I joined my first writing program in San Francisco in 2006 and it was great. But—it was just that, a writing program geared toward including a lot of members. The structure was based on a community numbering around 50 different writers. I got a lot of work done in the program (started and finished my first novel), but I didn’t make the close friends I was hoping to find there.
This was to be expected. It was a big program with new writers coming and going all the time. At any given meeting there might be 20 writers sitting around a huge conference table all diligently concentrating on their work. We talked only briefly before beginning our one hour of silent writing and it was nearly impossible to connect with anyone one-on-one in that setting.
Nevertheless, that writing program was my creative lifeline, and when I moved back to Seattle in 2008 I felt utterly lost without it.
In the spring of 2009 I knew I had to do something. I had fallen off the writing wagon and I hadn’t written anything in months. Again, I wondered if I was doomed to a life of procrastination. It seemed like the only way I could get any writing done was to do it with other people.
But I didn’t want to join just any old writing group. I knew that the format of a critique group was not for me, and online groups seemed too impersonal. I wanted face-to-face contact. I wanted to meet other writers who I could hang out with in real life, and who would meet me at a café once a week to get some writing done.
And I wanted a certain kind of writer. I wanted writers who were positive, optimistic, supportive, and curious about the world. I wanted writers who were more interested in making an honest connection with others than competing with them. I wanted writers who would sincerely care about the success of their fellow writers just as much as their own.
So I decided to start my own writing group.
At first I started out with just one other person. I really didn’t know anyone else who fit the bill. That one other writer and myself formed the group, picked the café, and decided to send out a simple weekly email with a bit of writing inspiration and an invitation to come write. Within two weeks, my friend had found two more writers who were interested. By the time a couple of months had passed those two writers brought in two more.
Six months later we had a strong little unit of writers who showed up for each other, listened and comforted each other, and cheered each other on.
Any writer can start their own writing group. All it takes is finding one other person who will join you once a week at a Starbucks to commit at least one hour to writing. The key is to get clear on your intention before you send it out into the world. What kind of writers would you love to be surrounded by? What types of personalities make you feel good? Who might be the people out there who will support you and nourish your dreams?
When I started my writing group we made only two rules and those rules are still in place today.
Rule #1: Any writer is welcome to the group as long as they abide by Rule #2
Rule #2: Writers in the group are unconditionally supportive of their peers
Being unconditionally supportive doesn’t mean we expect people to hold back their honest opinions. It means we expect writers to treat others and their work with respect and empathy. When someone needs to talk, we listen carefully and hold a space of receptivity. When a member doubts themselves we rally around and let them know that they are awesome.
This is the writing group I really wanted, and this is the writing group I’m still so grateful to have today. Our Seattle branch has been going for almost six years now and the San Francisco group is going on five. If you are in need of a community like the one I’m describing, I would urge you to strongly consider starting your own. Make up your own rules and set a clear intention for what you want. Then take action by getting those first few meetings rolling and see what the universe sends you.
It all begins with finding just one other writer who will commit to showing up.
It all starts with just one meeting.
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