When looking for a writers group there isn’t always one to find, or if you find one, it isn’t always the right one for you. Here’s a happy-ending tale of a writer who transformed a dying group into a supportive family. Meet Richenda Gould, the leader of the Princeton Writers Group (PWG). “I knew that if you plant your flag in the sand and put out the call, the writers will come.” – Richenda Gould, leader of the Princeton Writers Group
How did you start The Princeton Writers Group?
I inherited it from someone else. I saw this poor group with no activity, and I immediately saw ways to stir up interest again.
What kinds of things do you do with Princeton Writers Group?
The backbone of the group is the weekly write-ins. We gather and work on our individual projects. Write-ins provide a dedicated time and place for writing, with other people to feel accountable to. We go to events together, like conferences or readings, have social nights just for fun, and run the occasional contest. We’ve tried having a critique group but that’s been hard to maintain.
Why do people come to meetings if there’s no critique system?
It sounds a little strange–People will show up just to work?–but they do! Finding time to write is so challenging, having a guaranteed two hours a week is like an oasis. Our members have finished novels because of the time they’ve spent at write-ins. We get between 4 and 12 people most nights, and a real sense of community has formed. We’ve been very lucky that the kind of people who show up to our meetings tend to be fun, warm-hearted, helpful, and engaged. From them we’ve built a core of people who come back week after week.
But it must be more than mere luck. You’ve obviously had a successful goal and vision for the group.
I think 90% of the job is showing up and projecting your own enthusiasm. I made a commitment, that I would be at the coffee shop every single week at the same time. When new people show up, I give them a warm smile and ask what they’re working on. I make sure they see that I’m interesting in their project, and as we talk it becomes clear to them that they’ve found their tribe. There are some things that only writers can understand. The weekly meeting was important. Monthlies are easy to dismiss, but a weekly meeting is a regular reminder that you should be participating. I also ran polls to find out what people wanted. People were looking for more discussion, so I made one week a month time for discussion. Response to that was so-so, so now we’re going to try using those weeks for sharing and brainstorming. I’m always looking to try new things, and I invite members to pitch ideas.
What are your general responsibilities for keeping a successful group like this going?
We use MeetUp.com as a platform for the group and it automatically sends out meeting reminders and keeps track of membership. I send out monthly newsletters highlighting what’s unusual or interesting. The hardest part is finding locations. You have to factor in where your members work, live and play. Not all libraries reserve space. If we go to a coffee shop, does it have wifi? Are there enough outlets? If we’re there over dinner, is there substantial food?
It sounds like there’s been quite a bit of dedication and perseverance on your part.
If something doesn’t work that’s okay, it’s all data to help me figure out what to try next. It’s gotten easier over the years as the core membership has grown.For me personally, the hardest part is being an introvert. One reason I decided to take it on was to force myself to grow. Otherwise I’m a total homebody hanging out with my laptop, which isn’t healthy in the long run.
Would you say it’s been a rewarding experience?
I love it and I’d do it all again because it’s been incredibly rewarding. Books have been finished, friendships have been born, opportunities have been seized. I love facilitating those things, making the space for them to happen. Seeing other people achieve even baby steps toward their dreams makes me happy. I also benefit a lot as a member of the group, because I get to share in the working time, the camaraderie, the sharing.
There must have been times when you worried if anyone would show up.
There were absolutely times in the beginning when I thought it wasn’t going to work. But, I had seen writers emerge from the ether before, and I’d made a commitment, not just to the group but to myself. Two hours a week for my writing, even if I was the only one, and soon I wasn’t anymore.
Other thoughts you’d like to pass on to people considering starting a writing group?
If you want to do it, do it. Look for a need that isn’t being filled nearby. Make sure it fills your needs, too. You need genuine enthusiasm to draw people to you, so you need to be excited about your idea. And don’t give up over one bad experience. There’s always opportunity to make things better.
Well, I have to thank you personally for all the work you’ve done to make the Princeton Writers Group into such a supportive writing family. Without it, I never would’ve had the courage to find myself an agent.
And that makes it all worth it.
Richenda Gould serves as organizer for the Princeton Writing Group and Co-Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo’s Central New Jersey region. She studied creative writing at Eugene Lang, The New School for Liberal Arts under Albert Mobilio of Bookforum and attended the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-On-One Conference. She is currently working on a novel.
Robin Lovett, also known as S.A. Lovett, writes contemporary romance, and her debut novel, Racing To You, will be released July of 2016. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency and has a forthcoming series releasing with SMP Swerve in the summer of 2017.
She writes romance to avoid the more unsavory things in life, like day jobs and housework. To feed her coffee and chocolate addictions, she loves overdosing on mochas. When not writing with her cat, you can find her somewhere in the outdoors with a laptop in her bag. Feel free to chat with her on Twitter.