Writers’ support group stimulates creativity, provides encouragement
By Melanie Hemingway, Regional Library Director | June 2018
“Secrets lurk everywhere: behind closed doors, in whispers stealing from mouth to ear, or sometimes shouted from a rooftop. You have five minutes to write about a secret.”
Heads dip; eyes focus on paper. Pens scribble words, generating stories no one has yet heard. Minutes tick past.
“Time’s up! Who wants to share?”
Everyone shares, more often than not. A rainbow of stories emerges from the same prompt, each in its own author’s characteristic style. This exercise serves as a familiar tool at the Galax Public Library’s weekly writers’ support group in Galax, Virginia. It stimulates creativity and encourages everyone in the class to write something.
The group was started by Galax-Carroll Regional Library Director Melanie Hemingway, herself a fantasy writer and author of Call of the Quintar.
“Fifty years ago, surrounded by timeless tomes in the Mott Road Elementary School library in Fayetteville, New York, dual passions for writing and libraries seized my imagination. After 22 years working in libraries, I morphed my passions by creating a library support group for local writers. Eight years later, I’m amazed how much I’ve learned while teaching the class,” she said.
Writers feel driven to capture words and shape them into sparkling prose to express thoughts. A secondary drive is the need for peer support. At every class, they connect with other writers of various ages at different stages of the writer’s journey. They find guidance for goal-setting, tips for writing stronger, resources for research, contests to challenge them and, most importantly, group feedback on their current works. Occasionally, there are topical writing workshops led by Hemingway (presenter of “Poems In Your Pocket – Poetry Basics”) or regional authors including Wayne Jordan (presenter of “Social Media Marketing” and author of The Business of Antiques) and Zoe M. McCarthy (presenter of “Making Scenes Shine” and author of The Invisible Woman in a Red Dress).
“The writer’s group has helped me learn to be more self-confident. As you share your writing, you see that other writers also have to overcome problems with writing. Writing exercises are good to force improvements,” said member and screenwriter John “Doc” Suess.
While only a handful of writers attend any given class, throughout its eight years, the class has welcomed 70 local writers. In the past, writers worked in individual sanctuaries. Today, writers gather to learn from each other. The class evolves into a family, showing interest in each other’s writing endeavors, sometimes with a “pinky swear” challenge, holding each other accountable to produce new drafts before the next class, and sharing the joy of accomplishments.
“I like being able to share my ideas and stories with other creative people. As a local author, it isn’t a guarantee anyone will hear my stories. It is nice knowing that at least our group will hear it and give me helpful feedback. Most of all, it is incredibly inspiring to hear everyone’s stories, fiction or non,” said member Lacy Johnson, Jr., a writer of fantasy and teen stories.
The desire to write creatively can sprout in anyone. People may visit a writing group with limited experience and leave with a brainstorm of possibilities. They can be encouraged to try new genres or styles, to take the next step on their writing journey.
“Since coming to Melanie’s writing class in August 2016, I have really grown with the help of her and the group. It’s challenged me to be more creative and think outside the box with my stories. I also love meeting area writers through the group and hearing their stories and collaborating new ideas. Without this class, I wouldn’t be half of the writer I am today!” said member Justin Lambe, the author of Caribbean Dreams and Murder and other mysteries.
The internet contains innumerable teaching tools. Even someone who is not a writer can find guidance from authors online regarding any subject of the creative writing process, from prompts to editing, publishing and marketing tips. Articles can be summarized in one- or two-page documents for a class to discuss. Helping local writers focus on their craft results in titles on library shelves that grow local interest.
Suess offered a creative analogy when discussing the group.
“I always wanted to call the group the Writer’s Forge. The writer’s group becomes the anvil, where you place your writing material. You strike it hard with hammer blows to your ego. You heat it up with imagination. Every new idea bellows creative air to stoke the fire. You watch your story turn into this red, flaming stuff. Then, others hammer it. With every blow, you are crafting your story into a finished weapon that you can send on a quest to cut through critics,” he said. “They quench your hot story in cold water, where it shatters. You go back to the anvil and forge again. You perfect your craft of writing. Occasionally, someone strikes your thumb, but it’s your fault for giving them the hammer!”
Over the years, group members have finished books, learned to self-publish and started blogs or newsletters, and many have improved their writing skills. Copies of several local authors’ books have been added to the library shelves for circulation to the community.
“I hope to provide continuing support and inspiration at the library for local writers for years to come. The enthusiasm this group generates for everyone who attends is phenomenal. Sharing the expression of thoughts is what writers – and libraries – are all about,” Hemingway said.
Melanie Hemingway is the regional library director for the Galax-Carroll Regional Library in Galax, VA.