Artists have sought the company of others forever… One such notable Saratoga Springs colony, Yaddo, formed in 1926, boasts over 6,000 artists to have passed through, from Langston Hughes to Truman Capote. Google ‘Writer’s Retreats’ and pages and pages of such rejuvenating programs appear, including Vermont Studio Center; my time there enabled me to move my scattered chapters into a complete novel. These short stints of concentrated writing time often catapult one from a small group of supportive peers with whom you share your work, to a greater determination to carry on.
The work of writers, (I would add all types of artists to this group, since most work in isolation) grows when there are others to feed off of or bounce your ideas on. Take Paris, 1920, (don’t you love the way Woody Allen captures this moment in “Midnight in Paris
”), enter the salon of Gertrude Stein on any given evening to find a mix of artists, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Juan Gris, elbow to elbow with Ezra Pound, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway. One can imagine those guests not only discussed but shared manuscripts, poetry collections or sketches and all gained valuable critiques from peers.
Across the English Channel this same creative energy was found in the Bloomsbury Group, with Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa and Clive Bell, Duncan Grant and E.M. Forster. Across disciplines, these artists and writers shared an aesthetic that is still considered pioneering today; often ignoring societal norms, these artists sought beauty and expression, cutting new paths along their way. Together, they were formidable, but having to go it alone, I am uncertain if we would still be granting such accolades.
In fact, if I were to state one non-negotionable for an artist, it would be to find yourself such a group, whatever form that works, but should comprise trusted compatriots who meet or correspond to give their honest and supportive critique of your work. I have had the great fortune to fall in with several great writers’ groups along my way and found them priceless.
For the last three years I have meet regularly with three women for such a purpose. We are all novelists, a challenge for a group, as we require a time commitment in order to offer a valuable critique, but we have managed splendidly. Each one of us writes quite differently, from S’s comical view of love after 50, to K’s angst of family divided by addiction, to L’s herb lore in a mystical place, yet we come together to share and listen, and in an organic manner offer a next step to the laborious craft of writing. This group works like the inner cogs of a magnificent clock, each wheel and spring moving our pendulum to progress. Our creed: keep to the writing business at hand, let no one dictate the group, and genuinely admire each other’s talent, dedication, and hard work. So, how to form such a gathering for yourself?
In our case we were all looking and simultaneously sent out email queries through our local League of Vermont Writers
. Originally, we had thought our group too small and talked about finding others to join, but after our first reading we found four a perfect number, enabling us all to share and garner sufficient feedback in our two hour time period. Also at first we thought to meet in a public location, but since I lived most centrally, and in a comfy space, the group comes to me. The rest fell into place, the rest meaning how we would read and discuss our work. This is often the trickiest aspect in establishing a beneficial group, however, if you find common ground easily, you will set protocols easily; conversely, if you are not simpatico, no list of rules will help.
Ultimately, there are as many avenues as there are artists, seek and you shall find the group best for you. Your work will be finer with the restorative of peers.