Here is something I have discovered that really took the pressure off of the always looming "network" cloud. The best thing to come out of networking is not more jobs, more opportunities, more ways to get your foot in the door as a writer, editor, or whatever other profession you're in. The best thing about networking is actually just feeling like you belong.
When I viewed networking as a necessary tool to get into the publishing industry (as an editor and a writer), that put a lot of pressure on my interactions with people. I am not naturally a particularly outgoing person to begin with, so that made it even harder to pluck up the courage to approach people and try to make a connection. But then something happened. I joined a book club with some of my fellow editors. Sure, we talked a lot about editing because we all had that in common, but the reason we all came together was because we had something else in common--our love of reading science fiction and fantasy stories. Because we came together to talk about something unrelated to our work, it took the pressure almost completely out of the entire situation. I wasn't there to network. I was there to talk about something I love, and share that love with other people who were also really excited to talk about it! But that is networking.
Because I was able to make a connection with fellow editors, I started to feel like, "Hey, I belong in this group of people. I am an editor. They are editors. We are all in this together." This was such a good feeling. I now have a group of friends who are also editors, people I can relate to and share a passion with. In almost every profession, I think you go through a phase of feeling like an impostor. Can I really call myself an editor? Can I really call myself a writer? When you join a group of fellow writers or editors, share your own stories, and start to make real connections, that feeling of being an impostor starts to fade. You feel like you belong in that community, and this is the best part about networking. All of the other perks follow in due course.
So the next time you are at a writers conference or an editors coffee hour, just remember that networking isn't about furthering your career. Not really. It's about joining a community and feeling like you are a part of it--knowing that you belong there.