Monday, March 14, 2016

The Evolution of the Women's Writing Circle

This past weekend the Women’s Writing Circle held its first read around in our new home. Together we shared the spirit of the Circle, which is camaraderie and support of our writing journeys through a unique format known as the read around where we read aloud our work to the group.

This is our third ‘home’ since I started the Circle. The evolution of the Circle began with three women in an independent bookstore, Wellington Square, in November 2009. Over the years we have had as many as seventeen women attend read around, moved from the bookstore when we outgrew that space, to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church reading room. Saturday marked our first gathering, attended by fifteen writers, including myself, in our new location, the conservancy meeting room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Exton, featuring lovely amenities and easy access to the turnpike and surrounding communities.

I have tried to provide a forum for women to find their voices as writers. Over the years that mission often coincided with a healing journey through writing, including my own with my memoirs Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square.

The longer I held read arounds, critique and workshop sessions, the more I learned – and believed – writers needed and wanted a group whose emphasis was on developing and honing the craft of writing in a supportive environment. This marked our evolution into a true writing group.

I am a wordsmith, not a psychotherapist. Separating the psychological dynamics, the cries of anguish and grief from the actual writing was always difficult, if not impossible due to the highly personal nature of many of the stories read in the Circle. The courage it takes for many to share those deeply personal stories in the Circle is both uplifting and inspiring.

Still, I felt my role had to become more focused on the craft of writing and how a listening group of intelligent and discerning people could enhance the writing and help the writer understand the answer to that crucial question “What is my story about?”

At that same time, writers wanted "tips" on characterizations, details, description, narration and point of view, all writerly techniques. We also discussed the challenges inherent in finding the time to write, the nature of fear in writing and of overcoming other obstacles and challenges that led to developing confidence in our voices as writers.

While focusing on the individual writer, I try to make sure the group dynamics remain professional and educational, and not veer into a therapy session. As my own writing has evolved and I have written three books in five years, so has my interest in helping other writers through instruction and editing, and keeping the Circle thriving.

Our upcoming anthology, a joint endeavor with another writing group, Just Write, called Life Unexpected is also a great way to dip a toe into publishing and get out into the community with our stories. We learned a lot from our first anthology, Slants of Light: Stories and Poems From the Women's Writing Circle.

Over the years, I have watched writers come and go from the Circle. Many have left due to moving out of the area, losing interest in – say, writing a memoir, or just couldn’t find the time to devote a Saturday morning to themselves with the pressures of work and family.

Others have left because the group has in some measure disappointed them or no longer fills a need. With some of the writers who I developed a close relationship, their decision to leave the group, often without explanation, was especially sad, but I have to accept that our journeys take different paths.

This is really the evolution of any worthy endeavor or undertaking in life – the mission forms over time and, hopefully, for the better.

This year I began offering memberships to the Women’s Writing Circle. It had gotten tiresome for everyone to pass around the envelope and collect the money to participate; money which goes toward paying for the venue, for the time spent in organizing an undertaking of this complexity, and of giving the writer a sense of having some “skin in the game."

It was good to hear on Saturday how many writers like the concept of the yearly membership fee – they pay in full, can mark their calendars and be done with it. This is another change in the Circle. Payment is to be made in advance. This is clear on the website. Drop-ins are discouraged because I cannot gauge the number of writers if people simply show up on a given Saturday.

Memberships are almost completely sold out for the year. This forms a group of writers with continuity, but also leaves enough slots open in our classes for a couple new writers each session of the Circle. I encourage everyone to read the membership information and contact me if they have questions.

Together we offer what I feel has always made the Women’s Writing Circle special – a place for women who are interested in writing to share in the love of the written word, explore their own writing journeys and meet new friends and network.

It is a space where we can gather and extend respect and caring – as well as develop our writing skills.

 As one writer noted, “Despite the fact that we come with many different personalities, ability levels and emotional experiences, it has always felt to me like the space is big enough for all because of our agreement to support one another.”

It has been an honor and a privilege to have created with you a space like the Women’s Writing Circle, which embodies community in a very isolating world. None of this would be possible without each other and I look forward to our time together this year. ~ Susan

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