Writers Groups: Spread the Words

WRITING IS A SOLITARY PURSUIT. There’s no glamour or glory in sitting alone in a quiet, sometimes dark space in front of a keyboard and a screen. It’s impossible to socialize or converse while digging into the depths of one’s soul in hopes that what’s poured onto the page will engage a reader. A libation may be involved, but there is no one to share it with when a writer is alone at work. Cue the writers’ group: the antidote to lone creation.


WHO ARE THEY? Writing-group participants in Marin come in all forms, male and female, young and old, professional and novice. One of the two best-known groups is Left Coast Writers. “Our members are new and established writers and literary professionals,” says Linda Watanabe McFerrin, a travel writer, novelist, poet and journalist, who founded LCW in 2002. “Some are novelists, some write short fiction, some write short or long nonfiction, some are journalists, and some are poets,” along with editors, book designers and other publishing pros. The California Writers Club (CWC), begun in 1909, is the oldest professional writers’ club in the western United States, with Jack London and George Sterling among the first members. There are now 22 branches statewide; in Marin’s, members range “from published authors to those just starting out on their writing journey,” president Mary Krefting says, and the mission is to build a community of writers who help each other form critique groups, find compatible editors, stay motivated, and generally do what it takes to achieve their writing goals.


WHERE AND WHEN DO THEY MEET? As it turns out, both groups meet at Book Passage in Corte Madera. Left Coast Writers gather the first Monday evening of the month in a salon format and often bring in speakers or celebrate a book launch for one of their members. “When we first started the group, I was writing a lot but missing out on the sense of community and connectivity that I enjoy and feel is essential to the creative process,” Watanabe McFerrin recalls. “I felt like I was shut up in a garret, writing all the time without enough contact with other creative writers.” Social media may be fulfilling some of that need today, she concedes, but face-to-face groups are still important for interaction and getting people out of their own small worlds. CWC meets the last Sunday of the month, except July and August, when “we switch to our summer salon night schedule,” Krefting says. “We’ll meet on a Thursday night, hosted at a member’s home for a more intimate evening where we share our writing over a bottle of wine and potluck appetizers.” Several critique subgroups also meet occasionally.


WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A MEMBER? Anyone can join and support CWC’s nonprofit organization, Krefting says, for a nominal fee that goes toward expenses. Club events are open to the public for a nonmember charge of $10. “If you’re a writer in Marin, we would love to have you come check us out,” she adds. And LCW is “inclusive and costs very little — less than a couple of lattes a month,” Watanabe McFerrin says. “It’s a drop-in environment for members; there is no mandatory attendance since so many of our members work and travel.”


WHY DO WRITERS JOIN? “A variety of reasons, but I feel that having a sense of community is one of the strongest,” CWC’s Krefting notes. “We’re like a little tribe where writers can share their challenges and victories.” Some writers are further along in the process, seeking guidance on finding professional editors or resources for self-publishing and marketing. “We also do our best to put on great speaker events on the craft of writing, as well as workshops and conferences,” she adds. “We may all be at different stages of writing, but there’s so much to share and learn about the writing journey.” As for LCW, “I think the fact that we take an interest in writers’ developing careers is important,” Watanabe McFerrin reflects. Besides its regular salons, LCW sponsors activities that feature members in their own book events, readings and radio appearances. It’s “an even playing field,” she adds. “Guest speakers, writers, editors, publishers and agents mingle freely and laugh and drink together. Sometimes the person sitting next to you is just the individual you need to spark an important direction in your literary work or career.” The salons, organized around a speaker or panel discussing the publishing business, have included authors like Daniel Ellsberg, Isabel Allende, Michael Krasny and Ayelet Waldman. “Since everyone is in the biz, there’s always a feisty Q&A afterwards, sometimes a book signing and a celebratory cocktail in the cafe,” Watanabe McFerrin adds. “It’s informative, exciting and always fun.”