Article on gay writing groups for G3 Magazine.
Only six months ago I was stuck in my uninspiring data entry job, repeatedly toying with the maximise/minimise button on my internet browser. I wanted to write fiction but couldn’t, wouldn’t, daren’t. Finally the sickening realisation that my life’s opus would only amount to a heap of spreadsheets collated between two saddle-stitched boards, moved me to action: I formed a gay creative writing group.
The Read Horse Writer’s Collective began as an offshoot of the gay book club I’ve been running for several years. Each month we set a topic, participants write a short story or poem, and then submit them by a deadline. I collate the pieces into a little magazine which we read aloud in the pub and everyone offers feedback. Now I’m writing on a regular basis, I’ve performed – albeit red-faced – at a spoken word event and have three whole rejection mails from literary magazines to my name. How’s that for progress?
Aspiring writers can certainly glean encouragement and confidence from participating in a writing group, but even published authors find them helpful in developing their work. Bestselling author Sarah Waters was a member of a writing group for a year or two whilst writing her second novel Affinity. She states “It was great to have that many people concentrating on my work all at once, all offering honest feedback. Inevitably, some of the feedback was more directly useful than others – but that in itself was helpful, because as a published writer your books are going to be picked up by all sorts of people, and you have to get used to hearing different responses, some appreciative and some not!”
A short search of the internet throws up a handful of other LGBT writing groups. Rainbow Writers in Bournemouth still meet on a monthly basis and the Northern Gay Writers is also going strong after 21 years at Commonword, Manchester. Sadly others like the long-running London Gay Writer’s Group have disbanded and the weblinks only throw up sites of dubious nature and ill-repute. But if you don’t feel like starting one yourself, there are plenty of heterosexual groups to join.
Writer Stella Duffy even feels ghettoising yourself in a gay niche may be restrictive to writing. She explains “all the writers I know, gay or not, want to write a multitude of lives, not just one area or region, so working within a specifically gay group would probably feel limiting. No matter if we’re gay or not, I think we can learn from each other.” Indeed Waters was a member of a heterosexual writing group and feels that the parts of writing that are the most responsive to the quality feedback that can be generated by these groups are the technical aspects such as plot, character and pace. These are the same regardless of sexuality so the most important thing is to “find a group where you feel comfortable sharing your work.” For me, that group just happens to have a gay majority.
Ultimately being in a writing group won’t get you that book deal, I can’t even guarantee it’ll make you a better writer, but personally it gave me the kick I needed to get started. The rest is really up to you, for writing group or no, if you want to be a writer, there’s really only one thing you need to do for certain: GET WRITING.
Advice for aspiring writers
“Get used to rejection, get on with it, try to work out what the story is you really want to tell, and then tell it.” Stella Duffy
“Keep going! It’s easy to get discouraged, to lose confidence in your work – that happens to me with every single book I write. But if you really want to write – do it. Commit to it. You don’t want to get to the end of your life and think, ‘Oh, I wish I’d written that novel.’ But also – be prepared to revise, to edit, to make changes. Listen to your early readers, and act on their responses. Most of writing is really rewriting.” Sarah Waters