networking

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!