By Judy Clement Wall
The first writing group I ever joined was (fate-temptingly) named the Writer’s Block. Once upon a time, it had been more of a full-fledged organization with membership dues and guest speakers but by the time I joined, they were ten or so people who loved to write, meeting one Thursday night a month.
Though I was 32 years old, I was just getting started with my writing, had just taken my first college creative writing class and felt the wild rush of being both completely out of my element and unquestioningly home at last. I attended my first Writer’s Block meeting dizzy with excitement, insanely nervous. It took several meetings before I was brave enough to share a story, and when I finally did, I could barely hear the feedback for the sound of my own heart’s pounding in my ears.
They were a perfect group for me at that time. I was the youngest by far, the least experienced in life and writing. I was only almost brave, tender and clumsy; they were gentle with their critiques, always encouraging. They gave me tea and cookies and a safe place to share, which I grew to appreciate even more once I’d switched my major to creative writing and had to endure the often inexplicable brutality of writers workshops. More than once I came to my writing group bruised and shaken, holding my workshopped story like a casualty of war. At those times I needed a pep talk more than I needed the truth, and they were very good at nursing my fragile, thin-skinned ego.
I stayed with the group until it disbanded years after I joined, members having moved away (or in some cases, passed away). I had, by then, stopped using them to critique my work. I sought instead my professors and then later, other writers who, like me, were submitting their work to literary journals.
It’s been years since I belonged to (or wanted to belong to) a writing group. I’ve had a couple of really great partnerships with writers who’ve agreed to share their work with me, critique and give me feedback on mine, but nothing like that first group.
I miss it. I miss the group dynamic of like-minded creatives in a room, working through the possibilities of a story. Writing is such an inherently lonely activity; it’s good to get out of the cave now and then, be with people who speak your language, know your angst. It’s reassuring to know you have a tribe that will nurse your wounds, celebrate your achievements, challenge you (lovingly) to up your game.
Honestly, I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s more than reassuring. Maybe it’s necessary, maybe it’s why we seek online communities like this one… but it isn’t quite the same online is it? (No tea and cookies, for example… or wine and cheese as the case may be.)
What do you think? Do you belong to a writing group? Do you want to? Do online groups serve the same purpose for you? Is there value in being face to face?
JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a freelance writer and course presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course. Her short stories and essays have been published in literary journals and on some very cool websites like The Rumpus, Used Furniture Review, Lifebyme and Beyond The Margins. She recently finished her first novel, BEAUTIFUL LIVES, and here at FoW she chronicles the ups and downs of writing for publication. Judy writes about living creatively at Zebra Sounds, love at A Human Thing, and is a staff writer at Milliver’s Travels.