Back in 2017, author Susan Buffum and her daughter Kelly started a local writing group called the WhipCity Wordsmiths. 

Since then, the Westfield-based group has grown from a just few participants to more than 100 members. They meet monthly and offer writers support and a chance to share their work with others who have a passion for the craft.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Kelly Buffum to learn more. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Back in 2017, author Susan Buffum and her daughter Kelly decided to start a local writing group called The WhipCity Wordsmiths.

Since then, the Westfield-based group has grown from just a few participants to more than 100 members.

They meet monthly and offer writers support and a chance to share their work with others who have a passion for the craft, and I spoke with Kelly Buffam to learn more.

Kelly Buffum, WhipCity Wordsmiths: They wanted a writing a group back in town. So, I’m like, “You want to do this? You want to do this? Do you want to do this?”

And they were like “Okay, we’ll try it. We’ll see what happens.”

And the response is much bigger than we expected.

Zydalis Bauer: And let’s talk a little bit about that response, because I read that in 2020, the group grew to 95 members.

So, what did that feel like for you guys and how has it been going?

Kelly Buffum: We’re good. We’re up to like, 100 — 125 members now, people all over. Amazing group of people. Very different backgrounds, very different types of writers.

Zydalis Bauer: Yeah. And that’s one of the things that I was going to ask you about, because I think it’s really cool and interesting that you welcome writers from all different types of backgrounds.

So, tell me a little bit about the people and the participants? I know you have over 100, so it’s hard to say, but what are some of the types of writers that you have in the group?

Kelly Buffum, WhipCity Wordsmiths: Well, we see everybody a different amount throughout the year. Some people you see a lot and some people you hear from occasionally online. And some people will show up for an event and you will see them not again for the rest of the year.

But we have both fiction and nonfiction writers. A couple poets. Mystery. Horror. Sci-fi. Fantasy. Mainstream fiction. Memoir, genealogy, you name it. We probably have somebody who writes it.

Zydalis Bauer: When I was setting up this interview with you and your mom, the one thing that really fascinated me is that you both have separate full-time jobs and writing is kind of really become your hobby, but you both are published authors with works.

So tell me, what is it about writing that you really connect with and that you love? Where does that passion come from for you?

Kelly Buffum: I like making stuff up, I guess. I’m usually always telling myself stories, whether or not they ever get written down is up for debate. It’s a — I guess it’s an escapist type of thing, you make whatever world you want with whatever rules you want.

Zydalis Bauer: And the WhipCity Wordsmiths meets monthly at different locations in Westfield.

So. tell me, what is the atmosphere like in that — in that group and the session, what goes on in there?

Kelly Buffum: The meetings are really consistently at the library now, which is nice. So, we get together for a couple of hours, we go over, “Hey, I’ve heard this event is going to happen or this event’s going to happen. You can sign up here,” and share that kind of news.

We do a little bit of sharing, like, “I’ve been working on this, I’m going to publish this soon. I just read this book by this other wordsmith that was really good. You all should read it, too.”

Ask for feedback and advice. You can read a piece and get feedback and go, “I have this idea, but I don’t know where to go with it” and get advice.

You can find beta readers. We have people who have helped each other get through Create Space –now Kindle Direct Publishing. We recommend small print publishers. All kinds of good things.

Zydalis Bauer: And I know that one of the goals of this writing group is to support one another on each of your writing journeys.

So, what is some of the growth that you’ve witnessed with the participants and maybe even within yourself?

Kelly Buffum: I’ve seen several people publish their first book. From sharing, “I’m nervous. I want to…what do you think of this?” to “Okay, I’ve got this draft, does anyone want to beta read it?” to “Hey, I’m going to publish it. You can come to my author event next month!” Which has been great.

So, it’s been a couple of people who’ve done their first works over time, watch people become more comfortable with each other and interact more, more willing to share. You know, you’ll have people that don’t talk for the first three or four meetings, and then they’ll come in and they’ll share a piece and connect with somebody else in the group, and they’ll get together outside of the meetings and work on their projects.

Zydalis Bauer: And to that point, I read in one of your blogs that no one understands a writer like another writer. And I thought that was really like a nice, nice comment.

So, talk to me about some of the challenges that you experience as a writer and how a group like this can really be beneficial.

Kelly Buffum: Yeah, there’s nobody else understands the voices in your head telling you stories that you have to put down on paper, which sounds not good to anybody who’s not a writer. It makes you sounds a little bit crazy, but that’s literally how writers work. And let your characters both talk back to you and put up roadblocks.

But sometimes just talking through what you’re trying to do with a story and what the problem is with somebody else who understands, that can go back to “Well, why don’t you try this?” “No, it’s not right.” “How about this?” “It’s not right.” “How about that?” “Oh, that sounds good!”

Zydalis Bauer: Yeah, I can imagine that that type of collaboration is unmatched, as to writing by yourself. And it made me think about the growth that I mentioned earlier during 2020, which was the start of the pandemic.

So, during the pandemic, was this group like exactly what people needed? Was it — was it really helpful to kind of deal with all of the emotions and everything that was happening?

Kelly Buffum: We struggled to be a little bit, though we did do some Zoom meetings, but we saw actually more online communication and get together. So, it seemed to be an outlet for people to talk to each other.

But a lot of people ran into writer’s block during COVID and some — some have started to write again, some have not. But they are still there cheering on the people who have started to write again, and they know that we’ll be there for them when they do start.

Zydalis Bauer: If there’s somebody out there that is similar to you that maybe is just writing as a hobby, but really wants to take it more serious.

What type of advice would you offer them?

 Kelly Buffum: Connect with other writers. You can be your own worst enemy sometimes when it comes to writing — because you will be a harsher critic.

Like, I will read something and go, “I hate what I wrote!” And somebody else will read it and is like, “This is good. Keep going with it!”

Networking is very important. Becoming traditionally published these days is becoming more and more difficult. So self-publishing and indie presses are becoming a bigger and bigger way to go. And finding people who have experience with that to help you out is important.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, in June of this year, 2022, you celebrated your fifth anniversary with the WhipCity Wordsmiths.

What would you like to see in the next year to come? How would you really love to see this group grow, and what do you want people to know about it?

Kelly Buffum: I’d like to see meetings keep going the way they’re going, maybe even more attendance. We’d like to see more author events and a bigger author presence at some of the local events.

We are — we do participate in ArtiCulture in Oktoberfest, put on by ArtWorks of Westfield. But we like to see more ability to do things like that. And even outside of that, we get the authors involved and out there in front of people.