Small Writers Group Nets Big Results

Theresa Sullivan BargerThe New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post,, Columbia Journalism Review, Family Circle, Parents, The, Philanthropy, Poynter Online – these are just some of the places the bylines of our small writers group members have appeared for their first time since we started meeting 10 months ago.

We originally formed as a monthly accountability group, but soon evolved into much more. We set up a closed Facebook page where the eight of us could post questions and share the wisdom of the group. Our virtual newsroom replicated the days when we could slide our chair over to a coworker to ask how she would handle that day’s challenge. We soon switched to meeting every two weeks.

We’re each other’s support system, cheering squad and sounding boards. The group is helping each of us advance our careers while addressing the isolation we freelancers face. We recommend each other to our editors and share links to helpful webinars or websites.

When we started, most people in the group had never met. I was the only one who knew everyone, and I didn’t know most of them well – but I knew them enough to know that we all shared a desire to grow as writers. We’ve become trusted colleagues who offer honest critiques, ideas for sources and a gentle nudge.

Freelancers by choice
Our “small writers group” members range in age, specialty, political views and freelance experience, but that’s part of why the group works. We’re different enough to not be in direct competition. We have diverse strengths and weaknesses, so we learn from each other.

We come to our meetings with lists of stories we’re working on or thinking of doing, and the rest of the group offers suggestions on story approach and where to pitch. When we hear of editors looking for writers, we share that news.

Success breeds success
When one of us gets a “yes” from a prestigious pub for the first time, we’re all happy. Each person’s success propels the rest of us to aim higher and keep trying. If one of us can break into that coveted market, so can the rest of us. Our celebration of breakthroughs seems to be happening with increasing frequency.

Since rejection – or simply being ignored – is so much a part of the job of being a freelance writer, it really helps to have encouragement from writers whom you respect.

One of our members – a talented, experienced writer – had never pitched to a national pub. A challenge from the group propelled her to commit to a date for pitching. When she stumbled on an idea worthy of a national newspaper, she pitched it to The New York Times. When they passed, she refined the pitch and immediately sent it to the Journal, which said “yes.” We felt like proud parents.