"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life," said Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway.
Wrestling ideas into readable prose requires long, solitary hours. Some authors thrive on this isolation; indeed, solitude can be part of a writer's mystique.
However, many find that the hours at typewriter or computer must occasionally be countered with some hearty social contact--contact with other authors, colleagues who understand the unusual demands of the writer's life.
This is where writers groups--which abound amid the intellectual creativity of Southern California--come into the picture.
Maggie Kleinman, screenwriter and author of "Writer's Guide to Southern California," offers tips for selecting a group. "Writers need to decide what they want out of a writers group. Some groups are for socializing and for critiquing each other's work; others stress professional support and networking."
There are also groups for specific genres, such as Western, romance or children's writing.
One doesn't even have to be a writer to join some groups; many organizations welcome "associate members"--non-professionals with an interest in literature, or editors, librarians, booksellers or others in related occupations.
Dues range from $10 to $120 a year, depending on the group and on the type of membership. Some groups also charge an initiation fee.
Following is a sampler of Southland writers groups that may help get your creative juices flowing better.
American Society of Journalists and Authors, P.O. Box 35282, Los Angeles, Calif. 90035, or contact Ruth Pittman at (213) 931-3177. Membership in this New York-based group is open to professional writers of nonfiction. Southern California chairperson Isobel Silden says, "Our professional membership is limited to those who publish regularly in national publications, but associate members may attend our monthly meetings."
Professional members receive benefits such as a newsletter (from the society's national headquarters); a service called Dial-a-Writer, which links writers with assignments, and a service that mediates disputes between writers and editors.
"Our membership list runs from A to Z," says Silden, "from Alex Haley to Maurice Zolotow (one of the group's founders)."
Silden adds, "Perhaps the greatest benefit of being in our group is the networking that goes on at our monthly meetings. Writers who need help can get valuable feedback on where to go with an idea."
There is a guest speaker at each meeting. The Southern California group has about 65 members, the national organization more than 700.
An "Ask the Experts" writers workshop will be held locally Feb. 6. Fee is $15; call for details.
Independent Writers of Southern California, P.O. Box 19745, Los Angeles, Calif. 90019; (213) 731-2652. "The goals of IWOSC are to help the professional, self-employed writer and to work for more respect for writing as a profession," says President Laura Meyers. The group generally meets the third Monday of each month and has a guest speaker at each meeting. In addition, the organization sponsors seminars and workshops.
Members receive a monthly newsletter and have access to a grievance committee, a credit union, health and dental insurance and reduced rates on certain legal and accounting services.
"Many writers are really independent journalists who need help in knowing the going rates for different projects and need more education about writing as a business," says Meyers.
The group has about 500 members; it is not a union.
Los Angeles Romance Authors, P.O. Box 69-A-36, West Hollywood, Calif. 90069; (213) 659-2778. Spokesperson Kathy Hammel says, "Our group is the Los Angeles chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Our main purpose is to help people who are writing romance stories, whether they be historical, futuristic or contemporary."
The Romance Authors meet at 11 a.m. the third Sunday of each month at the Westside Pavilion Community Room. "We usually have a speaker in the field of romance writing, and we also use the meetings as a chance to network and find new markets for our work," says Hammel. Members receive the group's local monthly newsletter, plus the bimonthly magazine of the Romance Writers of America.
The L.A. chapter is currently sponsoring a contest for romance writers: a character sketch of "the perfect man," in 1,000 words or less.
The group has 40 local members, and is part of a network of about 1,000 members nationally, including chapters in Orange County and San Diego.
The Romance Writers of America sponsors a convention each July, Hammel said.
Mystery Writers of America, Dept. 1333,
14526 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, Calif. 91405; (818) 780-6363. There are about 300 members in the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, and they meet the last Friday of each month and hear a guest speaker. (This month's meeting, Jan. 29, is at Sleuth's Restaurant in the Sherman Oaks Galleria. Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender William Weiss will speak; reservations are required.)