What I Learned By Starting a Writing Group

Photo by Jennifer Sando. Port River, Adelaide.

The easiest thing is to react.
The second easiest is to respond.
But the hardest thing is to initiate.

–Seth Godin

A few months ago, I set out to find a group of local writers that I could connect and hang out with, for the purpose of inspiration and motivation. I decided to create my own group. This story is about what I learned from starting a group, and what I learned about myself.

To gauge interest for a writers group in my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia, I put out feelers on social media. I was pleased to receive more interest than anticipated. Of the initial hands raised, 70% emailed me. Within that bracket, half replied to my introductory email. When I set the first meeting, that number halved again. I began to think it was pointless to continue — that maybe the group idea had been another silly Friday night idea of mine. I tend to have a lot of those.

I emailed one person saying that the meeting wasn’t going ahead. But then I had two other interested parties lock in the meeting, and so I contacted the first person again and said the meeting was back on. And I’m glad that I did that.

At the meeting, there was only me and two other women. While I would love to see the group grow, it ended up being an excellent number for this encounter. Why? Because it was then that I realised I’d be facilitating — a detail that I had completely overlooked.

(Whoops.)

Little me, with my shyness, always in need of a confidence booster. Little me, who does not like public speaking AT ALL.

I was asked questions like: Where do you see the group going? What is the aim? How will we motivate each other? Completely valid questions, and though I was sure of the group’s purpose, I wasn’t sure of its structure or how it would function exactly.

I had overlooked another more vital detail. I was the group’s leader. How could I have not thought about this when I was the one who initiated the group? Simple. Because I’ve never thought of myself as a leader.

(Whoops again.)

What had I gotten myself into?

Little me, who is more comfortable blending into the background, observing and listening. Little me, who prefers to let the big personalities take centre stage.

There was no time to feel the fear, so I just picked up the pace and rolled with it.

It’s worth mentioning that I had a hangup with starting a group — and it was the same hangup that prevented me from joining other local groups that had physical meetings and met up regularly to critique work. I didn’t want anyone to feel as though they had to forcibly write in order to feel part of a group. I guess that I wanted the group to be a little lighthouse in a writer’s storm. This baseline was kind of poetic, but that was how I felt.

Was it enough?

While the questions about the group’s function hung about in my head, I spoke about how I wanted to make an income from writing. I got quite specific and said that I wanted to start with articles, but wasn’t sure where to go to make this start.

I began to feel frustrated while I was communicating to the attendees. The words in my mind didn’t make it out of my head via my mouth eloquently. My hands felt like balloons, awkwardly placed on my body, getting in the way; were they trying to catch my words as they were falling? I don’t know. They were a hindrance and I wanted to chop my hands off whenever I spoke.

The one thought that kept reverberating while I was trying to talk was: wow, girl, you certainly needed this. By starting a group and asking to have a physical meeting, I accidentally set myself two challenges. Assuming leadership and public speaking. The truth was that I needed these challenges. And I didn’t even realise how much I needed them.

Addressing a group of people verbally is painful for me, as I am much better with the written word, but I knew that the more I did it, the better at it I’d become. As far as leading people was concerned, all my life I have believed I am not the leader type. Starting this group will put me to the test.

The other two attendees were lovely, and great listeners. Despite my balloon hands, we bounced off each other swimmingly. They were both encouraging in their own way — my group had attracted exactly the kind of people I was hoping to attract. More importantly than that, I had the beginnings of a tribe.

A-ha! It was a tribe that I had been looking for.

It also became evident that the other two writers were looking for some accountability. This was surprising and unsurprising. One of the needs of my group had now come to light, and questions about the group’s function were slowly being answered.

The conversation developed naturally and the meeting boiled down to this result: we would set a personal challenge for ourselves, complete with a deadline. I had not expected this at the meeting but I am thrilled that this happened.

The writing challenge I set for myself was to write my first interview with a local musician. It made sense at the time because I love music and I wanted to write in a format that I hadn’t tackled before.

I had begun to see a way

After our meeting, although I eventually completed my challenge, I decided to change the direction of my future writing challenges. It doesn’t bother me that I changed my mind because I’m grateful that the group discussion pushed me to make a decision. It took me out of a stagnant state (not knowing how to make an income), and at the very least, got me moving in a direction.

So while I thought my writing group idea was an impulsive one, it turned out that I was doing exactly what I needed to do. Even if that’s the only meeting (and I hope it’s not), it was further reassurance that this writerly path feels right, and will lead to somewhere great. That is, if I continue to show up and put in the work, and if I continue to love what I do, and believe in myself.

I want other writers to feel this way, too. If I build a tribe while I strive for this, accidentally or purposefully, what more could I ask for?

When has an impulsive idea paid off for you creatively? Or, are you considering going forward with an idea but not sure if it’s worth your while? 6 Comments. If the latter, make a start by making a decision–something good will come out of it, something always does!

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About Jennifer Sando

I am a writer and photographer, and author of the book, Picture In A Frame.

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6 Replies

  1. Another wonderful post Jennifer & having joined you in the writer’s group journey I believe that what you’re currently doing in pushing your boundaries is going to benefit you three-fold. Sometimes it is the surprises in life that can have the most profound effect on one. Looking forward to swapping tales on experiencing the writer’s life through the group. 😊👍📚🖋

    1. Thanks Fontella, and for your company. I think that’s one of the things I am most looking forward to — swapping tales! Cheers.

  2. Oh, I can see this being me! I have thought about starting a group many times, but the introvert-pessimist in me has a long list of reasons why it wouldn’t work! Good for you for jumping in and doing it!

    1. I think I kicked it off because I didn’t think about it too much to begin with as well. I have been known to kill off ideas if I think about them too much beforehand. Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment!

      1. I think you hit the nail on the head. Don’t think too much!! 🙂 Maybe that should be one of my mottos!

        1. Maybe! Whatever you do, don’t discuss your ideas with a Libran. Haha. I know two, super smart and super logical, and if I chat to them about my ideas, they are dead before they even have a chance to sprout. It’s been a long time since I let someone’s horoscope come into consideration while I theorise. I’m half joking. Only half. : )

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