The Evolution of the Writer's Group: Discerning Purpose for a Writing Community
Fight Club novelist Chuck Palaniuk credits his writer's group as a critical part of his writing journey. Today, he runs programs for authors in and around Portland looking for a similar community of fellow authors. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began more than twenty years ago as a one-month intensive-writing local group with a simple mission to get aspiring writers to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days.
And for more than 80 years, emerging writers have flocked to Iowa City, Iowa, to work on their manuscripts and exchange ideas for the University of Iowa's writer's workshop.
"Publishing a book felt a little beyond my reach," admitted Umi Grigsby, an attorney and the author of EmpowHERed Health: Reforming a Dismissive Health Care System. "I just wanted to write, but writing the book opened me up to a community of people who had had similar experiences and challenges."
The writer's group has had a long and evolving history. The original intention of the writing group was informal: to get together with other people who wanted to write, share their work, and provide feedback on each others' writing. This ranged from meeting up for an hour or two after coffee in a café to meet once or twice a week at someone's house or a local library. But over time, as more people got interested in writing groups (especially Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) students), they evolved into more formalized programs that include elements like courses, coaching sessions, and communities.
Traditional writing groups had their share of challenges -- relying on the local density of authors, focus on critique and feedback from peers, and challenges of weaving the structured group experience into a busy life for many amateur authors.
"I think COVID helped us skip like three years," says David Spinks, founder of the Community Managers Summit and the author of the Business of Belonging. "All of a sudden, overnight, organizations and companies couldn't bring people together offline. And then they're like, 'Alright, we need to launch an online community.' All of a sudden, it just became this huge thing. I think we see many more success stories."
Traditional writing groups and communities found themselves in similar positions as other organizations and companies. A significant component of NaNoWriMo had been in-person writing events at libraries, schools, and community centers, but 2020 forced them to quickly change course with the nonprofit announcing in mid-2020 that "due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NaNoWriMo's organizational position is that there will be no sanctioned in-person events for NaNoWriMo 2020."
These changes have led to a much broader reimaging of the writer's group.
Grigsby, whose book was named a finalist for the 2021 International Book Awards, found herself in need of a new approach to finish her book. She'd taken a traditional writing course but had primarily been a silent participant due to the strong emphasis on writing critiques that often scares new writers away from conventional groups.
"As offices shut down and we moved inside, my book became a journal, my development editor became my therapist, and my classmates became the outlet I needed from dealing with the global pandemic," shared Grigsby. She'd participate in a new writers group through The Creator Institute, run by her eventual publisher New Degree Press. "Participating in the class, which happened over zoom, became the practice for a world that had begun to be relegated to computer screens."
The virtual writer's group had evolved with the times and showed no signs of going back. For Grigsby, that meant weekly sessions with fellow authors built less on peer review and critique and more on collaboration, coaching from a developmental editor, and a process designed to teach the craft of writing and publishing. Grigsby's cohort of writers and authors spanned 11 time zones and nearly four hundred writers and authors across genres. Grigsby is one of three of her author classmates who have been winners or finalists for national or international book awards.
"There's a huge interest in writing today," says Georgetown Professor Eric Koester, the founder and lead instructor of The Creator Institute's Book Creators program. "We've long known the power of community for writers -- it's a lonely profession -- but learning how to blend elements of community, coaching, and teaching has created a remarkably effective and efficient approach for aspiring writers. Writing a book is challenging, with less than 2% of writers finishing a manuscript, but we see nearly 70-80% of writers leveraging these new community-powered writing groups succeeding. It's not that we do anything revolutionary; it's that we leverage the benefits of online community and coaching that weren't as normal until the pandemic struck."
Koester anticipates this trend to continue after the pandemic. Nearly 2,000 aspiring authors have participated in his courses that began as a classroom-based experience at Georgetown and have expanded into a global social venture.
"I thought people would want to go back to in-person programs," he shared. "But the reality is the efficiency of online community-powered learning and writing has opened up new opportunities."
Writers like Grigsby have found themselves with a team behind their book located all over the globe and readers of the book connected to her through digital mediums. As online communities became the norm, it's allowed a writer to build a global audience from the start as Grigsby has found buyers of her book from dozens of countries.
"The craft of writing hasn't gotten any easier," Koester says, "but we think bringing a new approach to community-powered writing and publishing is a game-changer for authors."
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!