Writing Groups Are Vital

For the aspiring authors among you – and those interested in hearing about the process of creating a novel – I wanted to talk about the importance of a supportive writing group. For me it’s been invaluable.

I started writing short stories in my twenties, showed them to nobody and never knew what to do with them. After that I felt compelled to start a novel, repeatedly coming up with plot ideas but lacking anyone to discuss them with. Once or twice I submitted opening chapters to publishers but had no positive response apart from one generous chap who told me I had a gift for storytelling.

That comment aside, I had no idea if I was doing anything right. Did my writing flow, and were my characters believable? Did my stories hang together in the right sort of way? I wrote a few poems but, again, didn’t know where to send them or if they were good enough for public consumption.

I attended a couple of creative writing courses which I enjoyed but the standard varied wildly – from people who wrote amazingly well to others whose work was barely comprehensible. It wasn’t until I moved to France that I joined a writing group, and everything changed.

Like many great discoveries, it happened through serendipity. When I was introduced to my neighbour’s (English) friend who was writing a book set in Corsica I was full of admiration, if a little envious too. Having that amount of focus and dedication seemed way beyond my wildest dreams. I shyly told her I used to write and had recently wondered about starting again.

A few weeks later I received an email saying that the writing group of which she was a member – yes, in our tiny French village! – had a space as somebody had left. Would I like to join? Nervously I accepted, wondering whether the people would be friendly and accepting of me as a newcomer, if my work was up to scratch – the obvious type of concerns when you join a writing group.

As it turned out I struck super lucky. The members of the group were welcoming and soon became close, supportive friends. Without exception they were talented, committed writers – who just happened to live in the middle of the French countryside – and several of us decided to embark on a novel at the same moment.

Landsliding was born out of my wish to write something pacy and gripping, the kind of book I was reading a lot of at that time. Some of those stories started well but faded towards the end, others didn’t live up to the exciting blurb on the back, while a few were patently unbelievable. I thought maybe, just maybe I could do better.

With two writing group colleagues, Catherine and Anita, we formed a mini group which met once a week to review each other’s work. Because I had that incentive, I found myself knuckling down and sometimes completing several thousand words in a day. It was a euphoric feeling to have like-minded fellow writers who were on their own journey and yet supporting me all the way on mine.

I looked on as my friend had her Corsica book published. Every time I read a glowing review of it, I thought ‘That could be me next time’. She helped and advised me with the development of my own novel while I was able to use some of my marketing expertise to advise her on promoting her excellent book.

Once I’d finished Landsliding – that was always my title, right from the moment I started writing it – I submitted the first chapters to literary agents in the hope that they’d be sufficiently impressed to want to see the rest.

That’s when my real crisis of confidence began, when the much hoped for positive response didn’t materialise. Other authors I’d heard of had received an instant ‘yes‘ from the first agent they’d approached – and, as unlikely as I knew that would be, I couldn’t stop myself hoping for a similar outcome. It didn’t happen.

After approaching ten or so agents, I gave up. The rejections were too predictable: they liked my writing, the story was current and interesting, but the book wasn’t quite what they were looking for at that time. And, I couldn’t help thinking, I didn’t have the kudos of being a TV presenter or a dancer or another celebrity who got their books published so effortlessly.

That’s when the writing group came into its own again. Dispirited, I was tempted to give up on Landsliding and start something else – but my fellow members encouraged me to keep going. It was good enough, they assured me. People would love the book – it was just a case of getting it into the public domain.

One of my colleagues in the group had been looking into self-publication via Kindle and assured me that it was no longer considered ‘vanity publishing’; rather, it was the new way of getting work out there. So with her support I decided to go down the self-publication route – and that was the next phase of the Landsliding journey. 

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