Planting Literary Seeds: Growing a Community

Growing a writing community isn’t easy. You start slow, you start small. A few writers gather in a dusty library room or a small corner of a bookstore. Maybe you trade manuscripts, or read passages aloud. Or you exchange personal stories of rejections, maybe even an acceptance or two. With luck, the group grows. More people join. Newbies, pros. All looking for someone who understands.

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The great thing about life is that you never know where a path may take you. The best case scenario? Small intimate gatherings swell to large groups. Members exchange hard-won wisdom, new markets, more rejections, but even better, more acceptances.

As a long-time member (and currently president) of the South Jersey Writers’ Group, I have seen new members come through our doors, perhaps a little nervous, eyeing us up like prey wandering into a room full of predators and I have to laugh a little to myself. After all, I think most of us have heard the horror stories of writers’ groups full of bloated egos and relentless back-stabbing. You know how those artist types are.

Yet, not.

Because sometimes magic happens. Let me give you only a few examples.

Vice-President Jessica Walsh-Jadach recently lead the group’s January meeting on goal setting. She provided each of us with a worksheet and helped us our form our plan, goals, and intentions for the upcoming year by pushing us to delve into what makes us write. Jessica, a certified life coach, also published an amazing 2-year journaling book, something I’m sure she hadn’t thought she would ever do when she joined the group (nor did she think she would become vice-president!).

Jennifer M. Eaton has had several YA books published with great success and is now a USA Today Bestselling Author. I still have yet to convince her to lead a meeting. Soon…

Tom Minder’s crime fiction novelĀ The Long Harbor Testament was published last year and he has had many successful book signings, including several at various Barnes and Noble stores.

Kathryn Hively runs the Just BE Parenting blog and is a contributor to other parenting blogs and sites.

Cassandra Ulrich has published several young adult novels, adult romances, short stories, and poems.

There are many others, but I want to stop here. All five members highlighted are very different writers with a wide range of interests and backgrounds, but each of them has progressed through hard work, self-education, dedication, and of course talent, but that talent is something they have cultivated. And, more importantly, they each have contributed to the writers’ group by giving back to help others. Each is generous with their knowledge and time and ready to answer questions because that’s what’s we do.

This is what a writing community means and looks like – to support and build each other up. It’s not about competition, not about tearing others down, not about the stabbing of the backs. The SJWG exists to grow the voices of South Jersey and our members are integral to that mission. We are there for each other. Sometimes with knowledge, sometimes with a hug, sometimes with a friendly, but honest critique.

And really, the only prey at our meetings are the cookies.

 

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