It’s rare to find a writers’ group that is supportive and friendly. At least that’s the reality of many writers in the Washington Wordsmiths, a group that meets the fourth Wednesday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Washington Public Library.
For two years now, the Wordsmiths have been meeting and growing in number, from four who came together to organize the group to two dozen or so today.
“We average about 16 people per meeting,” said Nelson Appell, director of the Washington Public Library, who co-leads the Wordsmiths with Kim Brumgard, assistant director.
The Wordsmiths, which has just published its first anthology, is open to people of all ages. The youngest members are a couple of 14-year-olds who are freshmen at Washington High School.
Some are new to writing, while others have been doing it for 10 years or more.
Members come from all over Franklin County — Sullivan, St. Clair, Leslie, New Haven . . .
“We are an open group,” said Appell. “We call ourselves the Washington Wordsmiths, but we expand much wider than that.”
The purpose of the Wordsmiths is to encourage people’s writing and offer feedback. Each month, members can submit their writing — everything from fiction and nonfiction to poetry and songs — to Appell, who compiles all of the submissions into a PDF document that he emails out to everyone the week before the next meeting.
Members are asked to limit their submissions to 10 pages or less to keep the document manageable for members to read and process.
“When the group is as big as this, and everyone is enthusiastic and contributing, the packet grows really thick,” said Appell, noting he prints off a couple of paper copies of the document to keep at the library. “The last one was 90 pages.”
Members have one week to read the submissions and be prepared to provide opinions and feedback to the writers, both good and constructive, at the meeting.
“While we do offer criticism, we offer feedback more as a support group,” said Appell. “We encourage and lift each other up, find the good parts, and then we also look to where you can improve your writing too.”
One member went so far as to describe the group as “a cheerleading squad.”
Members who have attended other writing groups across the metro area said the Wordsmiths’ approach is refreshing, and it’s what keeps writers coming back month after month.
Father and son writers Michael and Jacob Ninness, Washington, had attended a training session that Kim Wuertz, a local publisher, had offered at another library.
“I was wanting to reach out and meet other writers in the area,” said Michael Ninness. “She suggested starting a writers’ group. So Jacob and I came here and talked with Nelson and Kim. We put a story in the newspaper, and it grew from there.”
Brumgard, who studied creative writing at Webster University, remembers being excited over the idea, but didn’t actually expect much to come of the group.
“This is not what we expected,” she said with a smile, looking around a large table surrounded by more than a dozen writers of all ages and interests.
Neither she or Appell thought the group would ever grow beyond the four of them.
“The first meeting we had at least 10 people, and it’s just gotten bigger from there,” she said.
Appell recalls talking with Judith Huntley, Washington, who has written and published a few books on her own, about her experience with writers’ groups.
“She and other people had told me they had tried to start writers’ groups in Washington before, but it hadn’t ever worked. No one was sure why.”
Members believe the reason the Wordsmiths is succeeding is the tone of the meetings.
“Part of the reason this group didn’t (fail) is because this group really focuses on being supportive and enthusiastic,” one member remarked.
Wordsmiths members say they come back month after month because they feel supported in the writing, not picked on, even when they are being given criticism.
“Some writers’ groups can end up being really ugly and rough on the participants,” a member said. “Sometimes we will pull off an in-depth session if somebody asks for it, but most of the time, everybody here wants to support each other.”
Dan Breithaupt, St. Clair, who published his first science fiction novel in July, said the feedback he received from Wordsmiths members about plot and story line made his novel better.
Prior to the Wordsmiths, at least a few of the members attended writers’ groups in St. Louis, but that wasn’t only far to drive, but those groups charged dues.
The Wordsmiths is completely free.
‘The Bridges Between Us’
It was around this time last year that Wuertz of KSWuertz Publications approached the Wordsmiths about putting together an anthology of their work.
“I usually do one anthology a year for a ‘good cause’,” said Wuertz. “In this case, it is important that new and/or unpublished writers have the opportunity to learn about what it takes to get their name in print.”
The writers liked the idea, and Ken Click suggested that “family” be the theme.
“I figured we all had one of those,” he said, with a laugh.
“And it’s a broad enough theme that you could approach it from any number of directions,” said Appell.
“Which we did,” Brumgard added.
Everyone was invited to submit a piece for the anthology. The only requirements were hitting the deadline and keeping each piece to less than 3,000 words.
“That was part of the challenging process,” said Appell, who has a piece included in the anthology. “We had to really edit the stories down to streamline them and make them fit that number of words. There was a lot of tightening.”
There was a group of nine Wordsmiths who edited all of the stories.
“So even though in our meetings, we review each others work, this was different,” said Appell. “You had to submit your work through an editing process. You had to be willing to take that feedback from all these different people, make corrections and then submit it again for a final edit.”
“It has been a lot of work, but it’s been a lot of fun too,” said Brumgard, who also has a piece in the anthology.
“The Bridges Between Us: Stories and Poems About Families” features the work of 20 area writers. For at least a handful of them, this is the first time they have had their work published.
Five writers who are included in the anthology are teenagers. The book includes a small biography about each writer.
Writers include Grace Appell, Nelson Appell, Kim Brumgard, Ken Click, Roberta Crider, Judith Huntley, Isaiah Kellogg, Natalie LaPlante, Julianne Lough, Tim Lyons, Michael Marrocco, Claire Nappier, Jacob Ninness, Michael Ninness, Leah Schulte, Jessica Seiter, Nancy Thater, Linda Wei, William Winkler and K.S. Wuertz.
The cover art featuring the old Missouri River bridge at Washington was created by Azusa Lloyd. Inside the book, a graphic break illustration of the bridge was created by Isaiah Kellogg.
The Wordsmiths will hold a book launch party Tuesday, Dec. 3, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Washington Library. People will be able to meet with the authors and talk about the book, their writing and learn more about the group.
There also will be refreshments.
Copies of the book will be available for sale at the party, as well as at Neighborhood Reads bookstore, 401 Lafayette St. in Downtown Washington, at the Washington Farmers’ Market through Judy Huntley’s booth and online at Amazon.com. At least one copy will be available to check out from the library.
“My hope is that the Washington community will applaud their efforts and . . . we’ll be able to get the word out that there’s an active writers’ group for all those interested in knowing more about writing and publishing,” said Wuertz.
National Novel Writing Month
Throughout the month of November, some of the Wordsmiths members have been participating in a National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
The Washington Public Library hosted an event last week, and East Central College held three events where writers could get together and work alongside each other as encouragement.
The purpose wasn’t to create a finished manuscript in 30 days, members said, but rather to give writers a boost in getting started. Entries are submitted to NaNoWriMo (at nanowrimo.org) for verification that they achieved the 50,000 word mark.
More Wordsmiths Welcome
New writers are always welcome to join the Washington Wordsmiths. All abilities are welcome.
People should call the library at 636-390-1070 to leave an email address to be added to the group’s mailing list.
Washington Public Library is located at the corner of Fifth and Jefferson streets, but the main entrance is off of Lafayette Street. The address is 410 Lafayette St.