If you’re new to the writing world, it can be a daunting experience, from knowing who your favourite authors are to becoming a writer yourself. To become a great writer, you must be in the company of great writers. Easier said than done if you have just moved to a new place or know zero writers — or both. Well, I’m here to shed some light and hopefully help you on your journey.
I did a creative writing course in my last year at uni and was gutted when it was time to graduate. “I need a writing group,” I cried to one of my teachers. “Make your own,” he suggested.
You might not have the confidence or time to create your own group or even know how to run one — it took me. My advice for beginners in the UK is to look up your local writing development agency — there are seven in England including South East, South West, London, East of England, East Midlands, West Midlands and North. There are also other organisations that support diverse and underrepresented writers (see end for a few suggestions).
Here you should find details about creative writing workshops for various genres, writing groups and other networking opportunities. Sign up and try things out. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, why not suggest it? Running an organisation myself, Writing Our Legacy, I welcome new ideas from our community on how to best meet their needs.
It’s important to seek out writers and networks that feel right to you. Whether that’s down to shared genre (eg literary fiction, poetry, children’s literature, horror), shared characteristics (eg Black or ethnically diverse, mixed race, LGBT, disabled) or experience and location (eg beginner writer in Hampshire), it pays to work out what’s most important to you.
But whatever you do, make sure you create or find a support network around you. Being in a creative writing community is amazing. If you find the right people, with the right level of respect, care and commitment to writing, you can open up your writing in a way that’s safe and constructive. This could be a weekly writing workshop or taking part in a monthly meet up with writers in your city or region — or even sharing writing feedback with a few other writers.
If you’re on social media, follow other writers who you don’t know but are in your area. Check out Meet Up, Eventbrite or Facebook for opportunities to link up with nearby writers. Facebook especially is great for different writing forums — Writing Our Legacy has its own group for writers of colour and there’s also Black British Women’s Network, Disability Arts Online group and others.
Connecting with other writers at all stages of their careers is one of the best parts of being a writer and that networking with your peers is one of the best bits. Attend local and even international literature festivals and readings— which is way easier now that most are online and many free.
My story of being involved in writers groups and then setting up my own network and literature organisation, Writing Our Legacy, was anything but straight forward.
In the late 90s, I found myself living in Oxford. A local community centre in East Oxford was running a group. I pushed myself to attend. It was good but I couldn’t motivate myself to go again and spent two lonely years writing by myself at home. Writing is a lonely practice and going it alone is a hard road.
When I moved to Brighton in 2000, I pounded the pavement for new work and friends. Straight away I met a cartoonist who recommended I make my own ‘short story’ books. I did this and one of the people who bought my zine asked if I wanted to join his writers’ group.
Our Brighton Writer’s Group ran monthly at the George Nelson pub for 6 years. As well as offering solidarity, we enjoyed pints and arguments about literature, art, politics and sometimes sports. We shared ups and downs, from getting signed by publishers and agents to losing agents and difficult life circumstances.
What I liked about it: We had strict rules. We emailed our submissions, up to 2,000 words. Each person had their go at sharing feedback, uninterrupted. The monthly sessions were constructive and detailed, with notes on your piece handed back to you.
Constructive criticism, where you help your fellow writer by pointing out what you liked and what may have confused you in a nice manner, is the way forward in groups. Criticism where you tell people they or their writing is shit, derivative or inferior is not acceptable. As writers, we’re all on this journey together, as a collective.
In 2009, Tim Lay (from the Brighton Writer’s Group) and I set up a new literary night called Grit Lit, which ran twice a year and presented true life and fiction stories. We commandeered the Red Roaster Cafe on St James’ Street and created a lively unpretentious scene. This was great for networking and also meant I could read out too.
My next writers group was for women of colour, facilitated by Akila Richards, called Write Meet Read. This was a much more informal and fluid space, meeting in kitchens, living rooms and whatever free personal spaces each member could offer. We didn’t have any rules per se around feedback and the free-flow sessions often opened up conversations around feelings, emotion and ideas. Again, it was friends and friends of friends who made up the group.
What I liked about it: a creative space for brown and Black women only. We published an anthology together. We organised weekly creative writing tutorials, multi art form creative sessions and trips away to write.
In 2012, I set up Writing Our Legacy. I’d been producing spoken word cabaret nights and creative writing workshops as part of Brighton & Hove’s Black History Month for two years and feeling frustrated with the general lack of representation and in only one month of the year, because we are here all year. We applied to Arts Council England to run our first programme. In 2009, I could only think of 3 BAME writers — now we have over 300 involved in our groups and spaces. 2022 is our 10th birthday and we are still learning and growing.
Happy networking and writing – hope to see you at an event, festival or workshop sometime.