Where are the real life writing clubs?

This is a question I’ve been asking for a while now.

I met a guy earlier this year who studied English literature here in Wellington and he said he and his friend would meet every Sunday, choose a theme to write on, and then write for an hour. Afterwards, they’d compare and, naturally, they improved.

I watched an interview where Chuck Palahniuk (author of fight club) confessed he first got into writing by joining a writing group full of old women when he was in high school. They thought his writing was too dark – now look at him.

A lot of published authors seem to have studied degrees in literature or communications. They seem to be older, in their thirties or forties, with their own little community of university friends and colleagues who they can talk to about writing, reading, learning.

I don’t have that.

I don’t know anyone who writes in real life and generally when i’m talking to friends about books they say, ‘I don’t really read much’. I look around at the vibrant, creative city I live in and I wonder where all the young writers like me are. I’ve looked for writing groups in the city and I haven’t found much. In my first year in Wellington I used Meetup.com to meet new, fabulous friends. So I thought, why can’t I find a writing group on there? There’s a ‘Women’s Creative Writing Group’ in my area, but they haven’t had an ‘event’ for meeting up since March, and I also feel the women seem to be a lot older than my age of twenty-six. Ideally I’d like to chat with women my own age, who are living through the same problems in life I am, and who write in a similar genre. I doubt an old retired woman and I are really living similar lives.

I had an idea to talk to the owner of a second-hand book store I always walk past. I live in an alternative, hipster neighbourhood where the hospital I work at is located. It’s fabulous: I live 600 metres from my work and in the area are fascinating people wearing fascinating clothes. Cafes are abundant and make for great people watching, and naturally the coffee is delicious – something Wellington is renowned for. The neighbourhood also has a few second-hand book stores that I walk past almost every day. Some have old men with grey beards sitting behind the counter, and there is one that is so disorganised that I wonder if anyone can ever find anything beneath the piles of pages. But there is one that is laid out perfectly, always has interesting titles in the window that I have either read or want to read, and still retains the second-hand vibe by not laminating their hand-written signs that say ‘3 for $15’.

Earlier this week I was walking the streets late at night after drinking a cappuccino at 10pm. I was getting ready to go into work for my night shift, and I found myself staring in the window of this book store. Who owned it? I wondered. Since every business is on social media these days, I searched the store’s name. I was somewhat shocked to discover it was owned by a local author who had written a novel with a pretty pink cover that had always grabbed my attention in book stores. I started to feel excited. I could go chat with her! We could become friends! I could be friends with someone who had a published novel and we could go on coffee dates and talk books and writing and everything we wanted!

Despite seeing her book on the shelves for at least six months, I had never read it. I remember feeling like it wasn’t quite my vibe. So I searched it on Goodreads to read the reviews. They were mixed. Overall it had a rating of 3/5, but so many of the reviews said that once they had finished reading the book, they couldn’t work out if they liked it or hated it. The writing itself was good, but the story was not. Both protagonists were highly unlikeable, and the book became stressful for many due to the fictional relationship feeling a little ‘toxic’. One reviewer was extra pissed off that they had read it purely because it was shortlisted for the NZ book awards. One of the criteria for being nominated, she learnt, was ‘the degree to which the book engages and nourishes the reader’s intellect and imagination’. She felt very strongly it did not do this. A bit savage, I thought, but humorous nonetheless.

So now I don’t know whether to go into the book store and chat to the owner. I haven’t read the book myself – I went to borrow it from the library but it was on loan – but I want to have read it if I do ever meet her. I feel like if I went into the store and said, “You’re the author of (book)!” and confessed I hadn’t yet read it, it probably wouldn’t leave a great first impression.

Anyway, even if the novel isn’t that fabulous it would be cool to chat to someone who has been through the publishing process. And who knows, maybe she would let me read some of the books in her store. And maybe we could use her store to host writer’s catch ups and drink coffee or Sauvignon Blanc and chat about boys when we’re not talking words…

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