All Write Now: On finding the write one, or playing the field with writing groups
By MELISSA D. SULLIVAN
For Montclair Local
“All Write Now” reflects the writing life. Melissa D. Sullivan is an attorney by day, writer by night, mother of two, and recipient of the 2016 Parent-Writer Fellowship in Fiction from the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. Melissa splits her time between Montclair,
NJ and Bucks County, PA. You can learn more at melissadsullivan.wordpress.com.
I’ve always considered myself a one-writing-group sort of girl. Ever since I was a little novelist, I dreamed of a small, cozy gathering of writers who I knew and trusted and didn’t care if I remembered to delete the double spaces at the end of my sentences. Sure, I’d be happy to trade pages with Cheryl Strayed or Margaret Atwood, but I knew that wasn’t realistic. I was just looking for a group where no one needed to pretend that they are always perfect or happy or sane.
Just as I turned 30, I thought I had found them. Like me, they were serious about their writing, but they also had day jobs and families and knew what it meant to be pulled in multiple directions. All they asked is that I listen to them and show up for the occasional critique night. It was an easy, blissful two years.
Then, I moved.
It wasn’t far — just a few hours drive away — and we were mature enough to know that this didn’t necessarily mean the end for us. “We can still meet,” my old writing group said, putting a reassuring hand on my arm. “But it’ll be healthy for you to try new groups.”
So, for the first time in years, I started to seek new writing partners. It was harder then I remembered. First of all, it was difficult to find out where the writers were. I mean, how do adult writers find each other outside of a classroom setting? I even briefly considered going back to school for a graduate degree, but decided that (a) it was too expensive and (b) everyone there would be way too young.
My first real foray back into the field was a meetup of writers in a nearby town. And they were… weird. Well-meaning, yes, but as one writer enthusiastically discussed their recent screenplay, featuring a part of a boy’s anatomy being replaced by an amphibian, I quickly determined that this wasn’t the writing group for me. Sad to say, I ghosted on them. I still see their meetups around the internet occasionally.
For my next attempt, I was more methodical. I applied to and got accepted by a very exclusive writing group meeting every other week in a church basement. On paper, they looked great: full of published writers with decades of experience and a clearly stated set of expectations. It was everything I thought I wanted. But then, the expectations became too much and I found I just couldn’t meet their needs. I sent them a Dear John email, trying to emphasize that it was me and not them. Even now, a year later, they still invite me to readings and celebratory dinners, which I find sweet.
There were other, more fleeting encounters at coffee shops and bookstores, but nothing really seemed to take.
“It’s so hard,” I complained to my old writing group. “Can’t we just stay together forever?”
“It’s good for you,” they insisted. “Keep trying.”
Then, one day, I received an email. It was from a writer I had met in one of the other groups. We hadn’t talked much, but he was impressed with my writing and thought I might get along in another group he had started. Nothing too serious, he promised. “But we are all novelists like you. Let me know if you’re interested.”
So I went, and we’ve been together for over a year now. It hasn’t always been sunshine and roses; we still clash over the depiction of women in genre books and the marketability of literary fiction. But they do listen and try to see my side, and they take themselves and their writing very seriously, which I admire.Though I wouldn’t call it a full romance yet, it’s definitely turning into a serious friendship, which should not be undervalued.
But through all my searching, I still haven’t given up hope of finding the one. Because doesn’t every little novelist deserve her perfect writing group?