“Anybody can become a writer, but the trick is to stay a writer” - Harlan Ellison
One Friday in August,1996, I watched two women sitting across from one another at a table in Stauf’s Coffee Roasters. Each woman, bent over a spiral notebook, steadily moved a pen across the page. After a few minutes, they took turns reading their writing aloud to one another. When one of them looked toward me, I quickly turned away. I’d just returned to Ohio from a workshop with Natalie Goldberg where we spent a week writing and reading aloud to each other. One of these women had Natalie’s bestseller, Writing Down the Bones, beneath her chair.
The question I’m asked most often is, “How do I find a writing group?” I have many long answers, but the simplest is this: know what you need and ask for it. There are many types of writing groups. Some share work and give feedback. Others write and read aloud. Still other groups simply get together to talk about writing. There are as many potential variations as there are writers. The most difficult part for me was asking for what I needed. Here I invoke one of Natalie’s rules of writing practice, “be specific.” If you want to meet weekends, don’t hedge when someone wants to meet on a weeknight. If you’re not ready to have someone else see your work, don’t join a group that’s bent on critiquing everything it reads.
Where shall you find these writers? Start with the list of Ongoing Writing Groups on my website. Take a class to look for prospects. Tell your non-writer friends that you’re looking for a group. Keep your eyes open. We’re everywhere. If you still can’t find a group that suits, don’t be afraid to start your own. A carefully worded flier posted in libraries, coffeehouses, and bookstores works wonders.
In 1996, I’d been writing at Stauf's nearly every day for months, yet I’d never seen those women before. If I hadn’t been tuned in to the many shapes a writing group can take, I might have not noticed them at all. I mustered more courage than a shy person is supposed to have, courage born of desperation, and introduced myself. They invited me to join and the three of us wrote together for a year. That was my first writing group experience. After I moved to New Mexico, they continued writing as I’d found them.
It’s normal for a writer to want connection whether to share work or just talk about the craft and mystery of writing. If you haven’t yet found your “writing tribe,” it’s not too late.