Monday, 30 May 2011

Belonging to a Writing Group

Some of the writing group enjoying garden party
Since I was talking about the RNA in my last post, I thought I should move further back, to first being part of a writing group. That's where it all took off for me as a writer. I was taking those first tentative steps in writing back in the early 90s, and even had a short article published in the Scottish Home & Country Magazine. Then we moved house to a small village, and son and daughter had new schools to get used to, we had the new house to straighten and life took over again.

One evening, the local free newspaper popped through the letterbox. And it was one of those serendipitous moments. I had a quick look through and noticed an advert for a new writing group starting in a nearby small town. It was the only time the advert appeared and, fortunately, I'd kept the details. But I needed to pluck up the courage to go along to that first meeting where I knew not a single soul. Maybe it helped slightly that I'd had one little piece of publication, so I didn't feel a complete fraud!

But I needn't have worried. A couple of people knew each other but there were a few new writers like me. More importantly, they had managed to get funding for a tutor to get us started over the first several weeks, and Sheila happened to be the first person I met as I went through the community centre doors that day. Not only did our experienced tutor and writer start us off the right way, but she stayed in the group for many years and is still one of my dear writing friends. She was also a wonderful mentor in those early days when I was struggling to find my writing voice.

But that was only the beginning. Our writing group eventually became affiliated to the Scottish Association of Writers which encompasses writing groups from all over Scotland. The SAW has an annual conference each March, where members from all the writing groups get together for a wonderful weekend of talks, seminars, competition adjudications and fun. There are many competitions covering all kinds of writing - members enter them months before the conference and on the Friday evening/Saturday morning the results are announced by each adjudicator, who also gives a short resume of the competition entries and reasons for choosing the winners. The lovely awards are given out on the Saturday evening.

Anyway, back to the 1990s. Since we were now SAW members, I decided to go to my first conference at Crieff Hydro (it's moved to other hotels since then). I've always been a last minute writer needing deadlines, and this was no exception. But I managed to enter a couple of competitions, including my very first woman's short story. The lovely, late Ian Sommerville of My Weekly was the adjudicator. We all sat through each competition result with various levels of excitement. I was just so glad to be in amongst this huge group of real writers for the very first time.

Then came a defining moment in my writing career. I won the Woman's Short Story competition! To say I was shocked doesn't come close to the disbelief with which I sat there. When Ian went on to rave about the story and told everyone he was buying it for the magazine, I couldn't come back down to earth. I did, however, have to read it out to the whole audience from the stage. Fortunately, my voice held out and I didn't cry at the end, although I almost did.

I'd love to say that I suddenly became a great success and my writing career took off in a big way. But I was still playing at being a writer in those days and it had to take second or third place behind family, work and OU studies. But it did start me on my way. And the most important part of all this is that I stayed a member of my writing group from that day until now. I've gone on to write lots of published short stories, articles, children's stories, poetry and now novels. I've given lots of talks to other writers on market research, I've adjudicated competitions and I've served as president and secretary of the writing group.

Would I be at this stage today without my encouraging, supportive writing group? Probably not. For that was where I learned the craft of writing, heard professional writers share their knowledge, took part in competitions and workshops and met so many other wonderful writers. When I stand on the SAW stage next March as an adjudicator of a short story competition, I shall be remembering that it all happened because of walking in the door of that writing group all those years ago.

We end our sessions with a wonderful garden party at one of our members' homes, where we all take different food for the buffet lunch. It's a measure of the social aspect to our friendly group. I do encourage other writers to find a good, supportive local writing group. It might be the best decision you ever make!



Bill Kirton said...

Lovely posting, Rosemary. And it's great to know that that early enthusiasm for and awe about writing and writers hasn't diminished. I think we've all felt like frauds as we sit with 'real' writers but, as somebody said, writers write, wannabes talk about it.

CarolB said...

Thanks for sharing your memories Rosemary, it confirms how valuable a supportive and encouraging writers group can be to both new and established writers.

Karen said...

What a wonderful story.

The internet opened everything up for me, particularly joining an online writing group. We meet up a couple of times a year, and I'm convinced I wouldn't have sold a thing without them :o)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thank you, Bill - I don't think I'll ever lose my enthusiasm for each new writing project or success (I hope!).

Hi Carol - yes, those of us who have been in the writing group from those early days now encourage any new members.

Hi Karen - thank you! I completely agree about online groups. I'm a member of a thriving Scottish online group and we all encourage and support each other - we also try to meet up a few times a year. Aren't writers so helpful to one another!

Frances Garrood said...

Lovely post, Rosemary, and so true. Only writers understand and can really help other writers, because only writers are mad enough to do it at all!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks, Frances - where would we be without other writers to help us keep fairly sane!

Joylene Butler said...

I feel the same way about my writing group. I wouldn't be here without them and their continuous support. Great post, Rosemary. Thank you for visiting my blog. Have a wonderful week.

Patsy said...

It does help a lot to be able to share experiences and advice with other writers, whether on line, or in person.

Joanna said...

Truly lovely post, Rosemary. It's a perfect testament to the essential support writers give each other.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Joylene - many thanks for coming over to visit and comment!

Hi Patsy - absolutely, and online is just as important these days.

Hi Joanna - thanks for your comment. I think writers are some of the nicest people around!

Diane Fordham said...

I enjoyed your post, thank you Rosemary. I haven't been in a writing group as such, but I am enjoying the experience, and learning so much from keeping in touch with other writers through these blogs and writing forums. For me, it has been the internet which has connected me with like-minded people who have shared invaluable information, who have encouraged me and have given me a sense of being part of something truly special!

Hywela Lyn said...

Hi Rosemary

Great post, I was a member of a wonderful writing group in Wales, run by the Senior English tutor at the University of Wales, so I learnt a great deal. The group I belong to now I live in England is more informal, but very friendly and supportive and although I have many on-line friends who willingly act as crit partners, nothing can quite take the place of meeting people in 'real' life.

Hywela Lyn said...

PS - Thanks so much for your very kind words on my own blog, I do appreciate it!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hello Diane - thanks for your comment. I think the Internet is a very important connection for a writer these days, especially when you don't have a local group. And we can all get to (virtually) meet other writers around the world!

Hi Hywela - thanks for dropping in. I do agree that meeting face to face is invaluable. Some of our group have become real friends too, so that's an added bonus.

Killtan Roy said...
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