Beyond Words

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The Gettysburg Writers Brigade gathers weekly for inspiration and camaraderie

By James Rada, Jr.  |  Photography by Blair Thomas

On any given Wednesday night, on the second floor of O’Rorke’s Eatery & Spirits in Gettysburg, you’ll find a group of men and women gathered around a long table. Some of them will be eating, some sipping a beer, many of them talking to one another. Newcomers are welcome to the group, but if you sit down, you had better be ready to hear some unusual topics of conversation. How do you make dialogue snappier? How do you use Facebook to promote your writing? How do you get your novel published?

Members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade are all likely to have an opinion on the topics and probably not the same opinion, but that diversity of ideas is what makes the group so useful.

Writing a book is on a lot of people’s bucket lists, but they don’t know how to get started. The blank page that they are expected to fill with words can be intimidating. But, they don’t have to face the challenge alone or uninformed. For nearly seven years, the Gettysburg Writers Brigade has been helping writers navigate the pitfalls of writing a book while at the same time offering encouragement to those writers.

Will Hutchison, an author of three novels and two nonfiction books, formed the group in 2010. “I think writers need to talk to writers, and I wanted to get together with some writers to talk,” he says.

Since January 4, 2010, the group has had 372 official meetings and numerous unofficial ones. The official meetings are about 60 percent social and 40 percent writing technique with a little bit of critiquing thrown in, according to Hutchison. It seems to be a combination that works. Group membership has grown from six to eight members to 83 members on Meetup.com and 8 to 12 people on average attending the Wednesday night sessions.

Curt Herring is one of the newest members of the group. He joined in July 2016 when he was looking for tips on how to write a book about his father. A neighbor who was a member of the group told him about it. “I like the fellowship, and I’m learning something new every week,” Herring says. “I look forward to it each week.”

Not everyone in the group is an unpublished author. When the Gettysburg Writers Brigade first began, Hutchison was the only published author, but now he estimates that a third of the group has either had articles, books, poetry, or something else published. “More people are getting published, and that’s the bottom line,” Hutchison says.

Gail Furford joined the group in 2012 and now has two books published. “I like the input I get from each member,” she says. “I like learning from each other’s styles.

Even the group’s founder learns from the meetings. He has had two of his books published since the group started meeting. “This group has also helped me write the books. I bounce ideas off the group and get feedback from the critiques,” Hutchison says.

While most writers groups are critiquing sessions that can be quite brutal to an insecure author, the Gettysburg Writers Brigade only does readings once a month. The group critiques must be constructive to help the author and not tear down the writer’s confidence or enthusiasm for writing.

A typical meeting begins with members filtering in a half hour or more before the meeting just to talk about what is happening in their lives. Between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. when it looks like everyone who is going to show up is in the room, Hutchison will get the group’s attention.

Sometimes there are general announcements to be made. Other times, he simply gets started on the evening’s presentation. It will be something related to writing, whether it’s technique, marketing, publishing, etc. Each week’s topics are decided on by the group at the end of the previous meeting. “There’s a lot of pressure to have a presentation each week, but this is how the group likes it,” Hutchison says.

He originally thought the Gettysburg Writers Brigade would meet monthly, but the members enjoy the regularity of weekly meetings. “It’s fun to sit with people who are going through exactly the same things you’ve gone through writing,” Hutchison says.

Furford agrees see page. “I’m getting so much more than I expected out of the group, learning from people’s different styles and the various topics,” she says.

Interested in attending? The Gettysburg Writers Brigade meets every Wednesday on the second floor of O’Rorke’s. All writers from novice to seasoned veterans are welcome to participate.

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