All writing groups are unique, yet they all share the ability to create deep bonds and lasting friendships among their members. In February, as we celebrate romantic relationships on Valentine’s Day, we also want to celebrate the close-knit, creative relationships made in these spaces. Indie Author Magazine reached out to four writers to hear about their groups and what makes each of them so special.
A World Wide Web of Inspiration
Kate Baker lives and works on a farm in rural Suffolk, England. Her novel, Maid of Steel, a Historical Romance set in 1911 and 1912 New York and Queenstown, South Ireland, is set to publish with The Book Guild this month.
Because of her farm’s location, it’s difficult for Baker to be part of an in-person writing group, so instead she finds a home among those online. This makes her think of her “group” slightly differently. When asked, she writes she doesn’t think about named spaces but about the personalities they contained. “I’ve been a member of a few online writing groups in the last four years, and within each I’ve met people who inspire me to keep going [and] to write better,” she writes.
When she began her writing journey in 2017, Baker joined her first writing group, The Fiction Cafe, on Facebook, where a friend introduced her to the Romantic Novelists Association. From there, she found out about Sophie Hannah’s Dream Author coaching program (https://dreamauthorcoaching.com) and joined that space as well.
During this time Baker wrote her first novel—a novel now “lining the vegetable drawer,” she jokes. However, she also discovered The Bestseller Experiment podcast and, after hearing their “encouraging noises about those who self-publish,” joined their online academy. Through this, she met writers from all over the world and connected with them weekly via Zoom and daily via Facebook and dedicated chat boards.
Baker enjoys meeting writers in real life and attends away days and retreats when she is able—sometimes she bumps into people she’s met online. However, recognizing the importance of forming deep, creative relationships, she admits that “to find some local writers would be the icing on the cake.” Until this happens, Baker’s support remains dispersed but strong nonetheless.
Lifelong Bonds Built a Week at a Time
Lorraine Rogerson lives in Broadstairs, Kent, UK. She is writing a historical novel set in 1921 about a family unraveling after World War I. Rogerson has a master of arts in creative writing.
Rogerson met her writing group at an online workshop run by the Unthank School of Writing in 2016. Participants submitted two thousand words bi-weekly for the others to read and provide feedback on. For Rogerson, the workshop provided a level of accountability she needed. “We knew the characters in each other’s novels inside-out before we even met each other,” she writes. There were no Zoom calls at the time, so the group held “live” meetings in a Virtual Learning Environment. “Who knew that written chat … could be so quick-fire, so funny and so rewarding?” The group soon linked up on Facebook and began sharing tidbits from their wider reading and research ventures.
In 2017, three of the members finally met at a weeklong Thriller writing course run by Arvon.org at their center in Shropshire and had a tour of the newly refurbished Clockhouse writer’s retreat. In 2018, all four returned for a long weekend. “[We] wrote, wrangled a bat, cooked and ate together and walked the grounds,” she recalls. During those four days, the Clockhouse Chapter was formed.
In the Spring of 2019, the group returned for a full week. “I traveled straight from my mum’s funeral, and couldn’t have asked for a more nurturing, sympathetic and imaginative group to have been with,” Rogerson writes. Evidence of the powerfully deep bonds that had been created could not be more clear.
Rogerson knows she owes a lot to the Clockhouse Chapter. “Writing brought us together and is still the focus of our friendship but there is so much more to it,” she writes. Although they see each other regularly on Zoom, she’s hoping that 2023 will be the year they go back to having a weeklong in-person retreat.
Friendships Rooted in Writing
Robyn Sarty, of Belwood Publishing, has organized and published a series of fairy-tale retelling anthologies. She’s a self-proclaimed lover of stories with happy endings and women who don’t back down from a challenge—and her writing group’s story may just fit the bill on both counts. “We’re best friends as well as cheerleaders and sounding boards for each other,” she writes. “[T]hese women have become some of the most important people in my life over the years we’ve known each other.”
The seven writers first met in a National Novel Writing Month forum in March 2015, where they took part in a sandbox role-playing game together. At the July camp, Sarty and some of those she had met formed a private cabin so they could chat uninterrupted. And when the cabins closed in August, the group that had formed “stubbornly refused to reset their page,” she writes. But eventually they needed a new home, and on Google Hangouts they chose the name “the Treehouse.” In the years since, the group has migrated to Discord, where they’re now known as the Treehouse of Writers. They still gather to “share writing and life struggles, funny memes, and … pictures of our fluffy writing companions,” through a combination of written messages and a monthly Zoom catch-up call, Sarty writes.
Meeting in person is difficult with how far apart they all live from one another, but that doesn’t put Sarty’s group off. Over the years, they’ve organized in-person writing retreats and organized surprise visits with one another. Some even attended Sarty’s wedding in 2016.
Support is a crucial part of the Treehouse ethic. When Sarty was suffering with depression and anxiety and using her writing as a distraction, she writes, her friends rallied around her. Her gratitude is evident. “Any time I need cheering up, I know they’ll be there for me,” she writes. “And I hope that I can do the same for them.”
The Never-Ending Five-Week Course
Lisa Sergeant lives in South Cambridgeshire in the UK and writes weird and speculative fiction. She describes her current work in progress as “an American werewolf in London but with an Australian bunyip in Cambridge.”
When Sergeant thinks of her writing group, the Mischievous Magpies, she thinks of seven friends who are “generous rather than competitive,” and who she’s “comfortable with however they might respond to my work.”
The Magpies met during lockdown in 2020, when they signed up to a bi-weekly online creative writing class. The initial five-week course was so successful, the teacher produced another, and then another. “The courses continue in the same format today,” she writes, “so we continue to meet up on them every second Sunday.”
Why are they called the Mischievous Magpies? The name came from a pin Sergeant found online with a magpie in the center and the words, “Work Hard, Stay Kind, Be Weird,” around the edge. It summed up the group perfectly. “We laugh a lot when we’re together and have supported each other not only through COVID but through other hard times as well, and mischievous was definitely the most appropriate collective noun,” she writes.
Living in Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, and Somerset, the Magpies don’t meet up as much as they might like to. “We try to meet in person whenever an opportunity arises,” Sergeant writes. “[T]hree of us have met at the Primadonna Festival, and there’s been a book launch, and day trips where we’ve met half-way.” They use WhatsApp to chat in the meantime.
There’s a real warmth in her words about the group. “We’re always in touch, reading each other’s work, sharing links to writing courses and other opportunities, and of course recommending and talking about books, books, and more books,” she writes. “The benefits are tremendous.”
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or what you do—writing groups bring people together and strengthen into lasting relationships. This February, as we celebrate with our valentines, let’s also celebrate our writing groups for enriching our lives in so many ways.
What is the story behind your writing group? How did you meet, and how has that relationship grown over time? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!