The Members' Blog
To be or not to be… part of a writer’s group – Is there safety in numbers? – by Mary Egan Campbell
For many writers it is a lonely road. The very nature of the work is to find a quiet space to let your imagination and literary juices flow. It is not usually a team sport. Yet long hours spent in isolation and very often complete silence can take a toll. With no team around to spread the work load and little human contact during the process is it any wonder that a writer can become a recluse? Without others to buoy us up and keep us on the right path our confidence can take a hit? With only oneself for company a writer can become very introspective or self-critical and allow detrimental self-doubt to creep in.
To add insult to injury then when the precious WIP becomes a MS one is then faced with the daunting world of submissions and querying inviting anxiety to come calling. I have as yet to be published in my own right as an author so I speak for myself when I say that I find that this anxiety is a big stumbling block. Rejections have become the stuff of nightmares to the point that querying is fast becoming a phobia of epic proportions.
I have always wanted to be a writer. There I’ve said it. But it took me over forty years of procrastinating to do something about it. Despite the publication minefield however you will be glad to hear I have found my calling and will carry on writing until they pry the pen from my dead fingers. Only kidding! But seriously being so passionate about my writing is what keeps me going in the face of rejection. That and joining a writers group.
When I wrote my first book, I sat on it for a long time, not knowing where to go next and terrified of going anywhere. I had no one to ask for advice as I was not born into a literary circle nor did I know anyone with any literary leanings whatsoever. It was a very lonely place to be. I tried contacting publishers but went about it all wrong and nearly gave up on my journey all together. Then somewhere I read that joining a writers group would be a good starting point for any would be writer and so I went in search of such a group. They don’t as it happens advertise their wares very well and I found it impossible to find a connection until one day I bit the bullet and decided to go along to a book launch of a local author. My thinking was that if anyone could point me in the right direction it would be a successful writer. As it happened I was right. On the night I not only met with the author herself but also with another lady, herself a budding writer who was a member of a local writers group. It took a lot of guts and determination to turn up that night in a room full of strangers and to ask for help but it was the spring board I needed and I have never looked back.
Maybe all writers groups are different but this is my experience of one and I have to say it’s been the best thing that ever happened to me on my writing journey thus far.
Our writers group is a mixed bag of poets, authors, songwriters and people who just enjoy creative writing for fun. Some have been published in their own right or successful in other areas and we all have something unique to offer the group. It is a friend zone where everyone is welcome and all genres and styles of writing are encouraged and fostered. I call it my weekly therapy session because that is what it feels like. We meet in the local library every week completely free of charge with the use of a quiet/private room at our disposal. There we each get a chance to read some of our work and discuss it among the group. Some will ask for critique or advice and others will open a discussion on different styles of writing and techniques or the difficulties of research. The sky is the limit. No two weeks are the same. We will often set challenges for the group to encourage each other to try out new things and we set a weekly prompt just for the fun of it. Laugh if you like, but put 12 plus adults in a room with the same theme to work from and you will be amazed at the very different takes on the prompt each writer will come up with.
We laugh and we cry but most importantly we have really great meetings with lots of very interesting conversation among like-minded people.
If anyone is working on a submission or needs help editing the group will rally round and offer support.
If someone is looking for direction, contacts or guidance that is also freely doled out.
Our membership isn’t very large but members are free to be flexible and dip in and out of the meetings as their personal lives allow which means we have a very different set of people every week and the energies in the room from one week to the next are equally unique. This also means that turnover of members is low and most remain loyal to the group.
We organise events such as public readings, writing competitions for local school children, and tribute events to various classic authors and poets.
We go on trips to literary festivals and other writers groups and attend book launches and talks on subjects that appeal to our members.
We have also learned a lot about the self-publishing route by putting together a book of poetry and short stories from our own members, which involved a significant amount of team work outside of our weekly meetings and a hell of a lot of organising regarding content, printing, cover photography, sales and marketing and a hugely successful book launch. The entire process was such a lot of fun that we plan to do it all again next year.
The most important point to take from all of this is that writers groups are a vital resource to any writer, whether as a sounding board, as therapy or the actual physical help other members can offer. I find that I am more focussed on my writing and much more disciplined in that I have to produce a body of work each week for the meeting, whether I am writing to the prompt or just sharing some of my own ongoing WIP for critique. My volume of work has increased exponentially and I have all the motivation I need from my fellow scribes to keep me on task each week. Apart from that I find the meetings hugely entertaining and something I look forward to with childlike anticipation each week.
I’m sure there are lots of writers who don’t believe in such groups and they are well entitled to their opinions. I merely extol their virtues here in the hopes that I may help other writers like me who might be feeling a bit lost and in need of support and direction. It is not my intention to promote writers groups but simply to inform other would be writers that perhaps joining the right writers group might be just the stepping stone they need to get to the next level.
All groups are defined by the members within and therefore very different. I’m sure entry criteria may differ and some may be stricter in operation so it may be a case of trial and error to find the right people for you. It has to be a positive experience with fellow members you can learn from and grow alongside so perhaps I have just been extremely lucky in finding the right writers group for me.
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