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A Community of Writers Without Boundaries: The Making of Southeast Missouri Writers’ Guild

by Donna EssnerSEMO

As writers we know that creating memorable prose is sometimes frustrating, fraught with starts and stops, accompanied by moans and groans, hair pulling, and gnashing of teeth.  Sometimes in response to that frustration—at least for this writer—our vocabulary digresses to verbiage not fit for, well, anyone. So, for the most part, I guess it’s a good thing we are a solitary bunch!

But writing in solitude can only take a writer so far. As writers, we must look past our creations, open the door, and embrace other writers, as well as welcome (or at least learn to negotiate) the publishing world of agents, editors and publishers. What better way to do all of this than by joining a writer’s guild?

That’s exactly what Dr. Susan Swartwout envisioned. As editor of the University Press and a professor in the creative writing program at Southeast Missouri State University, Dr. Swartwout realized there was a need for a professional and formalized writing organization for writers who were not necessarily students.

So, in a joint effort, Dr. Swartwout and I put our heads together and developed a set of guidelines for a local writer’s guild. One thing we did not want was to exist in isolation or to offer membership only to writers within the Cape Girardeau community. Instead, we wanted a “community of writers without boundaries” — a network of writers no matter their address, no matter their genre, no matter their writing or publishing experience — coming together to create a place to share writing and experience and learn to navigate the road to publication, connect to agents, editors, speakers.

And in order to align our guild with other professional writers throughout Missouri, we upped the professional ante and registered our Guild as a chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. We also formally registered our group, Southeast Missouri Writers’ Guild, as a non-profit organization with the state of Missouri, then we put out the call for members and held our breath.

That was three years ago this month. At our first official meeting in January 2011, the room filled, every seat was taken, and by the end of the meeting there were 23 official SEMO Writers’ Guild members! Proof that Dr. Swartwout’s vision of the need for a local, professional writing guild was right on point! And we continue to grow. At last count, our membership sat at 33.

Since then, we published our first member anthology and are working on our second. Our members have won contests, published novels, and presented workshops. We’ve hosted noted authors, editors, publishers, and speakers throughout Missouri, who offered their expertise on everything from craft to blogging to publishing to marketing. And for the first time, we are sending one lucky member, Rick Lettau, to the 2014 Missouri Writers’ Guild annual conference—registration fully-paid. What better way to offer one of our own a chance he or she might not otherwise encounter?

For any writer who thinks that writing is only a solitary venture, think again. Joining or starting a writer’s guild can set more in motion for a writer than ever imagined—new friendships, new contacts, new critique partners, increased knowledge of the craft of writing, critiquing, pitching, revising, speaking, and even navigating the totally different animal of publishing. It might even help you grab that gold ring—a coveted book deal.

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