Do you have a writing group…like Tolkien?

Most writers, I realised the other day, hang out with writing groups. Or at least other writers.

Inside the Eagle and Child. Photo: A. Wright.
Inside the ‘Eagle and Child’. (Wright family photo)

J R R Tolkien, for instance, was part of a group called the ‘Inklings’, who met in a local Oxford pub – the Eagle and Child, known locally as the ‘Bird and Baby’Every Tuesday from 1939 until 1962 they’d go there to drink beer, swap stories – and read their tales to each other.

Imagine that – C. S. Lewis, Roger Lancelyn Green, Owen Barfield or maybe Lord David Cecil were the very first people in the world to experience The Lord of the Rings  – and they heard much of it in Tolkien’s own voice, as he sat there reading them the manuscript.

Tolkien himself was one of the first to hear passages from Lewis’s Narnia series. How awesome is that? Two of the greatest fantasy writers in the twentieth century, hanging out in the same pub and reading each other’s stories.

My key-ring from the Raffles Writers Bar. Complete with the original wrapping (yes, I am a writing nerd).
My souvenir key-ring from Raffles. Complete with the original wrapping.

During the early twentieth century other writers congregated in Raffles hotel, Singapore, to the point where there’s a Writers Bar, which (in its original location in the lobby) was frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and W. Somerset Maugham. Its denizens were usually well lubricated with gin, tonic and Singapore Sling, invented around 1910 by Ngiam Tong Boom in the Long Bar on the opposite corner of the building.  Alas, this literary enclave came to a sharp end with the Second World War. But the spirit lingers. Did I say ‘spirit’? I did, didn’t I.

I made the pilgrimage to the Writers Bar in 2001, sans the cocktail.

Established writers usually veer into shop talk – the scale of the latest advances or gossip about editorial changes at Publisher X. I know that’s how my chats with other writers go, when I catch up with them. Which, unfortunately, isn’t often. I know plenty of writers and publishers, and it’s always good to have a yarn. But it’s hard to find time to get together.

Besides which, a lot of what I write is history – which, here in New Zealand,  is owned by viciously hostile in-crowds. Someone once described the behaviours of the military history crowd, particularly, as akin to circling piranhas.

Instead I hang out mostly with mathematicians and science types. And talk about my original interest, which isn’t history… it’s physics.

Do you have a writing group? How often do you meet?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing tips, geekery, science and more. Watch this space.


26 thoughts on “Do you have a writing group…like Tolkien?

  1. I don’t have one because I live 30 minutes away from the closest town. I tried commuting into a group that meets every two weeks. It’s a long way to go if I didn’t hear about a canceled meeting. Maybe there is one I can access online.

    1. It’s worth checking out. Kristen Lamb (over on my links list) has set up a cool writing community. Not a group as such but a bunch of people with like writing interests who are very supportive and great to get to know. They tweet with tbe #mywana hashtag.

  2. The group I’m with started as a series of writing classes offered by the local community college. The teacher finally decided we were at least as good as he was and told us we should continue as a group. We have, with varying changes in membership, for the last five years. It’s a pretty good group. Some of us have done NaNoWriMo; a couple of us have epub books (and some of us are about to!). We met once a week for awhile, decided that was too often since with one exception all of us have full-time jobs, so now we meet every two weeks at the local Barnes & Noble. We usually swap stories back and forth online, then go over the comments and such in person. B&N doesn’t have the ambience of an English pub or the bar in the Raffles Hotel, alas, but it isn’t bad for Hickory, NC.

    1. Sounds excellent. B&N isn’t too bad for a venue – plenty of books around… 🙂 The key part is being in contact with other authors…something currently not evident either in Raffles (when I was there the Writers’ Bar was empty) or the Eagle & Child, which I haven’t visited yet, though members of my family have.

  3. I started meeting with the Nashville Writers Meetup late last year…It has a bunch of smaller groups you can join focusing on specific genres.. Each group reads each other’s works and offers critiques.

