Friday 7 May 2021

On not being a joiner, by Dawn Finch

I’m really not a joiner. I don’t mean that I am no good with furniture (although that statement still stands) but rather that I’m not the kind of person who joins clubs and groups. Despite the fact that I’m a serial volunteer* (insert rousing chorus of “I’m just a gal who can’t say no…”) I’m just not comfortable with group activities. I can’t bring myself to join groups and never have been, but it is groups that have kept me going through lockdown.

There’s no doubt that for many of us one of the hardest things to cope with during lockdown has been the isolation. I’m one of those people who are happy in their own company. People who know me in real life know that I’m an introvert and have a history of vanishing during events, or simply not showing up due to a crisis moment on the way out the door. For me hell is very much other people! However, this past year has driven even me to need to reach out to others and it’s been groups that have made all the difference.

Many of us are members of organisations like the Society ofAuthors (SoA) of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators(SCBWI) but haven’t reached out to the networks and groups. Lots of us feel that first contact is going to be awkward, or that we will find a clique where we don’t fit so how can we get that first foot in the door without feeling as if we are an interloper?

Here’s where I come back to volunteering. I struggle in social situations but I’m really good at organising and helping out and I know I am much better at getting to know people over a task or project. Put me in a room with music, nibbles and a glass of wine and right from the start I’m making sure I know the quickest route to my coat and the exit. Put me in a room with ten rows of chairs, a speaker due to arrive and hand me a clipboard and I’m all set for the evening.

Lockdown has meant that volunteering events have not been possible, but it hasn’t meant that the working groups have vanished, in fact it’s been the opposite. In this new digital world we’ve all been forced to learn new skills about virtual meetings and events, and we’re doing amazing things! I went into a pandemic with a horror of seeing my face on a screen, and now I’m zooming along with the rest of the world.

If you’re wondering where the next year will take you, or if you just want to feel a new purpose and a new sense of belonging, reach out to the special interest groups in your societies. If you find that there isn’t a special interest group for you, then maybe others are feeling the same way too. Maybe it’s time you got a few people together and started up a group in your area. If you’re not sure how to get started with groups and projects you can start by taking a look at their social media. Join quietly and have a little lurk for a while. If you see a friend joining in just ask them to introduce you to others. Try jumping in, the water is not as cold or as deep as you might fear. Maybe just sign up to attend an event and have a virtual mingle. The Society of Authors has a fantastic range of online events.

The world has changed, but it’s become smaller not diminished and that means it’s easier than every to reach out to each other. We might be physically distanced, but that doesn’t mean we have to be socially distanced.

*Dawn Finch is the current chair of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) at the Society of Authors. She is also the secretary of her allotment group, a member of the community bookshop team, curator of her local seed library, a member of the judging panel for the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award, current chair of the Ethics Committee for the Chartered Institute of library and Information Professionals, and a community volunteer for local food projects. She is also tired, very very tired... what's that you say? You need someone to help organise that thing you're planning? Pass me that clipboard!

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