Back in December, I decided to help out an online writing community by volunteering to be the January hashtag leader. Let me back up. Sometime last year I discovered the monthly writing challenge on Twitter; each day you try to write at least 500 words or edit for an hour, then enter your stats on a shared spreadsheet. The next day, whoever is the monthly hashtag leader will shout out the handles of anyone who completed the challenge. The recognition is highly motivating, and it’s a pretty awesome feeling if you make it through the whole month. I’ve only done it once. But I pop in now and then, post my word count on the hashtag, and chat with other writers. It is a wonderful, supportive community.
So when I saw an open space for January’s leader, I jumped at the chance to give back. Every morning for 31 days I checked the spreadsheet and did a shout out on Twitter. It was fun looking for new and interesting GIFs, and read/see other’s responses. And my phone ping-pinged ALL DAY, which made me feel incredibly popular. I interacted with other writers on the hashtag by liking their post and/or giving them words of encouragement (often in the form of a GIF – I used to hate those things but have grown to love them). I made a bunch of new virtual friends. On the last day we began comparing the weather in our respective corners of the world and brainstormed how we could get together for a celebration.
It’s the third day of February, and my phone is freakishly silent. The challenge continues every month, but there is another writer at the helm, doing daily shout outs and offering kindness. But I want to keep the feeling going. I want to be the person who makes others feel good. That’s never really been my M.O. I’m more of a pessimist than a cheerleader, but that life tends to be awfully lonely. Most days I’m okay with that. Leave me alone to my book/laptop/cup of tea/snuggly cat, and I’m perfectly content. Writing is a solitary thing, and my mind needs that space to work creatively. But we also need each other. We need people to cheer us on, to talk us off a ledge when we freak out about querying or edits, to keep us moving forward when we feel like our wheels are stuck in the mud.
I saw a post the other day about how difficult it is to “jump into” the various writing groups online. One of the responses compared it to looking for a place to sit in the cafeteria and being afraid to approach a table full of strangers. I get that. When I first got on Twitter I didn’t quite get it; it felt like I was peering over someone’s shoulder at their string of text messages. Eventually I stumbled upon the write club hashtag, and started to build my online community. We sprinted every Friday and it was during one of those sprints that I finished my first book. There are a ton of great writing hashtags to follow, and there really is no secret to belonging. You jump in, either with your own stuff or an encouraging phrase or GIF directed at someone else, and go from there.
It’s a heck of a lot easier than talking to strangers at a party. In my opinion anyway.