Monday, October 23, 2017

Writers Organizations

Terry Shames answering the question: What benefits do I get from writers’ organizations?

I belong to a few writers’ organizations. Two of them stand out as being the important influences in my crime writing career.

I’ve belonged to Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime since long before I was a published writer. I joined the organizations because I thought I could learn something from other members—and I was right! Both organizations have given me a lot more than I returned to them in time and money.

I joined MWA before Sisters in Crime even existed, because I wanted to learn everything I could to help me with my goal to write mystery novels. I still remember some of the earliest meetings I ever attended, most of them in San Francisco. I remember the talk by a psychiatrist from Stanford who studied serial killers. He played some actual tapes (yes, tapes!) of a couple of interviews with serial killers. The sounds of their voices were chilling and made a huge impression on me. Another speaker brought pictures of crime scenes. He warned us that they were graphic and horrifying. I’m not sure there was anyone in attendance who shied away from looking at them.

I was a brand new writer then. What did I learn? A few things stand out:

1)     Authentic crime writing is not for the faint of heart.
2)     Crime writers are a bloodthirsty bunch.
3)     The details of crime are important, and they aren’t always what you see on TV.
4)     People who deal in the study and apprehension of criminals are willing and eager to talk about what they do, and how they do it.

All the talks were not about the heinous side of crime writing. There were plenty of workshops and discussion of the process of writing. If it took me a long time to get it right, it certainly wasn’t the fault of the generous authors and other industry professionals who were willing to share their knowledge and experience.


When Sisters in Crime was founded with the mission of supporting women in the crime writing field, I eagerly signed up. There were subtle differences in SinC and MWA, and I found both to be valuable in different ways. Sisters in Crime is more inclusive and embracing of unpublished and new writers. This is not to denigrate MWA, just to point out that both are valuable.

Because I was an unpublished writer when I joined SinC, I was happy to find that a sub-group of the organization had been formed (Guppies) to give mutual support to other non-published authors. There were a number of established writers who joined the group as well in order to lend their experience to “guppies”—short for the great unpublished! Now this subgroup has almost 1,000 members. The advice and encouragement members give to each other is awesome.

I know writers who say they don’t join “groups,” and more power to them. But I have found that the friendships I’ve formed and the information I’ve received from these groups has made a huge difference not only to my writing, but to my life as a writer.

As a P.S., I’m just finishing up my two-year stint as president of the Northern California chapter of Sisters In Crime. It’s a big job, but I can truly say that I’ve gotten a lot more than I’ve given!


Paul D. Marks said...

Terry, ditto what you say about Sisters in Crime and MWA. Both are great organizations for mystery writers and anyone who wants to write mysteries would find both very beneficial. Also, as you say, there are some differences between them so it's a good idea to join both.

Edith Maxwell said...

Great minds think alike and all that - my post today at Wicked Cozys is about finding my tribe, too!