I’m a big believer in community. I’m convinced that it’s very very very difficult to produce good art without some kind of a community behind you. I can date the turnaround in my own writing to my first showing it to other writers. Their critiques hurt like hell, but my writing got better in ways it never would have otherwise.
The communities of writers and other publishing folks I’m involved with share a wealth of information with each other. We tell each other about which editors we enjoy working with and why, which houses have the best publicity/sales/marketing departments. Who got paid what by which house. When third person is a better fit than first. What the differences are between writing middle grade and young adult books. What Amazon numbers mean (bugger all). How to survive writing the third book in a trilogy and so on and so forth.
I honestly don’t know how I’d cope in this industry if I didn’t have all my publishing friends to turn to. I’ve also been enjoying passing on what I’ve learned to others via my musings, this blog, at various appearances, and by other means, most enjoyably in person over a yummy meal. Helping other folks is even better than being helped. Who knew?
And yet I’m also extremely reluctant to join organisations.
I’m currently a member of SCBWI because I taught at one of the SCBWI workshops and was comped a year’s membership. I doubt I would have joined otherwise. I’m also a member of ASIF! because censorship makes my blood boil and also it’s not a formal organisation in the way that SCBWI is—it’s more of an activist mailing list based around one particular issue. Mailing lists I can do. I’m also not a member of SFWA which is the premier organisation of science fiction and fantasy professionals.
That’s weird because although I made my fiction debut as a young adult writer, I’ve been a part of the sf and fantasy community for more than fifteen years now, dating back to when I was researching my PhD (which became The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction).
I think it might be because I know too much about SFWA. As part of my doctoral and post-doctoral research I read a vast deal of correspondence about SFWA and a great many back issues of their SFWA Forum. The result is that I feel completely burned out by the organisation without ever having been part of it.
This is not to say that SFWA is any more dysfunctional than any other organisation. Show me an organisation whose members are all a hundred per cent gruntled and I’d want to know what drugs they’re on.
Professional organisations have a great deal going for them. The best of them provide vital services to their members like advocacy when professional disasters occur, cheap lawyers, cheap health insurance, and so forth. They’re also a good way to meet your peers, which (see above) is invaluable.
However, you can be part of a community but not of any its professional bodies. There are some who’d say you’re not being a good citizen in doing so, but, well, I seem to disagree. Thing is I’m not entirely sure why.
It may be a touch of the Groucho Marxes (“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member”), or it could be that I worry about being associated with an organisation that is on the record as supporting causes I don’t support. Or not on the record for supporting causes I do. I guess I would much rather keep my solo voice as part of broader and more disparate communities.
Or maybe it’s because I didn’t enjoy playground politics in high school. Nor did I enjoy the university version—either as a student or as a staff member. It could be that I’m just not comfortable with the politics of any formal organisations. I guess there’s a reason that the happiest I’ve ever been is as a work-at-home freelancer.
Could also be that I’m just lazy.
Or something. Those of you who are members of these kind of organisations—what do you get out of it? How do you cope with the politics?