Writing Groups – What do You Need?

Posted by in Louise Behiel, romance, writing | 7 comments

Nine years ago I was in a writing group that frustrated me to no end.  Very few members were submitting.  No one was looking for an agent.  I wanted a career as a published author and I was actively submitting to editors and agents.  I went to conferences and took online classes.  I was like a fish out of water.

I felt like the only one who was out of step with the group.  I wasn’t.  But it felt like it.  And when this group brought in a belly dancer for one of their meetings, I nearly lost it.  She was a lovely lady and she had great moves.  But nothing in that evening that related to writing.  It would have been a better use of my time to stay home and write.

I was the Past President and they knew what I wanted.  I didn’t need to change anyone.  I didn’t need to insist on my needs being met.  When I considered my frustration through the lens of the Serenity Prayer, I knew that the only thing that I could change was me, and so I did.  I made the decision to stop going to those meetings.

And I complained.  And I complained.  And I complained – to anyone who would listen.

One of my compatriots, who felt as I did, contacted RWA for a new chapter package, which she  presented it to me.  “Here you go,” she said.  “I’ll help but I’m not a front man.”

I swallowed hard and tried to procrastinate but the darn information sat there, calling me.  I read it over and realized it wasn’t that big of a job.  So I talked to her and other friends and I decided what I wanted in a writers’ group: people who would share my dreams and work ethic and pursue the goal of being published.  I want to hang with professional writers, published and pre-published who want to create and build a career in publishing romance.

RWA provided snail mail addresses of all current and former members within specific

postal codes.  I wrote a letter inviting participants to come and provide input.  Some didn’t answer.  Some declined.  Others sent opinions but couldn’t come for various reasons.  Some said they’d be there.

On March 3, 2003 I hosted an organizational meeting of a new chapter of RWA.  19 people

Photo from: http://www.sxc.hu

came to that meeting and 18 of them put money down for a specific membership number and to get us going.  We had one more organizational meeting and in May, we had our first regular meeting of the Calgary Chapter of RWA.  One of our published authors shared what she’d learned about publishing contracts –  nothing that broke the confidentiality of her contract but which helped all of us know what was ahead of us.  It was an amazing night.

It was my privilege to serve as the first President of the Calgary Chapter of RWA (CARWA).  And I can’t tell you how much it means to have a supportive group of writers around me.  About ¼ of our members are published.  1/3 of us are PRO.  And almost all of us write.

We’ve learned that it’s important to find out what we need and then determine how best to meet those needs.  For example, we wanted to meet editors and agents, so we hosted two conferences.  But we realized they were too much work for our small chapter (50 members).  So we looked at other ways to meet editors and agents without hosting a conference.  Now we host a one day workshop in the fall with an editor and agent taking pitches.

There are 101 steps to go through to affiliate a group with RWA.  And another 101 steps to register as a not-for-profit society with our provincial government.  But what I’ve learned is that the support of other writers is worth the time and energy.  The group gives back more to me than I could have imagined.  And best of all, I have the pleasure of knowing that my decision to ‘change what I can’ has resulted in a dynamic, focused, supportive group for writers  – a group that has facilitated success for many of them.

I can’t wait to see the next evolution in our chapter’s history as we approach our first decade of excellence.  For a glimpse of one of the most active small chapters in the RWA world, go to http://www.calgaryrwa.com/

What do you need from a writing group?  What are you doing to get it?


  1. Wow, Louise, this is an impressive story. Congratulations on being brave enough to start a new chapter of RWA when you weren’t satisfied with your writing group. I have to say I chuckled at the image of that belly dancer, though.

    I am a participant in an on-line critique group that I enjoy but they are definitely skewed to the fantasy and scifi realm and my little contemporary romance doesn’t get many reads or many suggestions. I probably need to leave them and go elsewhere, but they aren’t very demanding, I’ve read some good stuff, and I’ve made some friends. It’s hard to sever ties.

    I know Utah has an active RWA chapter and I really want to start attending their meetings. I need to join RWA first, though, and I told my husband that’s the only thing I want for Christmas this year — the money for those dues!

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Louise, I remember those days of frustration. I, too, was so hungry for real writing support. Thank you for being instrumental in getting CARWA started. It’s a great group.

    • Linda you were such a vital part of our early days. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to have you close by, sharing your wisdom and kindness. Stay well, my friend. you are loved.

  3. Thanks Sheila. You made my day. CARWA is all I wanted it to be and more. The caliber of the people who have joined, yourself included is amazing. And more keep coming. It’s awesome to watch.

    keep writing – it’s your turn.

  4. I need support from a writing group and as a member of the Calgary chapter, I can honestly say that this group gives me all the support I need and more. Everyone is ready with a helping hand and everyone applaudes the success of their fellow chapter mates. This group is awesome. The day I received your invite to join the chapter was one of the best things that ever happened to my writing career. Louise, both you and CaRWA rock! 🙂

  5. That’s great that you got the courage to form your own writing group. I wish I had the cajones to do that. I live in a town where no really likes to write stories, so it’s hard for me to find a writing or critique group.

    That’s why I joined AbsoluteWrte. But, it’d be cool to sit face to face with people sharing my same goals. Oh well.

    I see you like writing contemporary romances. I like writing romance as well.

    Keep smiling,

    • Yawatta, sometimes it’s hard to find like minded people. But the internet gives us the opportunity to ‘chat’ with others like us. I agree it’s cool to sit face to face with people who write in my genre. But I keep meeting and making new friends on the net. It’s all good

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