Here in New England, winters can be long, isolating seasons. As a writer, you’re already somewhat isolated: it’s just you and that stupid blinking cursor on the screen, shouting at you that you’ve written nothing, nothing, nothing! Sure, you probably talk to others in the course of your research, but when it comes time to write, it’s just you and a white expanse of nothingness.
You visit The Writing Resource and other places for help with grammar, vocabulary, and other tools of the trade to improve your writing. Your editor can guide you in the right direction and help correct what you missed (don’t have an editor? Let me help). But sometimes you just need to talk to another writer. You want to ask someone’s opinion on where to go next with your manuscript. You want to connect with someone who truly gets your troubles. To hear how others solve their dilemmas. To be encouraged, rather than corrected, and to do the same for others.
Enter the writing group.
Whether in person or online, a writing group is a place to try out new ideas, sharing what you’ve written with fellow writers who can offer healthy feedback. It’s a place to grow your writing skills through exercises, events, sharing, and listening. It’s a community that offers encouragement and understands the ups and downs of being a writer.
What kind of writing group should you look for? It should be a group that meets regularly, whether physically or virtually, at a time you can commit to. People will count on you to participate; you need to show up physically and mentally. Other than that, your group could be based solely on location, offering a serendipitous variety of writers. You could look for a group of writers who write on the same topic (e.g., science or science fiction) or in the same media (e.g., novelists, poets, or bloggers). I searched on “writing groups massachusetts” and came up with several groups in Massachusetts and a few online ones that are organization based on location. I even found a writing group in my city: Phoenix Writers.
You can also check out writing sites and periodicals for lists of writing groups looking for new members. Forwriters.com offers a long list of writer organizations. The New Hampshire Writers’ Project is a wonderful organization to belong to, even if you don’t live in New Hampshire. Besides holding events and helping writers organize writing groups, it has a Web site that lists writing opportunities and an informative newsletter about, you guessed it, writing. I particularly enjoy the columns about the craft. Though I have to admit my bias: NHWP has been a client for a few years, and when I started this blog I became a member.
And if you can’t find a group near you or you just want to start your own? There are resources for that, too.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers the thorough Writing Center Guide to Writing Groups. The Writing Groups Start Kit is invaluable. The handouts do a great job of helping members set expectations and organizing meetings so they are useful rather than a waste of time. The 6′ Ferret Writers’ Group is another site offering advice on starting your own writing group. It also offers writing exercises for individuals and groups, ideas for writing events, a suggested reading list, and more.
If those don’t work for you, try the old standby: search on “starting a writers group.” The Web is nothing if not prolific on just about every topic.
It’s a new year. Make a new commitment to your writing by engaging with others like you. Take a break from the isolation and gather with other writers.
Let me know how it goes.