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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:01:24 19:51:02

Group members Kristen Durso, Alex Manorek, Tom Granahan, Dan Pape, Josh Urban, and Louisa Stephens. PHOTO BY KRISTEN MULLEN

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be experienced communally.

Local wordsmiths now have a forum to share their creative pursuits via NEPA Creative Writers, a group geared around encouraging and developing the aspiring poets and novelists of the valley.

Founded in 2015 by Exeter resident Josh Urban, the group meets every other Wednesday evening at Taylor Community Library. There, members discuss and critique each other’s work in an open, welcoming setting.

This month, the group will meet Feb. 14 and 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Offering up one’s writing for public consumption can be difficult, but Urban said anyone serious about improving their craft should consider joining the group.

“When people are new, they’re nervous about what they’re submitting, because they don’t know us yet. But once they go through a whole meeting, they see we’re pretty open,” Urban said. “It’s meant to be constructive. It’s meant to help. We don’t tear into people. Some people come in who haven’t written too much. We don’t want to scare anyone away — we don’t bite.”

Member Alex Manorek said his writing skills have “grown considerably” since joining the group in March 2016.

“The constructive criticism and feedback has helped me become a stronger writer. The group will often challenge us to take pieces further and push toward publication,” Manorek wrote in an email. “We’ve also built a community where we interact with one another frequently between meetings. I love the friendships that have blossomed as a result of this group.”

A structural engineer by profession, Urban first developed his love for writing in college. After graduating, he only got more interested in it, to the point where he wanted to show it to others.

Urban initially set up the group on Meetup.com. Eventually, he created a website, A Writing Hand (awritinghand.com).

The response was good, but at first the group went through quite a bit of turnover, Urban said. Now, though, there’s a core group of about eight to 10 members of various ages and backgrounds. Some are more interested in poetry, while others focus their energies on prose.

“It’s a well-rounded group,” said Urban, a short story enthusiast.

Before every meeting, members upload whatever they’re currently working on to the website. That way, everything has been read by the time of the meeting.

“Because we only have two hours, we like to spend most of the time on the feedback,” said Urban, noting people who can’t make the meetings can still submit their work online for feedback.

While most members come up with their own subject matter, Urban does offer optional writing prompts for those who want to experiment.

The conversation at meetings is often spirited, yet always respectful, Urban said.

“We just go around the table. It’s just a very open-ended discussion,” he said. “It kind of evolves as the meeting goes on. You don’t always know where it’s going to go, but it’s always interesting.”

Member Tom Granahan joked that the members have been “librarian shushed” on more than one occasion due to their boisterous banter.

“What I most like about this inspired group, aside from the fact that I now consider them friends, is that they are all respectful readers, and serious, thoughtful commentators,” Granahan wrote in an email. “I think if you’re serious about finding the right voice for yourself or the best structure for the story you want to tell, you need people who are honest and encouraging, who can remind you to be humble and to trust your readers, especially if they are also writers.”

Perhaps what Urban loves most about the group is watching his fellow members continually evolve as writers.

“The group really does help people grow. I know it’s helped me,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s the whole point of it.”

For more information on NEPA Creative Writers, visit awritinghand.com or meetup.com/NEPA-Creative-Writers.