Join A Writing Group

Posted on: 04 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

50connect member Johnnie Johnson urges any aspiring writers to join a writing group.

I always knew what I intended to do when my time came for retirement. My mind had been made up for years. No, it would not be pottering around a golf course. Tending the garden? Not on your life!  DIY? Never!   And it certainly would not be tinkering with the car. No, I intended to write novels, poetry, short stories, local histories.

I had of course attempted to write pieces during my working life but it was all very difficult to fit in, but now, free of all care, I would at last become a writer.

It must have been in the second week of my new life when I sat down facing my blank writing pad, my pens at the ready, and nothing happened. Nothing much happened for hours, apart from a few hesitant paragraphs which led nowhere. Then finally, something popped out and I filled three pages of my writing pad with a short story.

But was it any good? Quite frankly I had no idea. I’d spent a lifetime teaching English but I’d never really had to consider my own work as a writer. And my wife seemed doubtful. My closest friend was not at heart terribly interested though he was polite about what he had read. How would I ever know if I was going to make the grade? Had I written a masterpiece? Or was it a few hundred words of unmitigated rubbish?

‘There is only one answer,’ my wife told me. 'There is a writing group in the town. Why don't you join that?’

I was not too enthusiastic. Nevertheless I dismissed my doubts and one wintry Thursday afternoon I made my way to the local library where the group met. 

And there I saw them, through the glass door of a small room, a dozen men and women just settling down to their afternoon's work. They were talking to each other, laughing among themselves. Very friendly, I thought, but they looked absolutely ancient. I did not bother to join them. I turned on my heel and went home.

Johnnie Johnson‘They’re all wrinkled and grey-haired,’ I told my wife.

That made her laugh. ‘Have you looked in the mirror recently?’ she asked. ‘Don't be such a silly old fool. Get yourself back down there next week.’

I did as ordered and the following Thursday I joined the group.

And I was lucky. They were extremely cheerful, pleasant and welcoming. And I was amazed at the talent they demonstrated. One of the best writers had left school at 14 and had not thought of writing until she retired. She had such remarkable ability.  Nor was she the only highly able member in that group.  A former soldier who had joined the army as a boy had so many tales to tell and he was coming on in leaps and bounds, completing a chapter every three weeks or so. Others, poets, moved us deeply with their sensitivity, with their choice of image, their feeling for words. And what satisfaction they all gleaned from their participation in the process of writing.

What I learned with the writing group did not come from their telling me how to write. There was no writing lesson. But we all read our pieces each week and passed comment on each other's work. It was a quite fascinating and exhilarating process.

What I really learnt about writing came not solely from what people said about my work but from what I was picking up as I went along. In other words I was beginning to develop my critical faculties about writing.

Since I joined that group 20 years ago, I have become a better writer. No doubt about that. I have now had 23 books published. My novel, And Such Great Names As These, written under my pseudonym Allen Makepeace, came out in 2007. It won plaudits from the critics as a result of which it was picked up by Oakhill Publishing and is now available as an audio book. I attribute this success in no small part to my membership of a writing group.

And what really is quite remarkable is this. I studied English at university, was a teacher of English, was a comprehensive school headmaster and finally a schools inspector. Every day of my professional life I passed judgment on pupils' writing, on books and poems And Such Great Names As Theseused in schools, on lengthy educational reports. But I truly believe that the weekly post-retirement critical engagement in my own and other people's writings made me more acutely aware of the skills and techniques of writing.

I have now been a member of writing groups for twenty years and I am convinced that such activity allows people to discover talents they never knew they possess. Go on.  Give it a go!  Join a writing group.

Johnnie Johnson can be contacted through his website, Such Great Names As These by Allen Makepeace is £7.99 and available from all good bookshops.  Signed copies, post free, can also be obtained through the above website.  The audio version of the novel may be had through local libraries. 

About Johnnie Johnson

Johnnie Johnson and David Arscott have written more than 60 titles between them, both fiction and non-fiction, and have a broad experience of both mainstream and self-publishing.

Now the two local authors with a wealth of publishing experience between them are organising a day's seminar in Lewes to take writers through the process of organinsing your book, hardware and software, designing a cover, preparing your book for the printer, costing and pricing and promotion and distribution.

Their seminar is at the John Harvey Tavern in Lewes, on Tuesday, 21st October, from 10am until 4pm.

The fee is £100 a head, including morning coffee and tea in the afternoon. The Tavern serves snacks and lunches.

For further details contact David or Johnnie by Tuesday 30th September on:

Johnnie Johnson: 01323 725524 or

David Arscott: 01273 470100 or

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