Journeys and the Importance of Writing Communities

Claire Gallagher

Claire Gallagher | June 28, 2024

Journeys and the Importance of Writing Communities


My Writing Journey

During my formative years, I had spells when I thought I’d like to be an author when I grew up (if we ever really do). But I didn’t know any writers and it seemed like something that other, cleverer, more privileged people did, not someone like me.

But when I reached my late twenties, in a burst of creative energy, I had an idea for a premise of a middle-grade fantasy-adventure novel and had no choice but to write it. I loved my Saturday morning sessions on my laptop, which I fitted around my prep for my full-time job as a teacher.

Long story short, other than some lovely feedback and one full manuscript request (which I never heard back about despite a couple of follow-up emails), I failed to secure a literary agent with that novel. Then life intervened: I had two children, life got busier and more chaotic, and I didn’t write for several years.

Then, when my children became more independent, and I had reduced to working part-time hours, I got another flash of inspiration. I was writing again, and I remembered that there’s nothing like it. A few books followed in short succession, some which I eventually self-published, some which joined the middle-grade novel in a dusty drawer. Attempts to secure an agent were unsuccessful.

Then, in my late thirties, I had a health scare. On the road to recovery, I realised that I wanted to take my writing even more seriously. I successfully applied for a place on a selective writing course run by a big literary agency. Being accepted was the validation I needed that writing with the aim of being traditionally published wasn’t just a pipe dream.

Validation was a huge boost to my confidence but what else did I get from the course? Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t the regular tutoring or masterclasses, it was meeting other writers – the first time I’d ever encountered such like-minded people. And boy was it exhilarating to finally find my people! To meet others who share my ambition, to receive constructive feedback on my work and offer it in return, to stay in touch and cheer each other on from the sidelines as we each continued to progress our novels long after the course was over…well, the consequence of getting on the course has been priceless.

Then what happened? Well, the novel I worked on during the eight-month course received some full manuscript requests from agents but went no further than that and I decided to self-publish it. Meanwhile, I had been toying with a memoir. But I couldn’t make it work. I was too close to it. It was too painful. It was exposing. Then inspiration struck – I could incorporate my experience into a novel. Fiction, I decided, would enable me to be more objective about the situation I wanted to share. Though I would use my insight, it would be a character going through the trauma, not me re-living it. I wrote that novel in less than two months. It became In Sanity and was taken on by a literary agent. While it’s out on submission to publishers, I’m working on several other manuscripts. I love the initial seed of an idea, the excitement of writing ‘Chapter One’ and the thrill of bringing the characters and their story to life on the page.



So where does Litopia fit in? I discovered Litopia through Pop Up Submissions, which I came across through the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbook. I watched many, many Pop Up episodes on You Tube and was impressed by the supportive yet honest feedback given by guests, Litopians (via The Chat Room), and of course, Agent Pete. At first, I was nervous about joining Litopia and reaching out to strangers. Online writing communities, after all, can be like the Wild West. But what I quickly realised was that Litopia was bursting at the seams with inviting, talented, mutually-respectful and supportive writers. Once again, I had found my people.

So what have I gained from being a member? Where do I start? From the educational Seminars to the critiquing Lab and weekly confidential Huddles with Pete, to the stimulation of Craft Chats, Blog posts, Café Life and the Thought of the Day, there’s no end to how being a member has changed me as a writer. If I had to pick one thing out that’s had the biggest impact on me, it would be reading the critique of Litopians on both my own and other’s writing, together with the privilege of being able to evaluate the work of fellow writers and attempt to apply such objectivity when editing my own manuscripts. I would encourage everyone who hasn’t dipped their toe into the world of the Lab and Huddles to dive in. Yes, it can be daunting at first but believe me, it’s worth it.



This whole blog post is about my experience, but I thought I’d add some specifics here. From excerpts of my novels to short stories destined for competitions, I’ve received amazing feedback on Litopia. Yes, you have to reflect on which advice to take and which doesn’t resonate with your aims for your work, especially when there’s conflicting critique, but there are always nuggets of gold to take away, on both the line level and big picture.

I’m told I write well, but there are elements of craft that I need to develop. I need to ensure that I include a bit of drama and what Pete calls ‘cookies’ early in the text. I’ve learned the importance of voice. I now understand ‘show not tell’ in more depth. I know that experimental writing is a risk for a debut author when it comes to getting traditionally published. And my knowledge of the business-end of publishing has vastly improved.

I’d like to end with a huge thank you to Pete. He leads the way in establishing Litopia as a respectful, encouraging and safe place for writers to share what is often a vulnerable process. Writing can be a lonely task, and Pete has developed a place for us all to come together and share the journey. Thanks also go to the Litopians who contribute to this wonderful community, who give their time freely to read the work of others and offer feedback. I’m so glad I found you.


Final Thoughts

What has your writing journey been like?

What do you get out of being a member of Litopia?

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