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Interruption Of An Era - in celebration of writing groups

I was going to title this ‘The End Of An Era’ – but actually I don’t know if it’s true at this point! I recently accepted the offer to act as secretary for Offa’s Press, something which I’m very, very excited about. However, when it was tabled, I already knew that something had to give. I took a step back from my life, looked at all of my current commitments, and realised I can barely fit it all in as it is, let alone adding something else to it!

Two things have happened in the last few months which have added to my time pressures – I am now working further away from home than before, meaning earlier mornings and later home in the evening. I also started studying a master’s degree, which has a weekly cycle of tutorials, meaning less self-management and more accountability and doing things on time! When I balanced everything up, I decided after a lot of thinking and talking it through with people I trust, to take a step back from my writing group, Blakenhall Writers (in Wolverhampton), for a few months. I will make a decision on my future with the group and what that looks like after the summer.

This has been an emotional decision for a couple of reasons. Blakenhall Writers was established many years ago when Simon Fletcher was working as the local Literature Development Officer. He led it for many years, and when I first reached out to him, looking for a way to share my writing, he recommended I come along to one of the sessions. That’s where I met Kuli Kohli, my poetry ‘partner in crime’, and she’s given me a lot of support – as a writer and a friend – ever since. We’ve spent the last few years running the group together, and it’s been something I’ve really enjoyed.

Secondly, I’m a strong believer that writing in isolation is no good for anyone. I’m passionate about the benefit of writing groups, and I’m sad to be losing this element of my writing landscape from my life – albeit temporarily. To celebrate my time at Blakenhall Writers (and so I remember what I’m missing!), here’s a list of reasons why all writers should be trying to connect to their fellow creatives!

Blakenhall Writers stand around a seated member who has a cake with '50'-shaped candles
Blakenhall Writers celebrating a big birthday of one of our members!

· You are not alone. Writing can be a lonely hobby. You sit at home, in a park, in a coffee shop, pouring your heart onto the (paper or electronic) page – you might send some out for publication, you might get some rejections – or even acceptances! (It has been known to happen). Who do you turn to with questions or for advice? Wouldn’t it be nice to meet people in the same boat? At a writing group, there are people who write for all sorts of reasons. You’re almost certain to find someone like-minded, who understands the pressures you’re under as a writer.

· Feedback. Understanding how your work is received by different readers is really helpful for a writer. It can be hard to hear constructive feedback if you’ve been working on your own, but being in an open environment where feedback is expected, and offered generously, can help break down those uncertainties, as well as letting you know how your work is being received.

· Guidance/inspiration. Which publications are best to submit work to? How do you know what magazines are out there? How do you approach a publisher with a manuscript? How do you find time to write? These are just some of the many questions about writing, which some of your fellow writing group attendees may know the answer to! Some of them may have been through the motions of having work published, performing, teaching, and can share their experiences. Writing, from the basics of getting something down on the page, to writing a best-selling book, is not an untrodden path for you to forge on your own. People have done it, and they are there to learn from.

· Networking. Writing groups are well-connected, for the most part. They tend to know the local ‘scene’, events, and some may even run events themselves. They might be familiar with indie presses, publications, or other groups, and can point you in the right direction for meeting or approaching new people.

· Opportunities. Writing groups often have a presence, whether it’s online listings or local noticeboards. Blakenhall Writers have performed at Wolverhampton Literature Festival for the past three years, in ‘writing group showcases’ (the past couple organised by the wonderfully supportive Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists). It’s a relaxed environment for people who might be taking their first step into performing, as well as giving more seasoned readers the chance to keep their gears greased (so to speak!) We’ve also previously published our own anthology, giving our members who might not usually send work out for publication the chance to see their words in print.

· Dedicated writing time. If you just can’t bring yourself to open your notebook (or laptop) when you get home after work, or if the kids keep ~selfishly~ demanding your attention, or if you just plain can’t find a window of opportunity to sit down and get some writing done, what could be better than two hours a month dedicated to doing that very thing? All you have to do is turn up with a pen and paper, and let the group do the rest. You have no choice – you’re here now!

Kuli Kohli holding a book and working at a laptop
Kuli Kohli at one of our sessions

· Challenging yourself. When was the last time you wrote something out of your comfort zone? If you’re part of a writing group, the chances are, quite recently! If you’re not, do you find yourself defaulting to the most comfortable forms, genres, and styles when you write? Writing groups will often run sessions on different techniques or forms – we recently learned about ghazals - an Asian poetic form. Even if the challenge you need to set yourself is reading your work to an audience – the writing group is there to hear you.

· Taking your work to an audience. If you don’t already share your work with an audience (online, or at performances, for example), then a writing group is a really good way to get people listening to your work. Sharing what you’ve written, sharing your successes, publications, and events that you’re involved with, can help you build a fan base, starting with your writing comrades. You might find your biggest fan is the person sitting next to you at the table each month!

· Fun. Sometimes, writing is difficult. Sometimes you want to write and you just can’t drag any ideas out. Sometimes, your subject matter is dark, personal, or you otherwise need a bit of light relief. A writing group will throw you a curveball – you will almost certainly work on something you wouldn’t do at home. Sometimes our writing exercises are silly and we have a laugh – this is much needed for all of us, who have a tendency to take ourselves far too seriously at times!

A picture collage showing facetious horoscopes written by Blakenhall Writers
A selection of 'Horrorscopes' by the group - an exercise by Kate Long

· Making friends. I have met some lovely people over the course of my time with Blakenhall Writers. Some of them are people I count as friends. Many of them are people I look forward to following as they develop their writing ‘career’. It has got me talking to writers from different backgrounds, and writers who specialise in different genres. Almost every person in the Midlands area who I can count among my poetry contacts and friends, has been introduced to me – directly or indirectly – through my attendance at Blakenhall Writers.

It was my last session with Blakenhall Writers on Saturday, and I ran a session on giving and receiving feedback, where we critically reviewed ‘The Manor Garden’ by Sylvia Plath, then tried to incorporate the group’s critiques into our own versions. The group kindly organised a card and flowers for me, and I had some lovely comments about my time with them. I’m really sad to be leaving behind a group of writers who are keen to socialise and develop their craft, however, I’m looking forward to taking a step in a new direction to help out more at an independent press. I am forever grateful for the opportunities, development, friendship and warmth the group has afforded me, and would love to stay in touch, regardless of what happens in the future.

A notebook, bunch of flowers and a thank-you card
Beautiful irises and card from the group

Are you part of a writing group? What do you enjoy about it? Let me know in the comments!

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