Recently I have been reflecting on how much my life has changed since I took a leap of faith and threw myself into my writing. Can it only be a few months ago?
I had no idea how much I could achieve, or how quickly – I’ve been co-author on an award winning children’s book, I’ve completed the first draft of two children’s fantasy novels (both written in a single month during NaNoWriMo) and I’ve had articles and a short story published in international literary magazines … WOW!
Possibly the most important factor in achieving all of this was my decision to join the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group, founded by award winning author, Zena Shapter. Being part of a writing collective was the key to staying motivated through the times of loneliness and doubt and learning about a world I had previously only dreamed I could be part of. Now I am well on the way to making it my life.
In my article “Why Every Writer Should Join a Writing Group” for the literary magazine Writer’s Edit, I explain why connecting with other writers is so important. One of my interviewees was the amazing Zena Shapter. The interview was so interesting and inspiring I wanted to share it with you in full. So read on and enjoy!
Zena, what inspired you to start the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group?
I started the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group in 2009 and, for me, it was a question of necessity. Back in 2009, none of my local writing groups offered detailed critiques, whereas I wanted help tearing my writing down to its bear bones before building it back up again. There were plenty of local support groups that acted as cheering squads for writers, but that wasn’t going to improve my writing. I wanted serious feedback; and, since I was a full-time mum, I also wanted that feedback to be free. Starting my own group was the only way to achieve all that.
Why do you think writers’ groups are so important?
The biggest mistake new writers can make is to send their work out to publishers or agents, or to self-publish, before their writing is ready to be read. A writers’ group can help identify exactly how much work still needs to be done on a piece of writing, and how to go about fixing its flaws. It also gets you out of your writing cave and helps keep you in touch with developments in the publishing world – as well as make all-important writer-friends!
How has being part of a writers’ group helped you personally?
Before I started my writers’ group, I used to get shortlisted and commendations when I entered writing competitions. Afterwards, I started getting published and winning competitions. Now I’ve won eight national writing competitions – all blind judging, which means a lot to me since it means I’m being awarded first place on my writing skills alone. Being part of a writers’ group also got me used to speaking about writing in front of large groups of people – which has helped prepare me for all the public appearances, workshops and talks I give now.
What do you do at a writers’ group?
At my writers’ group, we spend some time exchanging personal writing developments and publishing industry news, then we give up to three members detailed critiques on their writing – short stories, short non-fiction pieces or sections of a novel. We discuss the critiques as a group, with the author engaged in the discussion. Members must justify their opinions because personal viewpoints based on no merit or experience can seriously harm a writer’s confidence. We always end on a positive.
Are writers’ groups more suited to people writing in a particular style or genre ie. adult fiction, memoir, children’s books?
Sometimes there’s nothing better than consulting with readers of your own particular writing genre. That option may not always be available though, and there can be a great advantage to consulting with a wider variety of readers. Don’t you want your writing to appeal to as wide an audience as possible? I do! That’s why, at the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group, we welcome writers of any genre, and we critique just as ruthlessly for everyone. Most writing techniques and tricks apply to writers no matter what their genre.
You have won numerous awards and have a couple of novels awaiting publication. Do you still find it useful to collaborate with other writers?
I don’t think there will ever be an end to learning and improving as a writer, so I value every interaction I have with my writers’ group – learning from others’ experiences is so very valuable. There’s also the benefit I get from connecting with other writers in person, rather than just online. Getting out of my writers’ cave and talking with real people helps keep the dangers of solitude at bay.
You also run courses on social media for writers. How much do you think Facebook, Twitter and other social sharing sites have changed the way writers connect with each other and their readers?
I love chatting with writers and fans online!! There’s nothing better than receiving a message from a reader saying they read something of mine and loved it so much they felt the need to connect with me. Writers are generally doubtful, sensitive creatures – myself included – so any and all encouragements help keep me going through the hurdles that come with writing. Social media also enables me to stay up-to-date with writer-friends I might otherwise only see once a year for a few hours. Without social media, I wouldn’t have all the publishing contacts, writing friends and relative fame that I do.
Writing can be a very lonely and difficult journey. What advice do you have for writers just starting out?
1. don’t send your writing out until it’s ready to be read
2. don’t put your writing out there unless you’re ready to be rejected, again and again
3. believe in yourself because sometimes only that belief will keep you going
Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience running and being part of the Northern Beaches Writers Group?
Starting the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group has been one of the best writing decisions I ever made. We now have a close team of members who support each other while being totally honest with their critiques, we love to laugh and share writing opportunities, and even write together on collaborative projects. Sometimes it can take a bit of time organizing everything and everyone, but it’s most definitely worth it. Go NBWG!!
To read more about Zena and the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group click here