Finding my writing community
By Gail Chrisfield
When my copy of Joiner Bay and Other Stories arrived, I left the padded envelope unopened on the hall table while I changed, briefed my partner about my work day and played with our two excited little dogs. Then I was ready for the moment I had been working towards for the past four years: seeing one of my stories in print for the first time.
My ‘debut’ on the Australian literary stage feels like a significant achievement, but it is one that is not mine alone. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a community to create a writer and sometimes – for those of us whose loved ones’ eyes glaze over whenever we talk writing – that community may not include many of our family and friends.
My great leap forward came when I found my writing community, but it was more a succession of small steps, a series of petits jetés rather than one spectacular grand jeté.
The first step came after a surfing buddy, who was about to publish her first novel, told me about Writers Victoria and how it had helped her. I joined not long after, and often still kick myself for not doing it earlier.
Apart from being my entrée into the broader writing community, this amazing not-for-profit organisation has given me so much during my first four years of membership.
Through an introductory short story course, I learned some fundamentals, met other aspiring writers and discovered the value of the workshopping process. Several of us still meet occasionally to talk about writing and share our work, and one has been my constant companion through seven semesters of Writers Victoria’s online short story clinics – both of us published this year for the first time by Margaret River Press.
The discipline involved in meeting the clinic’s monthly submission deadline has helped shape my writing process. The feedback from fellow writers and high calibre mentors, such as Laurie_Steed, Josephine Rowe, and Laura-Jean McKay, has enabled me to hone my craft. Critiquing others’ work has provided invaluable insights into what makes a kick arse short story – and what doesn’t.
Recently, the impersonal nature of the digital clinic led some of us involved from the start to form our own writing group, called Offshoot.
Our aim is to build on everything we have learned by meeting in person once a month to workshop each other’s writing in greater detail than typing feedback into a Word document allows. The laughs over lunch and wine afterward are an added bonus.
Another small step came the day I was sitting at home in my small coastal town, thinking about how all the writers I knew, even my surfing buddy, lived in Melbourne. I knew there were other writers in my region. Where were they and how could I meet them?
Shortly after, I stumbled across a series of tweets on Twitter about people meeting in funky cafés in Melbourne and Sydney to write and drink coffee. #WriteHere sounded right up my alley.
I considered trekking up to the big smoke for the next one but realised I would be meeting more city-based writers when it was the writers living in my region whom I most wanted to meet. So I messaged Writers Bloc, the people behind #WriteHere, and asked about setting up a group in Surf Coast.
It proved surprisingly easy. Within less than a month, Write Here in Surf Coast was off the ground and has been running on the first Saturday of each month since February 2015, providing local writers with time and space to write, and with opportunities to connect with other writers from across the region.
The creative companionship of my monthly #WriteHere and Offshoot meetings, of my Writers Victoria membership, of activities such as the Emerging Writers Festival, book launches and the like, all connect me to my writing community. They sustain me as I toil at my desk at the crack of dawn each morning.
My writing community is supportive, generous, constructive, down-to-earth and kind. When I started out, I expected to find more dicks there and was surprised when I didn’t. We celebrate when one of us succeeds, encourage those facing yet another rejection and always look at how we can help each other become better writers.
It took a lot of little steps to find my writing community but, now I have, I feel as if my legs are like steel springs, primed for another great leap forward – perhaps even a grand jeté next time.
Gail Chrisfield works as a corporate writer and writes short fiction. She lives on Victoria’s southwest coast with her partner and their two furkids. Her voluntary roles as Write Here in Surf Coast Convenor and Writers Victoria’s inaugural Regional Ambassador enable her to meet and encourage other local writers. Her story, ‘Still Life with Dying Swan’, appears in Joiner Bay and other stories.