Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Shut Up & Write: Julie Howard on Finding a #Writing Community

Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely business

You’d think my laptop is my best friend. We go to coffee shops together, it rides next to me in my car, and I spend hours alone with it. When it’s feeling rundown, I’m the one it relies on to plug it in and lift its energy. Right now, we’re on vacation in Canada and spending a week in a mountain chalet with a tremendous view of the Selkirk Mountains. This can’t be a healthy relationship.

To be a writer, you have to write. That means you’re alone much of the time and, for me, focused on an imaginary world. This is a recipe for cutting oneself off from reality and real relationships. It shouldn’t be surprising loneliness creeps in. Several years ago, I found a great solution that not only solves the issue of human contact, but also significantly inspires my writing.

At first, I did what a lot of writers do. I went to coffee shops. There, at least, the voices and clatter of humans surrounded me. A few customers found their way into my stories – whether through their voice tones or hair color or the shape of their nose. A snippet of conversation became the inspiration for a side plot. I became friendly with a few of the other regulars who appeared each morning and the baristas knew my order before I arrived at the counter.

Then I discovered Shut Up & Write, a Meetup group for working writers of all sorts. It’s a very casual group, now with more than 25,000 members around the world, and totally free. I joined first in Sacramento, Calif. and started two morning groups there. Now I live in Boise, Idaho and launched the first Shut Up & Write there. We have well over a hundred members and have four writing sessions a week at various coffee shops. Writers sign up online to hold their spot for a session, show up and chat for a bit, and then write quietly on their own project for an hour. An hour doesn’t seem too long, but it’s amazing how joining others with the same creative energy spurs one forward.

My projects progress, but there’s also the benefit of friendships that develop and the mentoring I see happen. We share information about editing, plot development, writing conferences, and the long road to publishing. We also show each other pictures of our children and pets, offer suggestions on restaurants, and cheer each other on.

Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely business. If you don’t have a Shut Up & Write in your community, you may consider starting one. There’s information about the organization here.

Happy writing!

Julie Howard is the author of the Wild Crime series. She is a former journalist and editor who has covered topics ranging from crime to cowboy poetry. She is a member of the Idaho Writers Guild and founder of the Boise chapter of Shut Up & Write. Learn more at

Crime Times Two (coming Fall 2018):

Meredith knows three things: First, the man in the library begged her to help him. Second, he was afraid of his wife. Third, now he’s dead.

While the evidence first points to a natural death, Meredith is certain there’s more to discover. People are tight-lipped in this small mountain village, and the man’s wife isn't talking either. Then a second death occurs, with remarkable similarities. It’s time to talk about murder. 

As a slow-burning relationship heats up in her own life, Meredith struggles with concepts of love and hate, belief and suspicion, and absolution and guilt. Nothing is clear cut…

She must decide: Is guilt, like evil, something you can choose to believe in?


Jowls quivered under the man’s weak chin, and Meredith noted the stained and frayed shirt of someone who spent a lot of time alone in dark rooms, sending out a better version of himself into the virtual world. His eyes were anxious and beseeching at her as though she should have a clear understanding of him and his life.

Somehow, over the past hour and a half they’d been sitting next to each other – him playing video games and sharing his life story and her ignoring him the best she could – she had become his confessor and friend.

Meredith gave him what she hoped was an impartial-though-quasi-friendly smile. She reached for her purse and papers and rose from her chair. “Well. Nice talking with you.”

The man was lost in his own train of thought and seemed only slightly aware that Meredith was leaving.

He shook his head, morose.

“To make a long story short,” he summed up, “I think my wife is trying to kill me.”

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Get Julie's first novel, Crime and Paradise, in paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Shut Up & Write sounds like a unique way for writers to network and socialize. For me, however, it wouldn't work. Why? I'm a desktop computer author. I don't use laptops, and I'm not that person carrying one around with me everywhere I go. For notes on the go, I actually use a pen and paper. Imagine that! For the majority of writers, Shut Up & Write is the perfect solution. I wish there were a similar idea for those of us (are there any besides me?) who don't care to use laptops.