In the beginning, it was helpful that Lisa, Amy, Lynne and I were in the same place. We all wanted -- had started -- to write fiction. The road to where that would take us stretched out before us all, as it did before Dorothy and her sidekicks (once they'd found the Cowardly Lion, of course).
Years later, we are in different places. I know some writers would love to form a group, and yet they hesitate because they are all in different places. There are challenges, yes, but given the right frameworks, a writers' group is more flexible than you might think.
For us, the fact that we all write fiction is still key. We are dealing with similar essentials, if you make allowances for the genres within the fiction world. We do not do memoir, non-fiction (although we do love to read Lynne's works in progress there!), essays, picture books or corporate freelance types of work as a group.
That we have all come some distance along the path is also key. To paraphrase Lynne at our meeting yesterday, writing is like climbing stairs. You stand at the bottom and see five steps: research, write, edit, agent query, publish. You leap up that first step, push up onto that second step, and all of a sudden, you realize there are not three more steps. There are a thousand and three steps in the writing process alone, you may even have missed a number in the research, and there will likely be a thousand and three steps each in the editing, and the querying, and the publishing. To know that, to be a few thousand steps along and for someone else to still be waiting to take the first step are places that cannot be combined within a writers' group.
That said, what a group does offer, beyond gentle and (loving) not-so-gentle nudges along the steps for writers in different places goes beyond process.
There are points along the way -- starting a new story, doing thoughtful revision, considering edits -- where the mind goes blank. Or worse, where life swirls like a twister and ideas won't settle. To sit with likeminded people, to talk about the joys of words, of possibility, is grounding. This is not to say there is a flash of epiphany, a bolt of inspiration that follows immediately, but in a solitary endeavor, a small and dedicated community centers the spirit and provides a calm spot in the storm that can be the start of something productive. Which is precisely what yesterday's meeting provided to me.