For me, one sign of a good workshop or conference is making a new friend. Pre-Internet I meet a woman at the first conference I attended, the Southwest Writers’ Workshop. We reconnected at the yearly conference. Between times we exchanged manuscripts. By the time email became the main mode of communication, we’d lost touch. She divorced and I don’t have enough information to find her again.
In 2008 I participated in an online writing workshop. The teacher suggested we join Facebook. So I did.At first my only friends were the other members of the group, as well as a friend’s daughter who felt sorry for me when I told her every time I opened the site it announced, “You have no new friends.” Probably those of us in the workshop were too busy critiquing and discussing on the workshop site. Side conversations were via email. When the workshop ended, a few of us kept in loose touch through Facebook. I met two of the workshop members at AWP in Denver. One of them, M.E. Parker is the founder of a well-received photography and writing journal, Camera Obscura. Even five years later I sometimes exchange critiques with another member.
I met at least four of my Facebook friends at a conference/retreat held at a dude ranch outside of Tucson. I’ve met up with two of them at other conferences and occasionally interact with them on Facebook. At this Springs’s Pike’s Peak Writers Conference I met a woman who became the newest member of our writing group. During the recent RMFW Conference I added three writers to my list of friends.
My most recent foray to a retreat yielded twitter contacts, no new friends. This small retreat was held in a lovely mansion hotel on Long Island. Meals were included and were served off a menu; not your usual banquet chicken! About eight years ago I attended another small workshop and thought I had not come away with any new contacts but last month I did reconnect with another participant at RMFW. Possibly somewhere down the line I will be in contact with some of the other writers from the Writing and Yoga Retreat. This event is sure to grow and include more participants in years to come.
The lack of a compatriot at this last retreat might have been, in part, due to the small size of this retreat. This was the initial foray of the two leaders into putting on a retreat. The likelihood of making friends might depend on a critical number of participants. The Tucson workshop had been small, too. There were 12-16 of us. I garnered four friends from that group. This last retreat had a mere five women, plus the two leaders. Three of the women were close in age and bonded easily. One of the other participants was related to one of the leaders, and both leaders were already friends. This left me as the outlier with no natural partner and although I am following or being followed by four of the six others, I feel each is a tenuous connection at best.
Not long ago I ran across an article, Whether Facebook Makes You Lonely Depends on How You Use It. I posted this on my wall and asked my friends which way they felt. Those who commented said happier. My response would be mixed. Probably the largest proportion of my contacts consists of high school classmates, whom I “collected” for a recent reunion. The rest are workmates, neighbors, a few people from college, my “real life” friends, and sundry others. Some posted often in the past but have either gotten bored and moved on or now interact with a select group that doesn’t include me. Many never comment or post status updates. A large number post only lost cats, recipes, photos of dogs, and quotes of others. Some are lurkers. A few routinely send holiday and birthday greetings and then sink back into the sand of anonymity. Possibly I shouldn’t expect more; this may be who they are in their everyday lives. Maybe this lack of interaction is related to differences in personality type, but I find the lack of response and interaction frustrating. Often it makes me unhappy and I wonder why I bother checking in.
But when it comes to my writing connections, I find Facebook both useful and entertaining. Many friends post interesting articles related to writers, writing, and publishing. Recently one acquaintance reviewed a book she found in a used bookstore that sounds right up my alley. I plan to look for it. I’ve asked for book recommendations and help with problems related to the mechanics of writing, computer glitches, and story concerns. I belong to at least one page that lists calls for submissions. My writing group created a private group to conduct our business. We’re currently doing our October short story writing month and sharing prompts.
Because of its usefulness to me as a writer, I’ll remain a dutiful user of Facebook until something better comes along. Google+? If you know of something, let me know, but until then, I hope to continue to expand my circle of writer-friends.