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Catala: Lakeland writers’ group offers guidance, looking to grow

The Ledger
Published: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 2:39 p.m.

Florida Writers Association Lakeland chapter members Joe Midzalkowski and Alison Nissen are working to get the word out about the advantage of the group for established and aspiring writers.

It was at its peak around 2008-09, when about 20 members were active perfecting their prose, focusing their facts and fiction and verbally nourishing their narratives.

But over the past seven to eight years, membership in the Lakeland chapter of the Florida Writers Association (FWA) has considerably dwindled. Now, just a handful of five or six accomplished, professional, amateur and aspiring writers gather for the monthly meetings at the Sunshine Bank, 3340 S. Florida Ave.

A chapter of the Florida Writers Association — a nonprofit, public organization supporting the established and emerging writers, poets, editors, publishers and agents of all writing genres — the Lakeland writers group has become more of a period than exclamation point when it comes to punctuating participation.

But although the the group seems to be heading page by page toward a final denouement, it’s not at all coming to a close. Joe Midzalkowski and Alison Nissen are looking to write a new beginning for the local FWA chapter.

During a recent FWA Lakeland planning meeting, Midzalkowski, former head of the Polk County FWA, and Nissen, the FWA Lakeland group leader, discussed the current state of the Lakeland writers’ group. That writers’ organization joins at least three other similar groups in the county, such as the Creative Writing Critique Group that meets from 1 to 3 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday in the Winter Haven Public Library, which has about a dozen members.

At each Lakeland meeting, two members who had volunteered to submit a written piece no longer than ten pages and email it to other members, listen to critiques on their pieces.

Midzalkowski — who lives with his wife, Elizabeth, in Highland City — said the Lakeland FWA tended to have “older” members with more life experiences to write about and discuss. He said publicity about the group’s benefits hasn’t seemed to have had much impact helping the Lakeland chapter grow.

“We have a long-standing rule that all criticism is worth exactly what is paid for it — zero dollars — and we genuinely attempt to help the submitter to improve what he or she has written,” he said. “To a great extent, writers are insular people in their own little worlds. But at (FWA) meetings, it’s all positive feedback from others.”

“I want the people to be confident they can write the book or story that’s inside them and not feel stranded or abandoned,” added Nissen.

The feedback and sharing of advice and ideas has been the primary benefit Steve Hulsey has derived from his writing club memberships. Writing from his Auburndale home, Hulsey published his first suspense novel in 2012, “This Bullet’s For You,” and has a new mystery work in the hands of a publisher now.

A retired human resources director with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Hulsey, 73, is an FWA member and member of the Creative Writing Critique Group. He said each writing group was beneficial.

“You get opinions and feedback on your writing you wouldn’t get if you just wrote the stuff and sent it off,” he said. “The primary advantage is you get to exchange ideas, opinions and information with people who are like-minded.”

Writers are particularly focused types when it comes to garnering and maintaining interest in their writing, said Nissen. She said she just wished more hobby wordsmiths or seasoned scribes would take more interest in what local writing clubs have to offer — period.

“What we’re trying to do is help people who may feel frustrated, to be able to achieve their goals in writing,” she added. “We want to coax and gently guide people into understanding their own potential and build their confidence in writing.”

For information, see http://www.floridawriters.net, where a link to the Lakeland chapter can be found.

— Paul Catala can be reached at paul.catala@theledger.com or 863-802-7533. He can be reached at Twitter @pcat0226.

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