  4. I belong to three groups here in Auckland. (Quite a feast after starting writing all on my lonesome in small-town Nelson where I never met another writer!) One group meets monthly and sends work round the week before by email to be critiqued at the meeting. Another, the Author’s Mouth group, also meets monthly and is a casual drop-in morning where everyone can read something, usually on a set topic. That’s good for stretching your horizons and styles a bit. But the engine room for my writing is the Mairangi Writers group. We meet fortnightly and read a few pages from works in progress which are critiqued on the spot for word choice, characterisation and suchlike. We also act as beta readers for each other’s books to check pace, continuity and all that stuff, outside of meeting time.

    We’ve just done a month of public events for NZ Indie Book Month, showing our 40-odd titles and talking about indie publishing at libraries and bookstores, collecting new followers and supporters. So much fun!

    I can’t imagine going back to writing in isolation. The publishing world is changing so fast you need a whole lot of contacts, both online and in the real world, to keep up with it!

  5. Mairangi Writers is my group and they are a great support group. Very professional and helpful, critique group. We meet every two weeks and help each other out with beta-reading and editing. Ten of us have published nearly 50 titles in e-book and print formats as well as large print in nearly every genre.

  6. I’ve never even considered joining a writers group. I suppose I don’t consider myself qualified, even though I’ve written short stories before, mainly horror but not exclusively. But on the basis of this post I’ve done a bit of Googling and discovered there is a group in my area. Maybe I’ll pluck up the courage to give it a go.

    At the very least, cheers for giving me food for thought! And thanks to Susie Lindau for directing me here!

  7. Hope to write at Raffles one day. Lucky guy! … I’ve been to writing courses, but never an actual group. That is not in person. I was part of the online Critters community, and had my writing critiqued, critiqued other’s works, and got some great tips. Highly recommended. And I’m going to self-publish that novel soon!.

    1. I managed to get as far as drinking beer in the Long Bar and eating peanuts… Ducked in to the Writers Bar, which was empty, then went off and bought a Writers Bar souvenir. The whole place had great 1930s ambience and would have been an inspiring place to write.

  8. I really need a writing group and have been searching. I am taking a class and one of the gals asked if I would like to join hers, but it is an hour and a half away!
    I felt so relaxed when attending my first writer’s conference because I felt I was with “my people.”
    Thanks for bringing this to the party! Have fun clicking on links and mingling with the guests!

    1. It’s well worth getting into a writing group, if you can find one. Sounds like it might be as tricky in Colorado as in NZ (I believe the population is about the same in both places… )

  9. I’ve never participated in a live group before (there weren’t any where I was living), but I just moved and know that there are several here so I’m going to look into them and see how they fit.

  10. I have never been able to find a writers group in which I was comfortable. Myriad reasons but I put it on myself mostly as I am one for exploring a piece of writing in a fairly rough draft but I have not been able to find groups that share my enthusiasm, online or off. What I have found are groups that line edit mostly–these are groups that meet monthly with everyone submitting a certain number of pages for review–or I have found groups in which writers read a page or two for response. Perhaps what I would like is somewhere in between the two.

    As I am fairly reclusive as a person, I truly think it is more me than any of the wonderful writers I have met. I appreciate that each group agreed with me that the fit was not a good one for me. Right now, I am trying to put together a collection of essays, which is truly giving me fits in terms of structure, so it is just as well that I am not involved in a writers group.

    Am a bit tardy in responding to this post but I found it so interesting and wanted to comment, which is a bit lengthy but as always, thanks so much, Matthew.

    1. I guess it’s a matter of finding the cloth that fits. I have no writing group. One of the reasons is that – curiously – I don’t have a lot of contacts in the writing field here; and the people in the field I’ve to date principally written in – history – have been less than generous in their welcome of anybody who might be more successful than they, commercially or otherwise.

      All the best for the book of essays. It’s interesting how structure intrudes even into collections; the order, even, of essays can be crucial – and often harder to obtain than the internal structure of a single essay or book, because the building blocks (the essays) are of a certain size and content.

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