Groups matter

One of the first things I did when I moved to Canberra was joining a writing group. I’d been writing for almost ten years, and I’d never had a peer group to read my work aloud to and hear feedback from. I didn’t even think I needed a support group until I had one.

Not only did they coerce me to share some of my work, but they were also accommodating and friendly in their suggestions. For the first time, I felt as if people read my work, not just to tell me they’ve read it, but to actually help me improve it.

It felt amazing. We bonded, sent over our short stories and poems to see what others thought of them, and even met up outside our allocated meeting times to write together.

Within myself, triumph blossomed. From being the written counterpart of a bathroom singer, I went on to become a voice they thought was worthy of their time.

Not long after I joined the group, we all went on a retreat. Thirteen in all, to an ancient manor set in the heart of small Victorian town Goulburn. It was a two-day getaway in the dead of winter. Beautiful Goulburn is perched a little north of Canberra and a little more south of Sydney.

Victorian mansion in Goulburn

With my minimalist backpack and a well-equipped laptop in my friend’s car, we drove up to this strange town I’d never heard of, to spend the weekend in a stranger’s house with a few people who were strangers until a couple of months ago.

I couldn’t have been more excited. I was looking forward for two days of writing, sharing, and revising. 

What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that a roaring fireplace, wine and whiskey, and impeccable homemade food on a Friday night don’t always add up to a night of relentless writing. The frost hugging our windows didn’t help much either. 

None of us wrote anything that night.

We drank and talked. Someone told about his experiences with ghosts. Many of us laughed. 

Except—unlike drunk college students, waking up with guilt stretching over their faces, the next day we woke up full of fervour for the art of writing—and a little light headed, of course. 

We spent the day in silent rumination, writing. Some continued perfecting works-in-progress, while some others picked their brains, chipping away at creating new ones.

That night, we shared, laughed, drank, and danced again. As the weekend wound, and the sun shone on our faces on Sunday morning, we packed up our recyclable bottles and editable writing and drove back home to Canberra.

Looking back now—a month away from our next retreat—I realise that weekend wasn’t about drinking. It wasn’t about escaping from family and responsibilities. It wasn’t even all about writing. 

That retreat was about presence. It was about sharing our personal selves with others like us, telling family stories, ranting, and reassuring each other. It was about sitting by someone as they struggled to get words onto their screen, silently motivating, never judging, and being there when they needed to talk to about the best way to end a murder mystery.

Everyone needs a group like that they can run away with.

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