I am constantly lamenting a lack of writing groups in my town. Sure, I have a few trusted friends and former professors who hear me out on fledgling ideas or read the drafts that I hurriedly piece together. But I can't seem to find a solid writing community that extends beyond the people I already know.
Nervous, yet eager for new perspectives, I worked up the courage to travel to the Capital Ale House in Innsbrook. I had heard about the James River Writers-sponsored Writers Wednesdays for months now from their e-newsletter. But I had never gone because I didn't know what to expect - the idea of "networking" seemed too purposeful. I'm not as deft in conversation as I am on paper.
As it turned out, I shouldn't have worried. My fellow scribblers were eager to talk. The restaurant host pointed me toward "the writers room" and I was immediately greeted by JRW member Denise Golinowski as I walked in. She urged me to grab a name tag and to start getting acquainted. When I mentioned this was my first time at Writers Wednesday, she smiled knowingly. I would soon discover I wasn't the only new visitor.
I wandered into the clusters of strangers and found myself chatting with Nancy Pellicer Dyer, an author who published her first book, The Minorcan Yoke, in August 2011. Dyer had recently moved to the area in January after working as a customer service manager for Sun Microsystems. When I asked what she was currently doing, she laughed and replied, "Housewifing and writing." This was her second Writers Wednesday.
We were soon discussing the big questions about writing.
- What are you working on? (She was working on a sequel to her book; I mentioned my nonfiction essays.)
- Why was the research part of a project always more fun than writing a draft? (Because there's so much great material to be found!)
- Where were other writing groups? (We had both come to WW to find out.)
- How do you stick to a writing schedule? (Um, next question.)
Passion about writing was in no short supply with this group. I often had to lean close to hear what anyone said over the din of many excited conversations.
Attendee Laura Fortunato, a former journalist who now works in media relations for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, summed up the general idea. "When you're not doing it, you don't feel alive," she confided. Attending the annual JRW conference is her birthday present to herself every year. "It feels great to be inspired by other writers," she said, a sentiment I could agree with. She wasn't working on a specific project at the moment, but, hoping to catch that same energy, she had started coming to Writers Wednesday in February.
Kay Vanatta and her son Kevin Haulsee, both from Surrey County, had also recently joined JRW and wanted to meet other writers in person. Vanatta said, "We both interface really well behind a screen," adding that she had unexpectedly gained readers after turning a children's church program she had created into a blog. Haulsee, on the other hand, had found an international group of readers and fellow writers through the online RPG gaming forums he contributed stories for. Writers Wednesday was the chance to "interface" person to person.
As I talked to more people, I was surprised at how similar our interests and anxieties about the writing life tended to be. We slave over how to construct our best stories but are still very guarded about who gets to see our words. I had to admit that Writers Wednesday was a practical way to network and find new opportunities. But I also think meeting together is a natural way for writers to blow off steam. Truthfully, writing is a solitary pursuit and it is easy to think that we don't have a community to support us.
On my long drive back home, I was dazed by all the new names and faces I had encountered. Luckily, everyone had given me their contact info and I was already trying to remember if I had any draft-worthy pieces to bring to a critique group. I was alone no longer and the date of the next Writers Wednesday begged to be marked in my calendar.