This blog was featured on 05/22/2017
[THE WRITER'S LIFE] Writer's Groups

I started my first writing group about eight years ago. There were three of us; three women who were interested in writing and getting feedback for it from a supportive group of like-minded peers. We met and wrote and critiqued for about six months until Lynn left. I don’t remember why she left—I’m almost positive it wasn’t because of anything negative. It was probably more that the meetings just didn’t work for her. That’s what I choose to believe, anyway. So, Trudy and I continued; meeting, writing, critiquing. Over breakfast lunch or dinner. Or wine. During that time, I completed and published my first book, she completed her memoir and, later, we added another member. A man this time, David, who was at the end of completing his memoir. We all joined him in New York City a month ago for his book launch at Barnes & Noble.

This is what writer’s groups are for: Personal support and professional encouragement and the occasional glass (or bottle) of wine. Joining or starting a writer’s group probably isn’t the first thing a writer thinks of when she (and I’m just talking about women now) decides to set forth on a writing career. Particularly if it’s a second or third career. It’s even possible that the thought of long hours and days alone writing is very appealing to a woman who may have spent years taking care of other’s needs in the form of raising children or their former jobs. Because let’s be honest: most typical women’s jobs include NOT being alone and/or taking care of others. So, a little alone time is pretty enticing.

The work of being a writer is as demanding as any other job, but the job isn’t defined like any other job. All other jobs have set hours, a typical pay scale and an expected product or goal. In retail, business, government and education, jobs have generally accepted job descriptions. Even a housewife has set hours (24/7) typical pay scale (whatever’s in the checking account) and an expected product or goal (kids with clean clothes and manners.) Writers don’t fit into such a neat category, nor is there anyone at the next desk over to ask why.

This is why it’s good to have a group, tribe, network, crew, posse. Call it anything you like (the actual collective noun for writers is worship) just call one. Finding a group of fellow writers to connect with, grab a cup of coffee with, submit a piece to is a great idea for those folks who are toiling away all on their own. While it is the lot of a writer to ultimately have a solo practice, it is not a decree to have to toil alone. In person or online, there are many ways to find or start a writing group. In a recent workshop I held, a couple of women shared that they have been members of the same writing group for over 20 years. Imagine having that kind of solidarity for so long.

Even though I have the comfort of a face-to-face, local writing group, I also belong to the She Writes community of writers. This is one of the largest online writing groups and rather than being overwhelming, it is actually very accessible. There are sub groups for fiction, humor, memoir. You can connect with as many or a few other writers as you’re comfortable with. And at the risk of sounding like a She Writes commercial, there is access to She Writes Press, their publishing division and She Writes University offering online writing webinars.

Although it seems obvious to expect that being a member of a writing group will positively impact one’s work, it was really more of an unexpected benefit to me. I expected “help” but not in the way that it manifested itself.  In almost every case, whether it was getting my group’s feedback in person or having a few trusted colleagues to send off a piece to for a once over, my work has emerged better. Not because I changed everything I was told to change, but because it made me look at my work differently. I am now aware that my finished product is going to need review, and that it might need some revision I am not able to see. I’m still in charge of my work. Ultimately, with every author, there is but one name on the page and that is the person who gets to accept or reject any feedback or critique. But since writers can be the harshest critics of their own work, having one’s work affirmed is kind of a nice job benefit.

Recently I ran a one-day women’s writing retreat. It was the first I held on my own and my goals were simple: to provide a women’s only space and the opportunity for participants to connect with other writers. At the morning gathering for introductions and goal-setting, amidst cappuccino and homemade chocolate croissants (do I know how to hold a retreat, or what?) I asked the women to speak a little about their practice and why they came to this retreat.

Everyone talked about time—not having enough, mostly. Other comments included needing to get back to a once abandoned project or working out a troublesome character issue. Then, one woman said something like, “I wanted to come because I felt it was important to connect with women writers close to me.” It was as if I sent her a memo with the exact lines to say when she introduced herself.

Writing is always going to be a solitary vocation. Both the creative process and the actual act of writing are most effective when practiced alone. But the experience of being a writer doesn’t have to be solitary; everything one writer undergoes, so does another. The frustrations, the thrills, the rejections and the wonderful, exhilarating acceptances are common occurrences in all writer’s lives. We share our creative experiences all the time through our writing. Why not share our professional ones, too?

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  • Johnnie Barnes

    Maybe I should start a writing group for persons writing their memoir. Now where would I advertise to solicit people?