Pens Around the World: 2021 and onward

The end of one year and the beginning of another is a traditional moment for reflection and planning. In this post I want to look back at what has happened here at Pens Around the World in 2021, and present some of our hopes and plans for 2022.

First, a little backstory. All the founder members of Pens Around The World were previously members of a similar group, Writers Abroad, run by historical and fantasy novelist Jo Lamb. Towards the end of 2020, after 10 years, Jo decided to close Writers Abroad. Some of us, mostly people who had fairly recently joined, decided to go forward together and build a replacement group. After several Zoom meetings, and many e-mail exchanges, we settled on a name, registered our domain and set up our website.

Pens Around the World

Pens around the world featured image

We launched Pens Around The World in April 2021. As it says on our front page, we are a peer group of creative writers working in English and living in far-flung places. Most of us live in a different land from where we started out. Some of us live in our native countries, but travel widely. We offer our members social interaction, professional encouragement and constructive criticism – things all writers in isolation need.

And, by the way, If this sounds like you – if it sounds like we offer things you are looking for – please do apply to join us! We’re very open to welcoming new members.

Wisdom and White-water rafting

To me, the period from April to December 2021 sometimes felt a bit like white-water rafting. Occasional, almost placid periods where the gentle flow of the water carried us along, interspersed with narrow and rocky stretches where the water rushed, chopped and boiled. (I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never actually done any white-water rafting, but this is what I imagine it might be like.)

Early on we agreed we needed a website with an outward facing side, and a more private inner section. Behind our virtual walls, we can share our work-in-progress, receive encouragement and constructive criticism and socialise. And plan how we want to develop our group.

Sue Borgersen at the launch of her book Fisherman's Fingers
Sue Borgersen at the launch of her book Fisherman’s Fingers

On our outward facing pages we publish a bi-weekly blog post with stories (and wisdom) about writing and our writers’ lives. If you look back at our Bi-Weekly Wisdom archive, you’ll find, for example, Sue Borgersen discussing the business of Launching books during pandemic lockdowns. (Sue has practical experience!) Gail Aldwin, another member who published in 2021, has written posts with practical advice on writing during a pandemic, and taking part in writing residencies. Our most senior member, poet, artist and writer Bruce Dodson, has called on all introverts to unite, Kimberly Hirsch has written on our earliest stories, and Nigel Wild on minding one’s language. Our newest member, Michael Pudney, who wrote a book, asked Does that make me Cool? Yes, Michael, very cool! And I mustn’t forget our most read post, Writing is Like a Team Sport by guest blogger Laura Besley.

Pensives: our writing prompts

Bruce’s cats

On the weeks in between our Wisdoms, you’ll find our Pensives, which are writing prompts you may find useful to help you kick-start your writing day. Each of us has a different style for these. The Pensives are open to all visitors, so even if this fortnight’s Pensive doesn’t do anything for you, do browse the archive. You’re sure to find something to spark your creativity, from Debbie Hubbard’s Snowballs or Flights of Fancy to Patricia Cole’s prompts about the mind-broadening effects of travel, to Gail’s Bridges, Bruce’s Cats and Birds, Kimberly’s news story, Sue’s toothpaste tubes and my own Windows or Halloween horror offerings.

Front page social

Visitors who scroll down a little way on our front page will find that we also make an effort to amplify the advertising for our members fortunate enough to have published books. Our slider of front covers, as I write, carries seven titles, six by individual members and one of an anthology with pieces by many of us.

A little further down still and you’ll see the latest of our author videos. These also appear on our YouTube channel and are dedicated to readings, interviews and conversations between our members. And having mentioned one of our social network channels, I can’t ignore the somewhat greater reach of our Twitter account, currently Gail’s responsibility, or the Facebook account that Debbie maintains. (Potential new members note: Gail and Debbie would welcome help with these!)

So, that is where we are at the end of 2021. What of 2022?

Zooming ahead

Having used Zoom for our regular monthly business meetings during the year, we took the step in December of buying a pro subscription to Zoom for the coming year. We still need to learn all the finer points, but we hope we’ll be able to make much greater use of Zoom in 2022. We look forward to more opportunities for us to write together, share our writings, and give feedback and encouragement. Hopefully we’ll also be able to open places in some of our Zoom meetings to non-members in order to give others – perhaps you, dear non-member reading this! – an opportunity to share writings, meet with us and perhaps feel encouraged to apply for full membership.

Gail Aldwin talks Huxley
Gail’s video thumbnail

Among the things we offer members is a pool of willing fellow writer-volunteers for constructively critical feedback and beta readings pre-publication. We can also write book reviews post-publication on various platforms (on GoodReads, or our own websites perhaps), and help to puff a book, for example by sharing links. We hope to add more videos to the YouTube channel. In particular we’d like to add more readings and (with the help of the new Zoom account), start creating video conversations between two or more members. Perhaps we might also be able to offer interviews with non-member authors.

Behind the website

Behind the scenes, we share publishing opportunities, competitions and ideas. Several of us have benefited from these, having poems, flash fiction and stories accepted during 2021. We hope this side of our work will continue and expand in 2022, and that more of us will benefit from these suggestions.

The website is a work in progress. We think we’ve got the most of it working satisfactorily now, but new members with knowledge of WordPress and BuddyPress – or the interest to learn about these platforms – will be welcome. We hope we will all be able to devote more time in 2022 to filling the site with value for one another and less time tinkering with the site’s shape and appearance.

Actual writer
The author, authoring

In preparation for writing this blog post, I canvassed my fellow members to get their thoughts about the group and what they would like to get out of our co-operative endeavour in 2022. Everyone has personal ambitions, of course, but I hope I’ve been able to represent the collective fairly in this. If anyone feels I’ve missed something important, please do add it in the replies below.

But for now, I’m going to heave a deep sigh of relief and sign off. There will be no post next week or the week after (the last and first Mondays of the two years), but I will post a greetings card from us all. So you can look out for that. (And if you want to be sure of getting notifications about future posts, please subscribe!)

The first post after the holidays will be on Monday 10th January. Till then, I wish you all, despite all difficulties and negativity in the world, a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday. Here’s hoping for a better year for us all in 2022.

John

4 Comments

  1. Dear John, an enormous thank you for all you do. Pens (my pet name for our group) is proving to be an integral and important part of my writing life. I do not know what I’d do without you all. Wishing you a peaceful Christmas from my side of the Atlantic.

  2. This is a great review of where we’ve come from and where we want to go. It’s kind of remarkable to see this all in one spot.

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