Where I am now
Last Thanksgiving, a highlight was a thread of funny, warm emails from my writing group. They included descriptions of a walk with friends, drinking mint mocha, a dry rub recipe for turkey. We discovered, awestruck, that one of us owns a porringer. One had a houseful of guests but stopped to send hugs. We congratulated one whose new daily writing habit had reached the 100-day mark. We were jubilant to find out that one had work accepted for publication.
Many different stories from many different places, but one thing remained constant: each of us sent love and gratitude that we knew one another and, as one put it, that we filled each other with generosity.
Where I was
Until 2011, I did my writing in a guilt-ridden, hidden rush. I'm a mother and part-time professor, so any writing time is shoved into the parking zone: between 10pm and 6am.
Of course, I'd read about writers' groups and retreats. But I was skeptical about spending the money. How beneficial were they?
Enter: A Room of Her Own
New Year's, 2011: a friend casually mentioned the A Room of Her Own women writers' retreat. Initially, I was appalled. It was in New Mexico? In August? But I read the description on the AROHO website and looked at previous participants' reviews. They seemed well, quite sane, really.
Into the wilds of New Mexico
Night one of the retreat, melting in a room with no air-conditioning, I was scared that I'd made a huge mistake.
But in the morning, I listened to the conversations in the breakfast line: What are you reading? What are you writing? How's your blog? I'll link to you on mine. Oh, X just published a memoir, you should talk to her. Y runs workshops for abused kids, too: I'll introduce you.
And that's when I knew it wasn't a mistake: these were my people. Okay, some of them weren't exactly my people, but from among them I found my current group of nine stunningly supportive and talented women writers.
Why we need support
Writing is a weird, solitary activity. That's why we need other writers who understand what we do and why we do it.
Alone, you are one writer with some connections. Add yourself to a group and there are immediately more opportunities. The more writers you connect with, the greater the arsenal for publishing, blogging, reviewing, teaching, work-shopping, oh—and reading. When any of my writing group suggests a book, I'll look it up. I wouldn't necessarily do that with other friends.
Online vs. In-flesh
Online groups are enormously successful, such as the excellent SheWrites that offers a broad spectrum of opportunities.
But, for me, nothing beats an actual group of writer friends who may take forever to agree on a meeting date, but bring wine and cookies, and then sit down and share work. There's nothing like laughing so hard that you're holding each other up in the kitchen, like being moved to tears by a piece that reaches into the place you'd forgotten was sore, like being transported by watching someone read their poem, like having people who really listen to your work.
What good writing friends do:
- love you into facing yet another blank page
- don't take I didn't have time for an answer
- make you sit down and rewrite even if you're still smarting over numerous rejections
- encourage you to keep submitting
How do you create your own Circle of Love?
Check out the retreats listed at Poets & Writers. Some are juried (manuscript submission required), while others are open (just sign up). They range in genre and length.
For example, Clarion at UC San Diego, runs a 6-week summer fantasy/sci-fi workshop. For memoir writers, Wild Mountain, runs a weekend retreat in Washington State.
If you think of the retreat as a vacation, you may end up resenting what you spend.
This isn't a "break." It's a deliberate choice to expand the quality and productivity of your writing life for years to come.
The short and the long of it
The weekend option may be a good start for those who are shyer or more socially resistant. You can spend just enough time with people to see if you want more.
However, for your money's worth, take the plunge into the longer retreat. You'll have the chance to make more sustainable connections. After two weeks of sharing meals, morning yoga, and participating in evening readings you'll know, with absolute clarity, the names you want to add to your Circle of Love list. And, of course, the ones you don't.
Do a little digging. Spend the money. It's an invaluable long-term investment toward your success as a writer. You take risks in your writing: take a risk on behalf of it. The dividends are endless.