26 Aug

I’ve been asked to tell you about our writing group.

Yes, ok, everyone knows what a writing group is, and yes, all over the world, quietly getting on with things without boasting about it, there are hundreds of thousands of them.

But there’s only one Writepace.

And I am obsessed with it.

And if you’re thinking, “That girl sure likes her writing group. Cool. Good for her," then you still don’t get it. My love for Writepace is not cool. It’s probably not even natural. If Writepace was a super-hot celebrity, I’d print out a hundred different photos of it and plaster them on my wall, and late at night when no-one was looking, I’d kiss those posters. On the lips.

For years I had talked about being a writer. For years I asked myself why - for the love of all that is holy - am I not getting published? You’re guessing it was because I was an unsung literary hero that the publishing world had failed to recognise? You’re guessing that I was a misunderstood genius of my time? And in fairness, these are very good guesses. But they’re not the reason I wasn’t getting published.

The real reason was that I wasn’t doing any actual writing.

Lucky for me I was standing in work one day with a sad, ‘I-want-to-be-a-writer-but-I’m not’ look on my face when Sarah, our master and commander, came over and said, “Hey you look like a sad person who wants to be a writer!” I sniffed. I nodded. “Would you like to join my writing group?*” she asked. “Would I?” I replied. “Never answer a question with another question,” she said. She’s kind of bossy that way.

            Since then, I have found that nothing will get you writing faster than eight people typing away beside you as you sit there looking at clothes on Zara’s website. Eventually one of them will notice that you haven’t really touched your work, so you better just get on with it.

            Writepace is more than just a writing group. It’s a collective – a co-operative. We support and encourage each other. When things are going well, we cheer each other on. When things are going badly, we cheer each other up. The mechanics of the group are simple: we meet at least once a month, and spend three hours together. We talk and then we write. We read out loud when we want to, we share our struggles when we feel like it, we get feedback when we look  for it. What kind of feedback? Whatever we ask for. Once I went in there and told them I only wanted to hear positive things about my writing because I wasn’t feeling great about it. And that was what I got.

We champion each other. We make fun of each other. We praise each other in person, on Zoom, via email and on Twitter. (Once I had one of them yell  praise at me across O’Connell Street).  We provide a safe space for each other in a world where there are not many safe spaces for writers and during times when writing can sometimes feel lonely and uncertain and sometimes downright dangerous.

I don’t always remember what I’ve worked on at each individual meeting, but I often come out feeling I can do anything. That I can write anything.  That nothing is beyond my reach. Of course there are other times I come out of feeling deflated and overwhelmed. It’s not always a bowl of cherries, but either way, Writepace is there - a community of people to reach out to, ready and willing to big me up or talk me down.

One of the great things about us is how different we are. We’re all at varying stages of our writing careers. Some are established, published authors with signed contracts that need to be fulfilled. Some are authors who have had publishing success in the past and are writing out of contract. Some haven’t been published yet; some have no desire to be published at all. What we want from the group is not the thing that unites us, it’s what we get that keeps us together. And what we get from the group is love, support, praise, connection, encouragement, inspiration. And cake. Did I mention cake?

            Thanks to Writepace I know my writing life is never too far away. I carry it with me every day. It pulses and waits for those times when we are all together and I take my turn to read what I have written. And there it is: my soul, exposed and raw, inspired and complicated. I hold it out for the members of Writepace, just waiting for the moment when one of them will say, “That’s beautiful Gráinne, really nice. Would you consider having that soul in the third person though, just to see how it goes?”

Gráinne O’Brien is a writer, bookseller and editor. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Limerick, is founding editor of literary magazine, Silver Apples, and children’s buyer for O’Mahony’s Bookshops. She’s been a Writepace member since 2016.

* Please note that there are several versions of this part of the story. See future blogs for more

* The email will not be published on the website.