"As an emerging children's author, I found myself at that intersection not so long ago. After almost 20 years as a news journalist, I was eager to let loose the restraints of facts and current affairs and let my imagination take control. But I had no idea if I could do it.
My first supporters were my family. They nudged me forward to the edge of the cliff – I took a leap of faith. I wrote starts of stories (and even a few endings), interesting scenes, character descriptions, and a rhyming picture book text, but honestly, I was meandering around with no real direction. I knew I loved writing, but I also knew I had a huge amount to learn. If I was going to make this my life, I was going to need some help.
Enter Zena Shapter, award-winning author and founder of Sydney's Northern Beaches Writers' Group (NBWG). Zena says she started the group in 2009 to fill her own writing needs.
There were plenty of local support groups that acted as cheering squads for writers, but that wasn't going to improve my writing. I wanted serious feedback; and, since I was a full-time mum, I also wanted that feedback to be free. Starting my own group was the only way to achieve all that."
The group meets every month, and after taking some time to build my courage, I made the journey to Sydney's Manly Wharf to meet them. It is a decision that has changed my life. The NBWG is just one of many writing groups in existence, and as Zena explains, they play a crucial role for writers of all genres and abilities. Since forming the NBWG, Zena is being published more frequently and has won eight national writing competitions!
"I don't think there will ever be an end to learning and improving as a writer, so I value every interaction I have with my writers' group – learning from others' experiences is so valuable," Zena says.
After just a single meeting, I was hooked. The critiques were thorough but ultimately positive, and the members were encouraging and generous with their knowledge and experience. Soon after I joined, Zena put the call out for members interested in participating in the "Write-a-Book-in-a-day" competition, raising money for children's cancer charities. I'm sure mine was one of the first hands in the air. Not only did our group of ten manage to write, edit, illustrate and submit an 11,000-word children's book in just 12 hours, our story Scribbles in the Dark also won National Best Book, National Best Illustrations, and we raised the most money. As I stood at the awards ceremony to receive a certificate for the book I co-authored, I dared myself to think I might be able to do this after all. NaNoWriMo takes place every November and challenges writers to reach a 50,000-word target.
Spurred on by my success, I decided to take on another challenge – National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This time I was flying solo, and I signed up to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Once again, it quickly became clear connecting with other writers was going to be key to success. Nick Hudson was the Sydney NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison and said that being around other writers definitely keeps you motivated.
"Knowing you're not alone, being able to discuss your story in a welcoming environment, and sitting beside people that you don't have to explain why you write to, all makes you feel part of something bigger," he says.
NaNoWriMo is certainly big. This year 315,000 novelists signed up for the challenge worldwide. While each region held write-ins, it was social media that tied the entire community together.
"Social media is fantastic for connecting people," says Nick. "Checking Facebook or Twitter, those are things that people are doing anyway because they have the habit."
I noticed I wasn't alone in relying on social media to help me through the motivational dips throughout the month. NaNoWriMo-driven online writing marathons and sprints, combined with encouraging comments from other participants, keep pushing me forward. Then, as the end of the month approached, the online writing community became one giant cheer squad. Whether a person had completed 500, 5000, or 50,000 words, they were given a big pat on their virtual backs. Nick says social media helped bring people together who might otherwise never have met.
One of the things that people discovered doing NaNoWriMo this year is that there are lots of people just like them, who all want to talk about writing with someone, who go through periods of low confidence in their writing, but who persist with writing through the doubt and worry."
I'm thrilled to say I'm one of the "winners," having passed the 50,000-word target. The first draft of my children's fantasy series is now more than halfway written, and I intend to have it finished early in the new year.
I think this quote, shared by Nick at the start of NaNoWriMo, sums up why being part of a writing community is so important:
Everyone you meet … knows you first and foremost as a writer."
I'm still part of the Northern Beaches Writers' Group, and the members continue to help me tear down and build my writing back up. I've made some fantastic writer-friends who share their successes and perhaps, more importantly, their rejections. Through my connections, I have been appointed the editor of the Society of Women Writers NSW quarterly magazine and e-news, one of the country's oldest and most prestigious writer's groups. I found the right path by connecting with other writers, in-person and online, and I hope you do too."
Thanks, Kristin! I have been holding writing groups for the past few years, and I can attest to the joy and productivity they generate! Find some groups right HERE!
I look forward to seeing you there! Yes, you can now join a writing group without leaving home. Write in your PJs if you wish; we don't mind!
xx Judy McNutt