Today’s guest post is by author, teacher, and counselor Karen Gorback:
The article in the local newspaper was tiny yet enticing. A local writers’ club was soliciting entries for its annual short story contest. My heart raced. A little story about a single mom returning to college had been percolating in my head for years. Should I put my people on paper, allowing other folks to see my story and judge it? Judge me?
The thought was terrifying. Still, at the last minute on the last day to submit entries, I slid the large envelope into a mailbox on my way home from work. Mail pickup would be at five. Yep, I met the deadline for my first entry into a short-story contest.
That was fifteen years and dozens of stories, poems, articles, scripts and one novel ago. I joined that writers’ club, along with several others, and never looked back. I have found the value of club membership over many years immeasurable. And while activities vary from club to club, in terms of quantity and quality, the overarching benefits are clear.
- Writers’ clubs provide opportunities to continue learning about both the craft and business of writing. And in an industry changing as quickly as ours does, ongoing education is vital. Clubs frequently bring in speakers from the professional community to teach and inspire attendees at club meetings and special events. I enjoy attending meetings to suck all the information I can out of presentations provided by writers in all genres, publishers, techies, editors, and copyright attorneys who gladly share their expertise either pro bono or at reduced rates. Writers and experts in ancillary businesses are among the most generous professionals around.
- Networking is a major benefit of club membership. While online communities are a wonderful source of information and advice, they can’t replace the personal bonds that form from human connection. Clubs provide the venue to exchange business cards, set up book signings, and find writing or speaking gigs. Most importantly, they provide the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie and support of like-minded individuals in the local community. Nothing replaces a hug from another writer who feels the pain of rejection or the exhilaration of publishing, just as you do.
- Critique groups are often provided as a benefit of membership in a writers’ club. Rules for critique groups vary widely. Are members required to bring five pages to read out loud at each meeting for the group to critique, or are members expected to e-mail two pages to each group member and also edit each other’s work prior to the next meeting? Club members need to research critique group requirements before making a commitment to ensure that it meets their needs and fits their availability. When all the stars align, critique groups are a terrific, safe place to beta-test one’s work.
- Clubs often need content for their newsletters, both in print and online formats. Writers who have not yet published and are anxious for that next step might choose to flex their publishing muscle in a low-risk environment, which can also help build a resume of published work. Some clubs have state or national affiliations that may offer wider distribution of articles printed for local clubs. A regular monthly column, if available, is an outstanding opportunity for a club member to crank out content on a regular basis and learn to live by deadlines.
- Clubs may offer reduced fees for conferences and may also purchase tables at community book fairs where members can showcase their work. Thus, club members can take advantage of the economy of scale that comes with belonging to a professional organization.
- Writers’ clubs provide numerous avenues for leadership development and are generally run by volunteers. Club members can learn and practice a variety of skills by chairing committees, managing finances, running membership drives, securing speakers, facilitating contests, organizing conferences, writing press releases, editing a newsletter, updating the club’s website, and running meetings. Of course, members may simply choose to attend events without taking on organizational responsibilities. This is fine too; however, during the years that I volunteered for the largest projects, I also reaped the greatest benefits, in terms of both personal and professional development. The return on the investment of my time and talent has doubled, many times over. My advice is to give back whenever possible. Volunteer to help the club move forward.
Ready to Go Clubbing?
Club meeting locations, dates, and contact information may often be found in the “community news” or “calendar” section of local newspapers. Prices for membership vary but are generally nominal. Some clubs will allow prospective members to attend their first meeting without charge. Groups with an online presence can be easily located through Internet search engines using the name of a city and the term “writing club.”
People who prefer meeting with other writers in an informal setting may enjoy participating in a local Meetup group. A wide variety of Meetup groups have been organized by like-minded individuals around the world. A simple search of their website will provide a list of many Meetups in the specified area or allow the searcher to start a group of his or her own for a small fee.
Finally, genre-specific writing clubs abound. Examples include Sisters in Crime, the Romance Writers of America (RWA), and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I recently joined the national SCBWI, which also made me a member of my local club branch. Great deal.
By the way, that first short story grew into my first published novel, Freshman Mom.
Dr. Karen Gorback has a doctorate in education and thirty-five years’ experience as a teacher, counselor, and administrator. She is the author of many prize-winning short stories, one-act plays, numerous articles on education, and a novel titled Freshman Mom (honored as a finalist in the 2014 Readers’ Favorite Book Contest). Visit Karen through her website here.