Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Wonder of Writing Groups

When I teach classes in how to write a nonfiction book, I always stress the importance of having a good support system. Here’s how I describe it in my book:

“No matter which book you’re working on — your first or twenty-first — you need to feel that others are in your corner and rooting for you. Not only do you need faith in your subject, you need others to have faith in you. ‘I’ll get by with a little help from my friends,’ is a line from my favorite Beatles’ song. No one goes it alone, especially when you undertake a project of this magnitude. Support comes in many forms and from many sources — family, professionals, fellow writers, and, especially, your friends.”

The best support, in my opinion, comes from fellow writers who contribute empathy, enthusiasm, and encouragement to your efforts. I’ve heard the rumor that other writers are competitive and can't be trusted, but I don’t believe it. Furthermore, I’ve never experienced that kind of competition in 40 years of writing.

When I first started freelancing full time I felt completely isolated. I had no one to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, or to ask for feedback. So, I formed a writers’ group. It began with six freelancers and grew to 100 in time. What we sacrificed in intimacy we more than made up in support.

Five or six years ago a good friend of mine assembled a few writers who wanted to write but lacked the time or discipline to actually do it. She named the group Write Now! There were three of us in the beginning, and our purpose was just to write. No reading out loud, no critique or criticism. We all wrote different things: one person journaled; one wrote poetry; and I worked on a book on writing which I dedicated to the group. While it has had its ups and downs, miraculously, Write Now! is still together.

I’m in a new writing group now, which is made up of authors from previous classes who took what we euphemistically refer to as the "graduate program." When it ended, they wanted to stay together, and generous soul offered her home for monthly meetings. I was invited to attend but was hesitant. I didn’t want to continue to fill the teaching role, which sometimes happens after a class, but I needn’t have worried. This is a phenomenal, egalitarian bunch of women of all ages, backgrounds, and perspectives. They no longer needed a teacher; they needed what I needed: a support system.

I wish I could clone them and make sure every writer has such a group. The best I can do is encourage anyone who reads this to create your own. Set it up any way you want to accomplish any goals you choose. That's part of the wonder. Writing groups evolve organically to meet the needs of those who belong. Pretty amazing, huh?


Kim said...

Very well said, Bobbi, and a great way to summarize our writers' group!