COLUMN: From muse to page to book to shelf

There’s no question that books can make you laugh or cry or think. Whatever our reading future looks like, there will certainly be books.

There’s no question that books can make you laugh or cry or think. Whatever our reading future looks like, there will certainly be books. And for there to be books, there must be writers.

When some writers tell me they can hardly wait to get back to the project at hand, and that they love every second of writing, I am always a little suspicious. Or perhaps I’m just envious. For me, writing is a difficult, sometimes fraught, solitary occupation that puts the prospect of cleaning under the kitchen sink or around the toilet bowl in a much more rosy light.

American journalist, novelist, poet, screenwriter and biographer Gene Fowler (who gave up a budding career in taxidermy to pursue his craft) famously said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Clearly, with such an extensive writing portfolio, Fowler’s was a bloodier business than stuffing roadkill, but was it any more fun? Maybe — if he had the company of other writers to help him through.

Writers have always sought other writers for companionship, solace, support, or just a shot of absinthe in a dark Paris bar. If it weren’t for Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound, Hemingway might never have penned or published The Sun Also Rises. And so the company of other writers is important if we are to have books.

Writers know this, which explains the number of times at the library we’re asked about writing groups. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can tell those inquiring writers, as writing groups tend not to advertise.

That’s because writing groups are built on trust, and once a good working dynamic is achieved,  most groups are loath to mess with it.

And yet here you are: a budding writer looking to stretch your limbs, or a writer with a project in search of brilliant and insightful critique. You need a writing group.

What to do if you’re a writer in search of company? Come to The Company of Writers, a workshop about writing groups at the Nelson Public Library on Tuesday, January 21 at 7 p.m. (let us know if you’re coming: email

The evening will cover different writing group models: groups that get together to enjoy writing exercises, work on solo projects in a room with others, read aloud to one another, or submit writing for feedback.

We’ll talk about the rules of engagement for good critiquing. We’ll talk about how to start a writing group, or how to tweak the one you’re in. And we’ll try to release you from that solitary literary bloodletting habit and get you into something more comfortable, and more constructive. The cupboard under the sink can wait.

If enough show up we might even do a sort of “speed dating” session: an around-the-room one-on-one opportunity to see if any literary sparks fly. Budding writing groups could be a happy outcome, or at least the tools to get one started.

I owe everything to my writing group. Sure, I still find myself on my hands and knees with a scrub-brush when the going gets tough. But I know I’m in good company, all of us putting words to page through blood, hell, or high water — and, with a little luck, into your library.