"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.)
Members receive the local monthly newsletter, March of Crime, and the national newsletter, The Third Degree.
"There are three types of memberships," explains President Joyce Madison. "Actives are those members who are published in the mystery genre; associates are those members who are published in other areas but are trying to get published in the mystery genre, and affiliates are members with an interest in the mystery field." Editors, publishers, librarians, agents and others in allied fields are also eligible for associate membership.
Nationally, the organization boasts such members as Isaac Asimov, Joseph Wambaugh, Dick Francis, Tony Hillerman and Phyllis Whitney.
The Southern California chapter sponsors a short-story contest with a money award for high school and college students, and it recently compiled an anthology, "Murder California Style" (St. Martin's Press: 1987), which includes stories from leading mystery writers in Southern California.
The national organization sponsors the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe awards, which annually honor the best writing in the mystery genre. .
Professional Writers League of Long Beach, P.O. Box 20409, Long Beach, Calif. 90801; (213) 427-8140. "Our group is open to anyone interested in writing, published or unpublished," says Hilda Williams, past president. "We meet the first Wednesday of the month at 11:30 at the Bit of Sweden Restaurant in Long Beach for lunch, a business meeting and to hear a guest speaker."
The group sponsors contests--for members only--in fiction, poetry and nonfiction.
Every April the Professional Writers League hosts a one-day writing conference in Long Beach that is open to the public. Proceeds from the conference make possible an annual scholarship for a student of writing at Cal State Long Beach.
Round Table West, Ambassador Hotel, P.O. Box 70177, Los Angeles, Calif. 90070; (213) 386-3276. This group meets once a month to hear guest speakers on a wide variety of topics. Speakers have included novelists Louis L'Amour, Erica Jong and Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, poets Maya Angelou and Rod McKuen, and actors Joseph Cotten, Ralph Bellamy, Janet Leigh and Jane Russell. "Over 450 authors, celebrities and other well-known people have been presented at our monthly luncheon/book programs," says Marylin Hudson, one of the founders of Round Table West.
Hudson, Margaret Burk and Adela Rogers St. Johns founded the group in 1977 to enable authors to showcase their books before a receptive, book-buying audience. As many as 600 people attend the monthly luncheon program, which offers an opportunity to meet the speakers, purchase books and get autographs. The meetings are open to the public by advance reservation; call for details. Cost of $17 includes lunch.
Society of Children's Book Writers, P.O. Box 296, Mar Vista Station, Los Angeles, Calif. 90066; (818) 347-2849. This is a professional organization for writers and illustrators of children's literature. Full membership requires that the author or artist be published in the field of children's literature, but associate membership is open to unpublished writers and illustrators, librarians, teachers, editors and others in related fields.
Members receive a bimonthly newsletter that includes the latest market information, articles on children's books, information on contests and awards, and news of members.
The organization holds meetings and workshops in various locations, and there is an advisory board that oversees Southern California activities. Every August the group holds its national conference in Los Angeles, offering workshops led by some of the top names in the field.
"Our organization also sponsors grants for works in progress," says Sue Alexander, chairperson of the board of directors. "And every year we sponsor the Golden Kite Awards--one for fiction, one for nonfiction and one for picture illustration--for outstanding books written and/or illustrated by SCBW members."
Alexander said the group has about 4,000 members on its international rolls, more than 700 of whom are in Southern California.
Southwest Manuscripters, 4120 Via Solano, Palos Verdes Estates, (213) 378-5944. Southwest Manuscripters, which celebrated its 38th anniversary recently, is one of the oldest writing groups in the western United States. President David Kenney says, "There are no qualifications to join the Manuscripters; we welcome and encourage anyone who is interested in writing."
The group, which has about 120 members, meets at 8 p.m. the third Friday of each month (except August) at the Home Federal Savings & Loan Community Room, 1670 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach.
There are three writing contests a year open to members--short story, article and poetry--and cash prizes are awarded to the first three places.
Members receive a monthly newsletter. At the beginning of each meeting, members share market news and announce recent sales.
There is a guest speaker at most meetings; among those who have spoken are Rod Serling, Adela Rogers St. Johns, Jack Smith and Ray Bradbury (who has appeared before the group in 36 of the last 37 years). Meetings are open to the public.
Western Writers of America, P.O. Box 122, La Canada, Calif. 91011; (818) 354-6089. This is an international writers association with many Southern California members. According to R. C. House, editor of the Roundup, the group's newsletter, "WWA exists for mutual help and support and to promote, encourage and perpetuate the literature of the West, among readers as well as writers."
House said that the Western Writers of America holds no official meetings but that members sometimes gather informally. He added that the group benefits members through providing contacts among a network of writers, referrals and help with problems related to writing and marketing.
A requirement for the group's active-membership category is that an author be well published (three published novels or 28 paid-for articles) in the field of Western writing. Associate memberships are open to those with an interest in Western literature--including editors, agents and librarians--and to authors who do not yet meet requirements for active membership.
A spokesman for the group said that well-known Southern California members include Louis L'Amour; Thomas Thompson, who wrote many of television's "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke" and "Rawhide" episodes; and Don Balluck, who wrote many of the "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy" TV episodes.
"The group bestows annual awards upon individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Western literature and/or have broadened the understanding of the West," House says.
The Western Writers of America hosts a convention every June; this year's will be in San Diego June 27-30.
The group has about 600 members worldwide, House said.
Women Writers West, P.O. Box 1637, Santa Monica, Calif. 90406. "Women Writers West has been in existence approximately 10 years," says Vice President Rita White. "It is basically a support group for writers, both men and women. We hold monthly meetings that feature guest speakers and hold workshops. We network, and from the larger membership we have formed small workshop groups that meet more often, at members' homes."
The group holds an annual writers conference that is open to the public; this year's is March 19.
The monthly meetings are at the Mercury Savings & Loan, 6245 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, at 10 a.m. the fourth Saturday of every month. Most meetings are open to the public. Write for information.