Join a writing group. This advice for writers is pretty universal.
I’ve sat in so many audiences at author events when the question ‘what advice would you give to emerging writers?’ is asked. And I want to get up and walk out because I have heard it all before:
- Join a writing group
This is good advice. The problem is that it is woefully incomplete. I know writing is an individual thing and I know we all have to work it out for ourselves but surely, surely a published author could give a little more information. Like how they did or do these things.
When I’m sitting there in the audience, this is what I think when I hear these answers:
- Tell us how to read and why or what, or how we should apply this to our writing!
- Well, duh!
- Okay, but how does one do this?!
I’m pretty passionate about the answer to that first question, but I’m not going to talk about that in this post. The second one needs no discussion (because if you aren’t writing, you aren’t a writer, sorry, but you aren’t). The third was the holy grail for me for a long, long time. But now I’ve cracked it and am a member of three writing groups so I want to share how I did it.
Putting yourself out there
I actually learnt this strategy when I started my Historian consultancy business. The only way I could find work was to let people know I was around. So I went to events and conferences and workshops and I met people. And then those people introduced me to other people. I also had an active blog and an active Twitter account and I connected to others in this way as well. And I found work. Not enough, as it turned out, but I did find work. It was fantastic.
When I decided I wanted to join a writing group two years ago I thought I’d try the same approach. I went to workshops and met people. I got a blog (okay I didn’t do much with it!) and Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. And yes, I used up a lot of time interacting with people on these platforms but eventually I got to know a few people and, more importantly, I knew when workshops and conferences and events were happening and I forced myself to go to them even though I found it difficult.
I was then in the position to take up an opportunity when it arose: an AWC alumni writing group that advertised on Facebook for new members, and when I made them: asking people at a workshop to be part of a new group.
More about both of these below.
Offering to set up a group
In 2016 I went to Natasha Lester’s AWC workshop called ‘How to Write a Bestseller’. It was a brilliant workshop and what I learned there continues to help me now.
At the end of the full-on, full day workshop I found some courage and asked if anyone wanted to form a writing group. I sent a scrap of paper around the group and anyone who was interested wrote their email address down. I think I got about eight addresses.
I was on a high after that workshop and came home and had a glass of wine. Then I thought I better do something with those addresses so I sent everyone an email that night. Yes, after wine. No, I’m not going to re-read that email.
After some discussion we decided to use a Facebook group and I set that up. We had a few meetings but not everyone came. It sort of fizzled out. But, that Facebook group still exists and we are all still members. I know that if any of us want to start up again, it will be easy. And, one other member and I see each other at events around Perth and it is great to have someone to catch up with. Plus, he is way better at meeting people than I am and always introduces me to someone interesting.
Don’t let opportunities slip by
I was lucky enough to be one of four selected to attend the first Margaret River Press Writers Retreat last year. Two and a half days in a beautiful home outside Margaret River with Laurie Steed leading workshops and critiques. I’d never done anything like it before; it was amazing.
On the last day the other three participants and I decided we should keep in touch and create a writing group. We swapped emails and, again, I emailed everyone when I got home. We decided on monthly meetings and sent work to each other and meet once or twice. Then one person bowed out. One of the others lives way down south so couldn’t come often. But the other group member and I have kept going anyway. We play it by ear a bit but generally meet up at least once a month, sometimes more. We swap work, or read out or just talk about where we are at. Sometimes we just sit and write together. We email each other regularly and we went down south to write for a week recently.
The thing that works about this group, even though it is only really two members, is that we already knew each other’s work from the retreat. It seemed a great waste to not capitalise on that unique situation by forming a group.
Do it even if you don’t want to
At the beginning of 2017 I was starting to feel that my life would be easier if I just went back to wanting to write, rather than actually trying to write. I was almost at the end of my six week summer holidays and I hadn’t written a word. I felt like a total failure and a fraud.
One morning I saw an notice on the AWC Facebook page about a writing group looking for members. It had been posted moments before so I replied in a comment before I could think too much about it. Then I totally regretted it. But I just squashed that feeling right down and went along with it like it was something I wanted to do.
I was accepted into the group. Then I had to send something in to be critiqued. All I had was a little scene I’d written months earlier and only vaguely met the brief, but I sent it anyway. And I was blown away by the feedback I got. So blown away that I actually copied some of it out and stuck it on my wall. And I decided I could do this writing thing, I HAD to do this writing thing and I started writing again.
This group is a lifesaver. We have a Facebook group as well as another place we post and critique work. The Facebook group is where we talk about writing. We ask for readers for competition submissions, pose questions about writing, get advice about approaches, lament difficulties and celebrate successes. I know I will find my beta readers in this group. These people are the best people. When I’ve been busy or uninspired or lazy and I don’t want to be a writer anymore, it is this group that forces me to keep going.
When you find (or make) a group like this one, do everything you can to stay!
Which brings me to the two most important parts of being in a writers group:
Follow the rules
Just do it the way you’ve agreed to do it. If submissions are due on a particular date, move heaven and earth to make that happen (and if it doesn’t apologise profusely and make sure you are on top of it the next time). If you are meeting at a particular time, be there. If you are supposed to bring biscuits, do it. Doesn’t matter what the rules are, just follow them. Don’t be flaky.
Email people, respond to messages, like photos and posts, retweet. Engage. You will get more from the group(s) you are in if you are actively part of the group. Find the time to do this, even if it is hard (for me it is sometimes really hard). Again, don’t be flaky.
Now, off you go….find, or create, a writers group. You won’t believe the benefits.