Right Here, Write Now. Writers' Groups in the Lehigh Valley

By Sara Hodon

Have you ever thought about sitting down and actually writing the novel you’ve been toying with for years? Or earning extra money as a freelance writer? If you’ve been itching to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) but aren’t sure where to start, there are a number of groups in the Lehigh Valley that can help you hone your craft and work toward reaching your writing goals.

The Bethlehem Writers Group (BWG), Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (GLVWG) and Pocono-Lehigh Valley Romance Writers (PLRW) are just a few of the active writing organizations in the Lehigh Valley. Whether you’re looking for some guidance or feedback as you attempt to pen the Great American Novel or simply want to brainstorm and share ideas with other literary types, these groups may have just what you’re looking for.

Bethlehem Writers Group

Founded in 2006, the Bethlehem Writers Group’s members are a mix of both fiction and nonfiction writers in a wide range of genres, including paranormal mystery, humor, children’s writing and inspirational. The group initially met at Barnes and Noble on Route 33 when the then-store manager asked a bookseller to lead a writers group at the store. When that location became unavailable, the group moved to the Moravian College library, where they still meet during the school year, and the Giant Marketplace Cafe in Coopersburg during the summer.

Member Carol Wright says that the camaraderie established by the members has many benefits. “Writing is a solitary activity, so it’s good for writers to belong to a group that can give helpful feedback on their work while sharing the ups and downs of the writer’s life. We have learned a lot about writing through our critiques of each others’ short and long-form work, including critiques of entire novels,” she says. “Many of us have been together for several years, and as we’ve become better writers, we have also become good friends.” Besides members’ individual projects, the BWG has collaborated on a few larger projects. They’ve published an anthology of holiday stories, A Christmas Sampler: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Holiday Tales,  launched Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, an online literary magazine, and created a Short Story Award competition. BWG meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, and Wright says the group always welcomes new members “who are interested in giving and accepting constructive writing critiques, and who are committed to becoming more accomplished writers.” A Long Form Group, whose mission is to provide extensive, in-depth critiques of each other’s book-length works, meets on the fourth Tuesday and is by invitation only. For more information visit bethlehemwritersgroup.com.

Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group

Whether you’re looking for some assistance on what to do with your completed manuscript, constructive feedback on a work in progress or simply the company of other writers, GLVWG can likely help. As one of the longest-standing writers groups in the Valley (formed in 1993), GLVWG has offered a wide range of programs to  assist members with honing their craft as well as providing a forum for members to share their work.

Current GLVWG president Tammy Burke says that the group is open to writers in any genre at all levels of experience. “We attract people who have thought, ‘I want to write’ and have decided to give it a go, to published authors, and everyone in between,” she says. GLVWG holds regular meetings where members hear from a speaker offering tips or insight into some aspect of the art or craft of writing. “We’ve had topics on everything from Self-Publishing 101 to bringing in agents. We pretty much feature anything the membership would be interested in,” Burke says.

Every March GLVWG holds their Write Stuff Conference which attracts writers from all over the country. “We’ve had three consecutive sold-out conferences for the past three years,” Burke says. “The first year I joined, I co-chaired the conference, and our keynote speaker was James Frey, the author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel.” 2011’s keynote was literary agent Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel; 2012’s keynote was lawyer-turned-author James Scott Bell. “We offer two days of workshops prior to the conference itself,” Burke explains. “During the conference we offer 19 consecutive sessions. There are about 4 different sessions going on, so you choose what you want to hear about.” Sessions have focused on everything from writing poetry to cool tools for writers. As an added draw, GLVWG brings agents and editors to the conference, and attendees can sign up to meet with an industry professional for a 5-minute “pitch session” in which they try to find representation for their work. “It’s an action-packed two days,” Burke says.

GLWVG also holds a Writers Cafe at the PBS-39 Studios at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. “It’s a pretty awesome program. The first hour is an open dialogue among the writers, usually about something craft-related. The second hour is an on-the-spot critique where writers can read up to 500 words of a work in progress and get some feedback,” Burke says.

GLWVG’s meetings are held on the fourth Saturday of the month (except for March, July, August, and December) at the Palmer Library. For more information visit glvwg.org.

Pocono-Lehigh Valley Romance Writers

In 1997, a dozen budding romance authors teamed up to form the PLRW with some help from the Romance Writers of America, a national organization. Founding member Autumn Jordon says that although the group was formed with a particular niche in mind – romance – there is still a lot of diversity among their members. “Our members write everything from erotica to historical romance to romantic suspense,” she explains. A few non-romance writers in the membership provide an interesting balance.

Meetings are held monthly, followed by some informal critiquing. Besides hearing from fellow writers, Jordon says they have heard from speakers in other professions, as well. “We’ve had FBI agents, firemen, police officers, and a forensic psychologist,” she says. “Hearing from ‘real people’ helps us pick up on the details of those professions in our writing. It helps with authenticity,” she says. Jordon says their membership has fluctuated from the core 12 members to 35 members. On average, they draw 15-20 people at monthly meetings. Jordon says the critiquing is invaluable. “It’s very important, especially for a new writer. We’re a very supportive group, and brutally honest in our critique. We tell each writer to take what they want from our suggestions, but we give our honest opinions.”

Current president Kathy Kulig says that there’s never been a  better time to write romance. “Romance is hot right now,” she says, adding that there were approximately 8,000 romance titles released a few years ago. For Kulig, writing romance means that everything works out happily at the end. “There’s enough negative in the world. I just like reading and writing romance because even with the characters’ struggles, you know you’re always going to get the happy ending.”

PLRW meets on the second Saturday of each month, except for July and December, at the Palmer Library. For more information visit plrw.org.

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