One of the things I love about writing groups is the support that we give each other. Sometimes this is via critiques and workshopping where we give each other feedback. This can, at times, be uncomfortable, but a good critique group is worth its weight in book contracts. Good critique groups help us to grow as writers, and let's face it: that's what most of us want to do.
Sometimes this support means going along to things together -- whether that's a night when one of the group is getting an award (such as the group from Sydney did for the FAW Awards, which I blogged about earlier) or just doing something together as a group as a bonding experience. Western Women Writers has had trips to art galleries to write poems, or to support a past-member who is an artist and had an exhibition. We've conducted launches of our magazine Poetrix, done readings together and attended residential weekends, hired people to run workshops for us, baked cakes to raise seeding money for the magazine -- all kinds of things.
Sometimes this support means picking someone up when they're down. Writing is a hard game. Few of us go through it without facing some kind of rejection. There are exceptions, of course (Isobelle Carmody comes to mind), but for most of us there are those depressing days when a manuscript comes back with a no-thanks (and if we're lucky a comment), or when we find out we weren't selected for a masterclass or workshop or whatever. One of my close friends is facing down this experience at the moment, having missed out on a place in a development program with a manuscript I thought was working really well. It is disappointing, but somehow being surrounded by fellow writers who understand, truly understand, what this kind of disappointment feels like makes it easier. Not pleasant, certainly, but easier.
We need to support each other through such times. Manuscripts get rejected for all kinds of reasons: not good enough, not right for the market, the slot that was going has just been taken, another similar story has just been signed, too long, too short, didn't like the main character... The list is endless. Our friends can remind us of the great things that our manuscripts have going for them. My friend's was full of terrific writing with great characterisation and setting.
The other thing about supporting each other is being able to rejoice in the success of others. My great friend, Sherryl, today was shortlisted for the Children's Book Council Awards, and I cannot tell you how happy I am for her. This is a well-deserved honour, and it's fantastic to see her up there with all the big names, because she sits rightly among them! So woo-bloody-hoo, Sherryl! Let me put my happiness out here in the public sphere.
Sometimes I hear of writers who aren't capable of offering this kind of support. They begrudge their friends their successes, seeing each as an opportunity they missed. That kind of competitiveness (the oh-you've-just-been-accepted-by-such-and-such-mag-so-I-must-submit-there-too) diminishes us all as people. This is not a competition; one person's fantastic success can open doors for all other writers, so we need to be happy about such things, not bemoan them. I really don't understand people who think otherwise, especially when they're your friends.
At Western Women, we have a tradition that anyone who has a success has to bring cake. It's not a recipe conducive to skinny writers, but perhaps it has fostered this atmosphere of goodwill that pervades the group. Personally, I don't know if this is the case or not, but I do know I enjoy working in such a supportive atmosphere.