Why Networking is Not the Dirty Word I Thought it Was

For years I’d heard the advice to join professional organizations for their networking opportunities. I envisioned a bunch of well-dressed folks whipping out their business cards with a suave smile. I imagined a flow of conversation that persuaded everyone listening, Do business with ME. It seemed exactly the sort of slick, conniving environment in which I would be doomed to fail.

I’m not so good in the ulterior-motives department.

Then I moved to Idaho, published a book, and decided I needed to plug into the local writing community. I did some research and set my sights on the Idaho Writer’s Guild. The IWG offers, among other things, a monthly luncheon with a speaker and an opportunity to network.

That dreaded word.

Members pay annual dues to attend, but prospective members can attend their first luncheon for free. This was back in January of 2013. Bruce Delaney of Rediscovered Books, the first local store to stock my book, would be that month’s speaker. I wanted to hear what Bruce had to say, so I figured that would be the perfect time to see if the IWG was worth their dues.

I wasn’t too sure how the networking thing, well, worked. I’m one of those watch and learn people, so I figured I’d, you know, watch and learn.

On the appointed day and time, I entered the big group room at Smokey Mountain Pizzeria to discover a large and chatty group of perfectly normal-looking people. No slick suits. No suave smiles. Just writers of all ages gathered around polished wood tables, some chatting, some gazing about waiting for the meeting to start.

With flashbacks to my I’m-the-new-kid-in-school-and-don’t-know-where-to-sit-in-the-cafeteria days, my more confident middle-aged self located an available seat and dove right in. I introduced myself to the people nearby and soon learned the one standard topic for anyone you meet is the kind of writing they do. Some were aspiring writers (of a romance, or a memoir perhaps) and some were published writers (from magazine articles to books). Everyone was interesting.

Being a writer myself, I find it fascinating to talk with other writers. We speak each others’ language. We understand the joys and struggles and yearnings that go along with writing. We understand one another in a way non-writers sometimes don’t.

I forgot about the networking and fell into the joy that comes from talking with my people.

By the time the meeting was over, I abandoned any thought of joining for marketing or networking reasons. I left that pizzeria jazzed about being a writer. Uplifted and inspired. These down-to-earth writers infused me with mojo worth every dime of the yearly membership dues.

I paid up and began attending the luncheons with devotion. Between the speakers (which are almost always inspiring and informative) and the writerly camaraderie, I was having a blast.

This is the part where I reveal how slow I can be to catch on to things sometimes.

Fast-forward about six or seven months. One day, I had a revelation. I had been going to the IWG meetings because I enjoyed being friends with writers. I didn’t go to try to sell myself or my book, or to network. But, as it turns out, that’s what networking IS: making friends. It’s just making friends with people who happen to be in your field. Those friendships may or may not lead to some sort of professional benefit (it feels so weird to even phrase it that way), but that’s not really the point. The point is to just be friends.

That means we give as much as we get. The writers I’ve met are generous with their advice and encouragement. I try to be also.

Yes, for those who are wondering, my “networking” has been a benefit professionally. Additionally, some of my editing clients have found me thanks to the IWG.

But far more than that, the IWG benefits me personally. Being around other writers gives me much-needed strength and stamina in a very draining profession.

I’ve been a member for about a year now. I’m getting ready to pay my annual dues again. Not because I think I’ll get my money back out of it, but because I love the group. I love the people in it. I love being a part of it.

If I’d known how much fun networking was going to be, I would have done it a long time ago.

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