So you\u2019ve decided you want to write. Perhaps you want to share a personal experience or record a little piece of history. There may be fascinating characters pushing at the edge of your consciousness and plot lines teasing you as they urge you to risk discovering where they may lead. Maybe you have already started down a writing path and you\u2019ve arrived at a crossroads. Which way do you go and more importantly, how do you decide?\r\n\r\nEmerging children's author, Kristin Prescott tells us why every writer should join a writing group.Image Credit: Jeffrey James Pacres, Creative Commons.\r\n\r\nAs an emerging children\u2019s author, I found myself at that intersection not so long ago. After almost 20 years as a news journalist I was eager to let loose the restraints of facts and current affairs and let my imagination take control. But I had no idea if I could do it. My first supporters were my family. They nudged me forward to the edge of the cliff \u2013 I took a leap of faith. I wrote starts of stories (and even a few endings), interesting scenes, character descriptions and a rhyming picture book text, but honestly, I was meandering around with no real direction. I knew I loved writing but I also knew I had a huge amount to learn. If I was going to make this my life I was going to need some help. \u00a0Enter Zena Shapter, award winning author and founder of Sydney\u2019s Northern Beaches Writers\u2019 Group (NBWG). Zena says she started the group in 2009 in order to fill her own writing needs.\r\nThere were plenty of local support groups that acted as cheering squads for writers, but that wasn\u2019t going to improve my writing. I wanted serious feedback; and, since I was a full-time mum, I also wanted that feedback to be free. Starting my own group was the only way to achieve all that.\u201d\r\nThe group meets every month and after taking some time to build my courage, I made the journey to Sydney\u2019s Manly Wharf to meet them. It is a decision that has changed my life. The NBWG is just one of many writing groups in existence and as Zena explains, they play a crucial role for writers of all genres and abilities.\u00a0Since forming the NBWG, Zena is being published more frequently and has won eight national writing competitions.\r\n\r\n\u201cI don\u2019t think there will ever be an end to learning and improving as a writer, so I value every interaction I have with my writers\u2019 group \u2013 learning from others\u2019 experiences is so very valuable,\u201d Zena says.\r\n\r\nAfter just a single meeting, I was hooked. The critiques were thorough but ultimately positive and the members were encouraging and generous with their knowledge and experience. Soon after I joined, Zena put the call out for members interested in taking part in the \u201cWrite-a-Book-in-a-day\u201d competition, raising money for children\u2019s cancer charities. I\u2019m sure mine was one of the first hands in the air. Not only did our group of ten manage to write, edit, illustrate and submit an 11,000 word children\u2019s book in just 12 hours, our story Scribbles in the Dark also won National Best Book, National Best Illustrations and we raised the most money. As I stood at the awards ceremony to receive a certificate for the book I co-authored, I dared myself to think I might be able to do this after all.\r\n\r\nNaNoWriMo takes place every November and challenges writers to reach a 50,000 word target.Image Credit: Monda@NoTelling Photography, Creative Commons.\r\n\r\nSpurred on by my success, I decided to take on another challenge \u2013 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This time I was flying solo and I signed up to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Once again, it quickly became clear connecting with other writers was going to be key to success. Nick Hudson was the Sydney NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, and states being around other writers definitely keeps you motivated.\r\n\r\n\u201cKnowing you\u2019re not alone, being able to discuss your story in a welcoming environment, and sitting beside people that you don\u2019t have to explain why you write to, all makes you feel part of something bigger,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nNaNoWriMo is certainly big. This year 315,000 novelists signed up for the challenge worldwide. While each region held write-ins, it was social media that tied the entire community together.\r\n\r\n\u201cSocial media is fantastic for connecting people,\u201d says Nick. \u201cChecking Facebook or Twitter, those are things that people are doing anyway because they have the habit.\u201d\r\n\r\nThroughout the month I noticed I wasn\u2019t alone in relying on social media to help me through the motivational dips. NaNoWriMo driven online writing marathons and sprints, combined with encouraging comments from other participants keep pushing me forward. Then as the end of the month approached, the online writing community became one giant cheer squad. Whether a person had completed 500, 5000 or 50,000 words, they were given a big pat on their virtual backs. Nick says social media helped bring people together who might otherwise never have met.\r\nOne of the things that people discovered doing NaNoWriMo this year, is that there\u2019s lots of people just like them, who all want to talk about writing with someone, who go through periods of low confidence in their writing, but who persist with writing through the doubt and worry.\u201d\r\nI\u2019m thrilled to say I\u2019m one of the \u201cwinners\u201d having passed the 50,000 word target. The first draft of my children\u2019s fantasy series is now more than half written and I intend to have it finished early in the new year.\r\n\r\nI think this quote, shared by Nick at the start of NaNoWriMo sums up why being part of a writing community is so important:\r\nEveryone you meet \u2026 knows you first and foremost as a writer.\u201d\r\nI\u2019m still part of the Northern Beaches Writers\u2019 Group and the members continue to help me tear down and build my writing back up. I\u2019ve made some fantastic writer-friends who share their successes and perhaps more importantly their rejections. Through my connections I have been appointed the editor of the Society of Women Writers NSW quarterly magazine and e-news, one of the oldest and most prestigious writer\u2019s groups in the country. I found the right path by connecting with other writers, in person and online and I hope you do too.\r\n\r\nThe full interviews with Zena Shapter and Nick Hudson are available on Kristin Prescott's website, here.