Saturday, August 20, 2011

Feature: 'Always room for write stuff' for The Courier Mail

Always room for write stuff
Anna Angel

Weekend writers' groups and workshops are ideal for being exposed to new ideas and networks, writes Anna Angel

ARE you a closet scribbler or a weekend pen-wielder? They say writing is a solitary profession, but don't quit your day job and retreat to the mountains just yet.

Whether or not you've put pen to paper in years or fancy yourself the next Agatha Christie, Nick Earls or J. K. Rowling, there's a workshop or writers' support group for you.

If there isn't, then start one yourself, says Nancy Cox-Milliner, who formed Writers of Seville more than 10 years ago.

``There was a real need for groups running on the weekend,'' she says. ``People who work during the week don't want to meet at night because that's their writing time.''

Now several writers' groups meet across Queensland at weekends. Most are open to all writers, while some cater to those who dabble in genres such as crime, romance or poetry.

Brisbane fantasy writer Marianne de Pierres co-formed Vision Writers more than 15 years ago. Open to writers of fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction, de Pierres says the group's ranks constantly replenish.

``People find it so exhilarating to know there are other people out there interested in the same thing they are,'' she says.

For Sarah Gory of Queensland Writers' Centre, a group's main benefit is fostering a sense of community and support.

``As any writer will tell you, the solitary nature of writing can be overwhelming at times,'' she says. ``Talking to other writers about their experiences is essential to continuing that forward momentum.''

Four months ago Meg Vann, also of QWC, reformed the Brisbane chapter of national female crime-writing network Sisters in Crime, and has since seen interest from a diverse mix of writers.

``Some people are fairly new to writing, others are more readers, and there are quite a few people who have been writing for a while and are looking to get published and improve their craft,'' she says.

For regional writers who are unable to get to Brisbane, Vann recommends the group's Facebook page as a great place to stay connected.

It's also a good idea for budding writers looking for a group to check local library listings for meetings, websites such as, as well as social media like Twitter.

Gory says for beginner writers, a workshop might give the confidence needed to share work with a group.

``For a beginner, the task of sitting down to start can be very daunting,'' she says.

``Workshops are integral to introducing the writer to new ideas and networks that allow them to go back to their writing desk with a box full of new tools.''

Along with a calendar of events in Brisbane for beginners through to established writers, QWC runs regional programs in Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and on the Sunshine Coast.

So while there's a handful of creative writing workshops and retreats competing for your dollar at any given time, how do you choose the one that's right for you?

Vann advises anyone considering a course or workshop to consider what they really need out of it and to weigh up the credentials of the tutors and organisers against the costs.

``It's lovely if you want to spend a lot of money on a retreat or course, but you don't need to,'' she says.

If you're not sure if a group is right for you, take it for a test spin this weekend.

Most encourage potential members to come along to a meeting or two.

If you can't find a group to suit you, QWC has a nifty guide to forming your own writers' group, available on its website (, where you can also find programs of upcoming events and plenty of resources for the budding writer.

If you're still not sure where to start, be sure to pay a visit to the Brisbane Writer's Festival, running from September 7-11.

There will be a range of free and affordable seminars, workshops and master classes to suit any level of expertise, hosted by best-selling local, national and international authors.

To book tickets and for details, visit

Unleash your print potential

Figure out what you want: Before signing up to a regular group or parting with hard-earned cash for a course or workshop, figure out what it is you hope to get out of the experience. Ensure the course or group will meet your needs - like providing feedback on your work, strengthening basic skills or networking with fellow writers.

Go on the hunt: To find a group near you, check council library websites. Use social media and tools such as to get in touch with groups and fellow writers. The QWC ( is a great starting point for anyone looking for a short course or workshop, with metropolitan, regional and online courses starting from $20.

Be prepared: Before attending a class or workshop, ask beforehand if you'll need to take along any material or work-in-progress, or have read a piece to be critiqued by the group.

DIY: If there isn't a group near you, or nothing you fancy, why not start your own? Your local library is a great place for a meeting space and you can take to social media to gather fellow writers. Don't let a lack of experience stop you - organisers aren't figureheads or teachers, they're a part of the group.

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