Hello, Internet! I am not dead; I’m sure you’re all relieved. Life has just been hectic, and also I’m a writer so I’m really good at procrastinating. Even though I’ve been quiet on my blog (and Twitter, and Facebook—I’m really bad at this “online presence” thing), I have been keeping my social life rolling along.
I work from home most of the time, and I spend a great deal of my personal time at the computer, writing or editing or procrastinating. In other words, I’m basically a recluse. Writers talk all the time about how writing is solitary, sometimes lonely work. I don’t always agree, but it’s hard to deny that I seem to spend a lot of my time alone.
But most people need human contact at some point, and I am no exception. So recently I set out on a mission to find local writing groups to join. Let me tell you, the Internet is the best thing to happen to a recluse like me. Not only has it put me in touch with writers all over the world, thanks in part to this blog, but also when I began looking for local writers to meet in person, all I had to do was use Google. That led me to some websites, and then I joined Meetup. I immediately found almost half a dozen writing groups within 30 minutes of me, and even more a little further away. It’s like magic!
I’ve been part of writing and critique groups before, both online and in person. Most of those I either started with friends or joined with friends; I’ve never joined a group in which I didn’t already know at least one person. Over time those groups have fizzled out, or I’ve moved too far away to continue my participation. Now that I live outside NYC, where most of my friends still reside, I had to work up the nerve to approach a group of strangers when I decided to join a local writing group.
On top of that, writing groups in general get mixed reviews from writers. I know some who have hated them and found them useless and other writers who swear by them. It depends on the members of the group, certainly, but I think it can also depend on what one hopes to get out of joining a writing group. If you have a clear idea of what you want, odds are you’ll find more than one group that fits your criteria. After that, it’s just a matter of finding the one (or two) that you like best.
I knew right away I didn’t want a group that took itself too seriously. I wanted the members of the group to take their writing seriously but also have fun with it and love it. I wanted enthusiasm and diverse opinions and a variety of skill levels. I didn’t want a group that would get bogged down in discussions of marketability or profitability or popularity. I’m not hoping the group is going to somehow allow me to make a connection that will get me published. For me, joining a writing group is equal parts about being social and improving my writing.
The two don’t seem to go together—see aforementioned solitude and loneliness. But I’ve had more fun this past month attending two local writing groups than I’ve had in a long time. Getting myself out the door the first time was tough; I was nervous about meeting a bunch of strangers, even in public, even though I already knew we had writing in common. But I’m glad I overcame those hangups. Not only have I received worthwhile feedback on many of my works in progress but also I have been able to read great work by other local writers, sometimes in genres I don’t normally read, and give them (hopefully useful) feedback in return. And I’ve had great conversations about books, writing techniques, local history and personal history.
We writers may work alone, but that doesn’t mean we have to be lonely. And your writing can’t improve without any outside influence; the benefits of reading will only take you so far. Sometimes you need other people to brainstorm with or talk to about story structure and technique. If you end up also talking about sports or family or television, I don’t see the harm in that, either. For a writer, having a network of other writers—of all skill levels, working in all genres, both online and in person—is an indispensable resource for both writing and socializing.