were along this vein and I plan to use your other tips to help try to expand my client base. Thanks so much for your post and your whole blog! I can always rely on you for great information 🙂
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I definitely find social media and blogging a great way to find clients. As you get more clients, too, word of mouth kicks in and you’ll find people coming to you rather than you going out and finding them (much easier)!
Ali, I’ve got to hold my hand up and say, I’m an extrovert, a really social writer. I love meeting new people, and I’m a natural born interrogator. I organise much of what my writers group does, as well as one or two online things, and I love helping writers reach their goals too.
Clearly there are more extrovert writers out there than I realised. 😉 I used to be the “organising” one in my writers’ group (though they seem to be coping fine without me now I’ve moved North…!) I’d say I’m somewhere on the introvert end of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, and gradually getting better at some extrovert-y things (like meeting new people and striking up conversations). Having kids has helped with that!
Thanks for this Ali, number 7 really struck a chord with me. Plan for recovery time. I went to a weekend conference a couple of years ago which though enjoyable really took its toll. When I next plan to attend such an event I’ll take a day off work to recover.
Conferences can be surprisingly intense — there’s so much happening, lots of people to meet, and also a lot of information to take in and process. I think a day off is a good plan!
Words cannot express how relaxed I feel after reading this post. No, not because I did think I’m the only one in this. But finding out someone who’s also battling something like mine.
Trust me, it’s freaking hard to network if you’re a shy, introverted writer. Especially if you’re just starting out. That first chat would feel like climbing Mount Everest in nothing more than sandals and exposed clothes.
I’m gonna send you an email about some other stuff I’ve got, but I need to branch here to say, “Hey, one love.”
And by the way, does health problems has anything to do with being shy? I’ve heard of autism and Asperger. Some people are just prone to depression. Can this cause being solitary?
Be waiting for your reply.
I know some people do have extreme shyness, which might be called “social anxiety” (here in the UK at least). If you feel shyness is a real issue for you, it could be worth talking to your doctor to see if they can recommend anything — perhaps therapy.
I think it’s perfectly possible to have a solitary nature without being depressed (some people are perfectly happy being alone a fair amount of the time) but I know that depression can lead people to isolate themselves. Some writers, including very well-known ones, have struggled with mental health issues, so if you do think you might be depressed, do see your doctor. Don’t struggle on alone.