Bestselling novelist Meg Waite Clayton hosts the blog, 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started, where she and guest authors post about how they started writing, kept going through rejection, and ultimately gained publication, awards, and places on bestseller lists. Here, Meg shares the importance of having writing friends - to keep her writing, to keep her hopeful, to keep her happy.

This spring, I spent two inspiring and entirely-too-short days at the AWP Conference in Denver. If you've never been before (I never had), imagine 8,000 writers gathered together to share chat about the craft of writing. And war stories. And food and drink and earnest late night discussions we wouldn't admit to in the morning. And breakfast and coffee and more of the same.

My path to attending that gathering was through a gradually expanding network of writer friends. When I first started writing – this in the days before the internet – I had not a single one. I took a course on writing fiction, thinking I would learn something about how to write – which I did. But the more important lesson I began to learn was how important it is to have the support of writing friends.

At the suggestion of an early writing teacher, mentor, and friend, I applied to attend the Sewanee Writers’ Conference a couple years after I’d started writing. There, I shared late-night conversations with a writer who, when the conference ended, invited me to join his writing group. Only one of the three other group members had published anything, and that only a small travel piece in an obscure magazine. I’d published a single poem in my middle school literary magazine – and I was a long way from middle school by then. But we met weekly for years, some members leaving as they moved from the area, new ones joining. The two constants in the group were the woman who is now my best writer-pal in the world, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, and me.

When we were facing rejection (and more rejection, and more) and might have given up, we turned to critique each others’ work and said, hmmm… she’s a good writer (or he is) and she’s not succeeding yet either, so maybe my work isn’t as bad as it seems at this moment. With each others’ support, we turn out to be a more stubborn lot than we likely would have been without it. And stubbornness is more important than you might expect if you want to be a published writer.

Brenda now has three novels published with a major publisher. I have two, with a third coming out. Our fellow writing group member, Leslie Lytle, has published a nonfiction book, and everyone from our final foursome has published essays, articles, stories and poems. We’ve strayed geographically now, but we still share work and critique – and publication joy.

Having had such good luck at Sewanee that first time – finding a much needed writing group – I went back twice again, the last time after I’d published my first novel. That time, I had the good fortune to meet novelist Elizabeth Brundage (Someone Like You), who a few years later invited me to join an AWP panel she was organizing. Which was how I ended up in Denver this spring, not just attending the conference, but speaking on a panel with writers I have long admired – Jennifer Haigh, Michelle Richmond, Richard Bausch, and Elizabeth – yacking for ninety minutes about "Private Practice: Managing the Novel from Symptoms to Recovery."

And the bonus prize: I attended my first She Writers face-to-face at AWP. About thirty She Writers from all over the country gathered over drinks and pizza. I came home so energized that I helped organize a San Francisco Bay area She Writers face-to-face in June, which was also a terrific time.

One thing I’ve learned about writers is that they tend to be about the nicest, most generous people you’ve ever met. Published or not, doesn’t matter. I think it has to do with the way you come to know yourself through writing. I know writing has made me a better person. Which is reason enough to write. Reason enough to shake off whatever shyness you might feel, too, and jump into the She Writes conversation. And don’t be shy about hitting that “friend” button here. - Meg

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Comment by 1st Books on September 10, 2010 at 4:00pm
>In 2003, I founded WOMEN READING ALOUD with 12 women sitting around my dining room table.

This is the way so many things happen, isn't it? Starting with Suffrage, or perhaps even before.
Comment by Judith Marshall on September 10, 2010 at 9:06am
Hi Meg. You're absolutely right about writers being generous. I think it's because only other writers can truly understand how personal your work is and how much of your heart and soul goes into it. After I finished the first draft of HUSBANDS MAY COME AND GO BUT FRIENDS ARE FOREVER, I was fortunate to hook-up with a critique group of three other writers, and together we worked through the entire novel. Without their help, I know it would have taken much longer to see the book in print. I was so grateful that dedicated my book to them.
Comment by Deborah Swift on September 10, 2010 at 12:59am
Hello Meg, great post. I'm lucky enough to have a small community of writers all published by the same imprint - one enterprising writer suggested that those of us published by Macmillan New Writing should have a blog where we could share our experiences and offer support to each other particularly as we are all debut novelists. Or were. Now, some people are into their second or third publication and it has been great to have our common experiences with the same publisher to draw on, and that moral support. Also, rather surprisingly, through my local bookshop I have found two other novelists who live in my village. Our first date for coffee and cake is in a few weeks, so looking forward to that.
Comment by Julie Maloney on September 9, 2010 at 6:54pm
Meg, I love this blog post. In 2003, I founded WOMEN READING ALOUD with 12 women sitting around my dining room table. Since then, thousands know about WRA through newsletters, social media etc...and old fashion "word of mouth." Writers from San Diego to Greece have attended workshops, writing retreats, special events and conferences. Hundreds of writers have walked through my doors with notebook and pen in hand, bursting to be part of a community. You are so right! Being part of a supportive writing community is necessary to succeed - no matter what one's definition of success is...and everyone's got her own. Right now, I have writers helping me find a home for my first novel. From AL to MA, I've got the best readers giving so generously of their time, I'm blown away. I love writers! For the past 2 yrs., I've been leading a writing workshop at the Carol Simon Cancer Center in NJ. Magic happens when we meet. We laugh, we cry, we glow. A community has been born. Thanks for putting it out there. All the best to you with your writing life. I look forward to reading more of your posts.
Comment by Kim Koning on September 5, 2010 at 9:27pm
Great blog! I agree, writer friends are critical when writing. Nobody else will understand your intensity about your writing or your frustrations and joys. I also found my first two critique/writing partners at my first writers conference that I attended 2 weeks ago. I also agree that writers are the nicest people you will meet. Every writer I have come into contact with either face-to-face or online, has gone out of his/her way to help, assist, advise and guide.
Comment by Jan Nerenberg on September 5, 2010 at 8:37pm
Thanks for the invite. Do you know of any writers here in the Northwest? I had a small health setback while in Baltimore last month so I won't be able to travel for awhile but would love to connect to some local writers.
Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on September 5, 2010 at 3:24pm
Beth, a writing group is an amazing thing. Good luck with your memoir.

And Carleen, I can't believe we didn't connect! I'd planned to go for the whole time, but then ended up taking my son for a special scholarship-candidate weekend at University of Michigan as a part of a whirlwind look-at-the-colleges-I'm-considering tour, and was in Denver for about 30 hours - and completely disorganized! Would have been so nice to meet in person.
Comment by Beth Sylvest on September 4, 2010 at 7:24am
What a beautiful story. I feel I need to be in a writing critique group but have only half-heartedly pursued it. I am writing a memoir about the women in my family. As I read your story, I am reminded once again that one thing leads to another--connections are made by getting out there and doing something. Thanks for the inspiration to keep trying--good things can happen.
Comment by Carleen on September 3, 2010 at 9:07pm
I'm sorry I missed you! I live in Denver and went to some of the AWP stuff.


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