In the summer of 2019, the novelist Julia Forster and I met at the Free Word Centre in London with an idea for a writing community with a difference. For years, I had been concerned with a trend towards pushing author services with the promise of getting writers published. Of course, it’s a very real dream for many writers, and it’s a sexy sell (come to us and we’ll get you published!), but somewhere along the way I couldn’t help but feel we were missing some much needed nuance. Where were the spaces for writers who weren’t sure what they wanted yet, who wanted to understand their options, might not yet be ready even if they had all the makings of a bestseller, or might not even be interested in commercial publication? Where were the spaces for writers who were working with dedication towards their publishing goals, but also needed the time and space to play, to explore, to connect, to protect their mental health, and to dream?
Being a writer is a magical thing. Writing expressively can help us gain clarity, offers opportunity for self-reflection, and can even improve our memory and attention span, with various studies pointing to the long-term mental and physical health benefits of writing among other artistic pursuits. We wanted to create a space for that enormous variety of reasons why writers might come to the page, that also understood the very real barriers. Julia and I are both coaches-in-training, and a lot of coaching is about imagining positive outcomes, but we are neither of us believers in limitless belief. Limits exist. Systemic barriers cannot be magically erased through mindfulness alone. True resilience is only possible if we radically re-imagine society’s in-built biases and restrictions. But what if we created a community of writers where the writers, not the gate-keepers, were the ones calling the shots?
In 2020, we launched Being A Writer with an interactive forum, in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature. Our audience were as much a part of the event as our speakers (the amazing Dean Atta, Nathalie Teitler, Hannah Berry and Yomi Sode). It felt exciting to see our attending writers empowered to make contributions that flashed up on a giant screen, to have their voices equally valued; there was so much good energy in the room. We knew we’d hit upon a formula which we wanted to continue into our programming: we wanted our writers to be in the driving seat. We wanted our writers to be our co-creators, and co-programmers.
We built courses based on the main themes coming out of that forum: Dealing with Self Doubt, Making Time and Space to Write, and Breaking Through Writers’ Block. We’ve hosted podcasts on themes ranging from dealing with rejection to writing to change the world. We’ve partnered with the Poetry Pharmacy to produce a series of Creativity Pills, apothecary style. Everything we do has been directly informed by our members.
In 2023, we tested a new online platform with a small cohort of writers who were part of our Write Club Plus incubator – a group of writers committed to working together for 12 months to progress their writing projects. We sent surveys, talked to members, gathered feedback, listened to what came up in and what came out of each session we hosted.
What Our Writers Told Us
The vast majority of our members (80%) told us that they are actively working on a writing project at the moment that they are trying to get finished.
65% of our community are unpublished, and a quarter have begun to submit work to agents and publishers.
15% of our members are right at the beginning of their writing journeys, while 20% are well published and still looking for momentum, community and support (this reflects our editing clients too, where around 20% are already published but looking for that extra layer of support for their writing, often before they send to their agent or editor).
80% have had professional support of some kind with their writing: in other words, they are a well informed community of serious writers.
Our writers told us they were most interested in:
- Online workshops
- Craft development
- Opportunities to meet other writers
- Pitching sessions
- Writing sprints
- Writing prompts
And that they most needed support with…
- Practical tips and advice
- Deadlines and targets
- Feedback loops (is my work any good?)
In terms of wellbeing they were most interested in…
- Work/life balance (this was the most popular response by some distance)
- General mental health
And the key barriers were…
- Finishing works in progress: over half of our writers said this was an issue, even though they were largely confident about how to generate new ideas.
- Time management and how to focus and create accountability
- Concentrating on the writing project at hand (over 40% of our members identified this as an issue)
- Setting goals and in believing in themselves to see those goals through
- Overwhelmingly, our writers told told us that finding time to write is a key barrier.
Here’s how we’re responding to this:
We set up a new online community platform, so that our writers can be in conversation with each other and find community.
We programmed our January-March 2024 events to meet their needs directly, each workshop responding to something that’s come up above.
We introduced new evening co-writing sessions, monthly goal-setting sessions, and opportunities for lightbulb coaching for members to respond to the key goals of momentum, community and accountability.
Which writing community is best for me?
The trend for memberships and subscriptions waxes and wanes. It’s hard to know which one is best, particularly in a cost of living crisis where many of us are having to consider each spend far more carefully than ever before. At Being A Writer, we can’t boast being the biggest platform, or the one with the most shiny list of alumni book deals. We definitely won’t be for every writer. But we value and cherish all of our members, and we are here to support them in the best way that we can, to become the best version of themselves, as writers. At Being A Writer we are truly committed to building a community of happier, healthier writers. If this sounds like something you want to be part of, we’d love to have you join us. It would be an honour to be a part not just of your writing journey, but of your writing life.
Have a look at our events for writers taking place in 2024:
Sign up to Being a Writer to take part! A free 30-day trial is available, as well as concessionary membership rates.