The Power of Meeting with Other Writers
By Stephen Capone Jr.
I arrived on the League’s doorstep in early 2020 looking for feedback on my writing, hoping to turn my drafted novel into a publishable manuscript. The Salt Lake City Writers Group welcomed me, and I attended one or two meetings before everything went to hell around, let’s say, March 13th at noon.
As with everything else, my League chapter’s writing group moved online for the next year-plus. It went well for me. My output increased as the world’s expectations of me to appear in it dropped out of the picture. My family learned that we needed time on our own if we wanted to survive the pandemic as a foursome, so after I finished my year teaching online, I spent every waking hour writing or editing for several months running. I joined a second critique group—this with other teachers I’d met in an online community. That trio met on video conference for two hours every Tuesday evening, each of us critiquing one another’s weekly submissions. Coupled with my monthly or bi-monthly critiques with SLCWG, I was churning through a lot of material, new and old, and I was editing my novel some ten hours per day. In other words, I was absolutely crushing it.
This was an easier adjustment for me than for many, I suspect. I have been a member of various online communities over the years, starting with message boards centered around the Vermont-based rock band Phish back in the early 2000s. I’d met dozens if not hundreds of those online pals IRL, and I’ve gotten a lot out of those relationships, which were built entirely online. I found kinship in ways I wasn’t getting from available in-person connections. The web had, and continues to have, a way of connecting disparate communities of small groups of people. For all of its cynicism and snark, drivel and commentary, the internet is for many of us a highly productive and supportive place. When available in-person connections drop out, there are online connections to sustain us.
All of this is just to say that I didn’t feel as though I was missing out on much.
I also had the benefit of the birth lottery working in my favor: my picadilloes and neuroses don’t interfere with my participation in group activities online. Having taught some five hundred or so students online in the last dozen years, I had gotten used to, if not comfortable with, the remote dynamic. Coupled with my prodigious output of writing and strides in editing, I was in no hurry to come back to writing groups in person.
Eventually, my intense and long-distance writing group disbanded, and in August 2021, I joined the Salt City Genre Writers group. It seemed like a lot of folks at the Quills conference I had just attended were members of that group, and I wanted to see what they had to offer. I continued to meet with the Salt Lake City Writers Group as well. Each group served a different purpose for me, with the Salt Lake Writers Group being my hub for critiques and the Genre Writers chapter being my home for guest speakers and for access to a larger group of working authors. And, at that point, both groups held their meetings online, so most of my interactions with other writers continued to exist in that comfortable space below the threshold of full-fledged, and sometimes intimidating, human interaction.
When meetings began happening in person—I believe the Fall 2021 Genre Writers retreat was one of these first events I attended in the flesh—I attended monthly sessions with the Genre Writers chapter and maintained my monthly-ish connection with the Salt Lake Writers Group. I began to develop relationships in the Genre Writers group with people I was seeing in person on a monthly basis. Sometimes, I’m bad at making friends, so I tried to put myself in the middle of the boat, so to speak, as I still do. I volunteered at Quills in 2022 and then offered my time for the League at the Life The Universe and Everything (LTUE) conference this year. Pre-Quills was another event where I volunteered. Volunteering is a way for me to have a job and a purpose for being in a place where I want to build connections, and it gives me something to talk to other League members about.
This summer’s Quills event will be my third Quills in a row and fifth conference with the League, and I hope to volunteer again. At every event, I meet people I haven’t met before and will probably see again, and it’s this relationship-building that doesn’t come naturally to me yet benefits me tremendously when it comes to my all-too-human need for social interaction (despite my social hangups and anxieties). When emails go out asking for volunteers to go to work on behalf of the League, if it’s a thing I think I can manage or where I know I can learn a new skill, I give it my best.
Now, all of this considered, I am reflecting about what I’ve gained by joining the League, and here’s what I’ve realized: I didn’t know what I was missing when I was working strictly online. In person, I’ve generated new connections at a rate that I could never match online. If the connections cannot be made in person, I still know it’s there, but despite it being comfortable for me, it just isn’t the most effective way to build a community and to get involved with the existing community of writers we have here in Utah.
In the last three years, I’ve pitched (and sold) a novel, submitted to Inkpot and the Woolley Burt Awards, had a piece published in the former, and have had a story accepted for an anthology. I was encouraged to take these steps every time I stepped into a League event. I met other authors who were talking about submitting, sharing advice for strengthening our writing and our pitches, and introducing me to other people who were working on similar projects or who wanted to exchange work for critique. So even now, when there’s an option to join an event online—and acknowledging that this way of attending is always easier and frequently more comfortable for me—I try to attend in person. The web will always be there (barring some Chuck Wendig-level apocalyptic event) if I need to return to it. Thankfully, there’s a crew of folks keeping online writing chapters up and running our League if I need to tune in from afar or if I can’t get to an event in person.
Thanks, league volunteers, chapter presidents, and members-at-large! I appreciate you.
About the Author
Stephen Capone Jr. is a teacher, presenter, author, and educational coach. He has been living in Utah since 2008 but still enjoys travelling to other parts of the world. You can find him at League events helping out or being studious in the classroom.
You can join him at https://caponeteaches.com/