Writing groups are brilliant for socialising and doing various writing activities. However, a writing group, goes much deeper than this. I have been writing since the tender age of 8, if not before, when in second class in primary school my love and knack for writing, especially creative writing was seen by my teacher at the time and then nurtured and encouraged by herself and my family. I wrote a book of poems by hand, which I then typed on an old school huge home PC. My dad printed and bound it for me in the post rooms where he worked in a bank for many years until he retired some years back.
However, despite writing for most of these years, (except for a brief period of time in my late teenage years, early twenties) aside from English class in secondary school or in PLC courses writing essays and reports I never had specific things set with guidelines to write, and I had never been in a writer’s group before despite being intrigued about them. So, when my eldest was one and we moved from Bray in County Wicklow, to Gorey in County Wexford, I read about The Gorey Writers Group in The Gorey Library one day on the notice board, while reading books at baby time with Olivia in the library.
Sending off an email of inquiry I got a warm reply and went along to my first ever writers’ group in September 2012. I need not have worried for I received a warm and heartfelt welcome when I walked into the little room. There were just eight of us and at a typical meeting there would be about four to six depending on the evening. It was relaxed and informal yet had methodical structure. We would start with a chat and some weeks we would read out work we had brought and wanted to share sometimes liking some constructive criticism and then do one- or two-timed exercises. Other weeks we would start with the exercises and end the session with work that we had brought with us to share. People would print one out for everyone but as the group grew that wasn’t viable anymore. It was a place where one could bear their heart and soul, a judge free place, a safe space. In 2016, the groups 10th anniversary we published our first anthology, entitled ‘Fledglings’, published by Boland Press and although the group had started to grow prior to this book launch, it really began to do so after the publicity and success of the first anthology. We did a second anthology called ‘Taking Flight’ in 2019, again published by Boland Press and that went well too. We had more writers in that anthology than the first.
After the group’s size grew, finding a premise big enough for the group was an ordeal. It wasn’t really working out for us and then COVID hit HARD. Bernie, the founder of the group retired from the group for her own reasons. I was assigned chairperson in August 2021. I set up a committee of four, (asking those I considered friends). Due to medical and personal reasons I took a breather in January. Our first meeting, when I got the group back together, was just before Halloween. As times have changed we needed to have some bureaucracy in order for the smooth running of the group, and to cover ourselves. Bernie and others encouraged me to spread my wings, (no intentional bird puns to anthology names!) and I now do regular book reviews on writing.ie and have had many publications both in print and online. If I hadn’t been told about these opportunities and followed up I would have missed out on lots. I wanted to go back to the committee, to encourage others as I have been over the years, passing on knowledge that I learnt from many courses and other writing groups and workshops. Some people just want to go to a session, write go home, end off, and that’s ok. Others want to see how far they can go, whether that is reading in front of a group for the first time, sharing work with spelling and grammar mistakes or writing a novel, and even more so submitting it. I do have limited energy and time compared to the typical 37-year-old married mother, with a host of debilitating life-term conditions. After burying my dad on March 1st, with hardly any contact or hands reached out, and coming back to the meeting on 14th March, I was told there was no longer a committee. Shocked and hurt, by iciness and misinformed people’s presumptions, I made the very tough decision to leave the group that I had reformed, feeling I had no other choice. The support that I have from many others is keeping me going. I would have been in The Gorey Writer’s 10 years this September. I will continue to help others while learning from them too. The point of a writer’s group is to build each other up.
It’s important to note that I write this personal rawness with the intent of saving somebody feeling knocked right now, from giving up something they love and partial live for. Walk away from the upset, but keeps writing!
Writing.ie do writing weeks every now and then. I did one and enjoyed it, and then I joined their private group called The Writer’s Ink. This group’s online and I’ve met many people from Ireland but also further afield. Some have sent me post, cards and books and I them. It is nice and different. You can even do a session in your pyjamas if you wish. I have learnt so much from this group, fuelling my passion to share my new writing knowledge with others. I am in The Writers Ink since last July. I missed the recent retreat but look forward to the next one.
One of my old writing pals Norah, (I met through The Gorey Writers, moved a few years back. Through Facebook, we reconnected. She founded a group called ‘The Writers Pen’. I have been in that since August (ish). We are all spread out through the UK, Canada, Ireland and Australia. My writing pal from ‘down under’ I met on the Virtual Write Club.
The Virtual Write Club is ran in Wexford town by Red Books Shop and Red Books Press by Wally. During COVID, it was great to meet and interact online, (mostly again in pyjamas), with people again from all over. Lisa is from Oz and Katherine is from Italy, Ellen is in Spain and Zeff and Suzi are now in Portugal having recently emigrated there. The first IN PERSON meeting was on 24th February. It was so nice to meet so many of my virtual friends in the flesh. Wally is keeping it via zoom so that everybody can still be joined from the other further afield places. Again a few of the members of Write Club have been previous members of The Gorey Writers.
In a writer’s group you meet people, make connections, (networking), hear about writing competitions. You learn about different literary journals and magazines where you can submit work to. Some are ongoing and some have call outs throughout the year, so you can only submit when their submission window is open. Things have changed a lot even since 2012, as then you could send postal submissions, but between time evolving and the pandemic electronic means seems to he the way forward when submitting. In a writer’s group you can learn from each other in different areas. It is not just merely poetry and memoir or grammar and pronunciation, it is people skills too. We all make mistakes, I certainly have and will, we are human but I want to learn from mistakes to be a better person, writer, mum, wife and friend. Every member who I engage with I like to try and get to know their weaknesses and strengths, to help them to learn from their strengths. To me writing is my everything. If something happened to my husband and family, the only thing if anything that would get me though would be my writing, my writing groups and writing friends.
Boundaries and respect are a huge part of any group or relationship, as I have said I have made mistakes, and that is my learning curve, to know the difference between a professional, personal and in-between relationship. For me the in-between is the hardest. For a group to run efficiently the in-between relationship is the one needed most and that is my problematic area. It hurts when people you admired, are the ones to hurt you. Rejection hurts whether it’s a submission or a person, but the key thing is to try and learn something and to keep going, and believe me I know that is not easy. I can sit here at the keypad and write my feelings because writing is the only way I know how to cope healthily, hence why journaling is recommended so often for therapy sessions. I as a person and a writer may do or say the wrong thing but my heart is always in the right place, even if how I say/write/do something doesn’t reflect that, so again another thing to work on.
Writing helps us to grow as individuals and to see errors. As they say “you can’t edit a blank page”. Write how you fee, reach for the stars and above all else be true to yourself and/or your characters.
(c) Grace O’Reilly