Stockholm Writers’ Group Celebrates Twenty Years

For twenty years, the Stockholm Writers Group (SWG) has supported native-English writers—and some non-natives—living in the Stockholm area. It started small. Now, more than a dozen active members write fiction and some nonfiction, including memoir. Besides meeting to critique one another’s writing, the Group holds workshops and hosts visiting writers.

The first meeting in 1985 was the initiative of Pat Brick, who worked at Statistics Sweden. The few members met once a month in the beginning, with one writer presenting work that had been sent out in advance. The Round Robin newsletter of the American Women’s Club of Stockholm (AWC) helped spread word of the Group.

The Swedish adult-education system has been another pillar of support. Through an organization that ran study circles, the Group found meeting space on Kungsholmen in Stockholm. “It was very convenient,” remembers Martha Gale, a long-time member, “except for the night we were locked in and had to get help from the fire department to climb out of the window.”

Over the years, meetings have been held in private homes and workplaces. Employers granted use of conference rooms and copying machines. For a few delicious years, meetings were held at Vetekatten, a Stockholm patisserie landmark that made it convenient to celebrate completed manuscripts or encouraging agent letters with a cake and pastries.

Once again, SWG is organized as a study circle. It meets in a classroom of Folkuniversitet every other Wednesday, breaking for the three summer months. During the summer, however, workshops or buddy meetings are sometimes necessary. A writer’s road to publication is paved with rejection slips, and group members must be ready to help keep a fellow writer on the path.

Originally, one writer would mail manuscript materials (as in Xerox copies, stamps and envelopes) to other members in advance of meetings. Sometimes, writers brought materials for immediate reaction (works best with poetry). Deadlines for presentation materials were adapted to post-office dispersal, email, and eventually Facebook. A method of discussing the material as if the writer was not present (“in the green room”) was introduced by a member’s visiting mother. For a while, presenters chose whether they wanted to be in the green room, go around the group for individual critiques, or have a general discussion.

At the moment, three members present per session of 100–135 minutes. The material to be critiqued is introduced and the discussion is chaired by a member other than the presenter—much like the Swedish opponent system of dissertation presentation.

Publish or perish? One philosophical point of discussion was whether publication should be a Group goal. Not all members wanted to publish. This discussion bore fruit—in the publication in 2003 of Point of Departure, an anthology of Group work at the time.

Socializing—the risk of meetings devolving into kaffeeklatsches—is perhaps inherent in the Group’s joining of like-minded people, stranded together abroad. But it becomes frustrating if the goal is to focus on critique.  Seriously reviewing the work of three writers per session has necessitated purging the social aspect from the biweekly meetings.

Socializing happens at other times. Friday lunches were once a chance to meet casually, do a writing exercise, and get to know other writers or potential members. When the lunches were no longer possible, Friday-afternoon butt-to-chair sessions (meeting to write in silence) took over, followed by butt-to-booth over drinks. Online chats have been happening since technology permitted. A Yahoo! Groups page was replaced by a secret Facebook group accompanied by an official website,  Off-site workshops or conferences include time to talk shop. Liebrary, a game that stimulates and challenges writing skills through creative lying, is a favorite past-time. Visiting writers at the Stockholm Kulturhus is another. Or, a member in the mood might invite the whole Group for dinner.

On April 18, 2015, to celebrate twenty years of writing short stories, novels, creative nonfiction, plays, and poetry, current and former members and spouses gathered in the home of Catherine Pettersson, noshing on food of the U.S. Southwest. For a few hours, talk of writing techniques and goals was avoided to enjoy the company of all those who make the SWG a supportive haven of creative expression aimed at publication.

Check out the gallery for photos.

Written by Karen Hagersten