Beyond The Keyboard: Tales Of A Local Writer’s Club

A newcomer to the group, Susan Flynn, just donated her “A Journey into Serenity: A Personal Path to Self-Transformation” to the local library. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  HOWELL – A medley of writers gather at the local library once a month and take the solitude out of their creative endeavors.

  The four who made it to the February meeting of the Monmouth Writers came from backgrounds as varied as their imaginative works. Outsiders might wonder what a college professor, a self-proclaimed trophy husband, a one-time science journalist, and a nonprofit leader have in common.

  As writers, the group shares a common bond in stringing words together to paint vivid pictures. Their agreement to exchange feedback serves to augment the limitations of self-assessment – and also provides some inspiration.

  Jon Gibbs of Manalapan said the Monmouth Writers group began in October and sometimes had as many as 8-10 fledging authors in attendance at monthly meetings.

  “What we do here is critiquing,” said Gibbs. “I think critiquing is a skill – and that being critiqued is also a skill.”

  Gibbs pointed out that many people don’t realize how personal their writing is until someone else decides to comment on it. Therefore, the group tries to embrace what Gibbs called a “neggi sandwich approach” in providing peer feedback.

Members of the Monmouth Writers Group meet at the Howell Library on the second Saturday of each month. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  “That’s where you find something positive to say,” Gibbs explained, “Then you find something you feel might need a little work, and then end with something positive that works for you.”

  Writers who attend the monthly meetings are encouraged to limit works for evaluation to 1,500 words and bring along copies for distribution.

  Rather than read their own submittals aloud, writers can hear how someone else’s intonations make their work come alive.

  Hazlet resident James Netterwald once worked as a journalist writing science stories for a prominent national publisher. Now disabled, Netterwald employs an alternative tone to his current endeavors.

  As a songwriter, Netterwald not only puts together the lyrics; he also composes and produces the music and inserts his own vocals. The finished product stands by the old adage that the best works come from what writers know best.

  A romantic break-up led Netterwald to a meeting with a therapist, who the songwriter questions in a piece entitled “Dear Therapist.”

  The commentary came after the group listened to the print version of Netterwald’s lyrics.

  “I like the idea of addressing a therapist,” shared Anne Morris of Howell. “The whole narcissism thing is hot in the news now, so I think this is very timely.”

  Morris said that she was a bit unclear about parts of what Netterwald was trying to convey. Was the songwriter’s intent to end a dysfunctional relationship or to break up with his therapist?

  Netterwald responded to the feedback with some insight and considered some subsequent suggestions. The big treat came when he played the song, and the melodic tones provided another layer of meaning to the lyrics.

  “It’s got a catchy rhythm,” Gibbs said. “I actually like songs when you’re listening to them, but you don’t really listen to the words. You’re getting hooked on the music…and then when you’re enjoying it, you stop and decide to pay attention to the lyrics.”

Jon Gibbs explained how the writers group helps each other. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Morris was next in line to share her work but had to race out to a meeting before the others had the opportunity to review it. A college professor, Morris only had a few short moments to express her frustrations with the novel she’s been writing for the last five years.

  “I’ll look, and I’ll see what sentence sounded better, “shared Morris. “I wrote this one and I recently wrote another one that’s describing the same thing. In the beginning of a book, you want it to be snappy so that people will want to get in and find out what’s going on.”

  The self-edits seemed to partially come from a friend who suggested that a portion of Morris’ book was akin to beating a dead horse with a rubber hose.

  Blunt feedback can sting – especially when it comes to words rearranged to tell the best stories. And Morris couldn’t make it clearer how critical it is for her to finish her final chapters.

  “I was in a car accident recently,” Morris said. “The first thing I could think of was, oh my God, I didn’t finish my novel.”

  Gibbs said he was only half-joking when he described himself as a trophy husband. Originally from England, Gibbs and his wife decided it made economic sense for him to stay at home with their twin daughters with special needs.

  Despite no formal education beyond the age of 16, Gibbs has been invited to give several workshops for budding authors. He also taught a creative writing course at Georgian Court University.

  On his second novel intended for middle school kids, Gibbs said he’s alternated between titling his book “Dead Doris” or “The Ghosts of the Golden Mansion.”

  Gibbs provided a brief summary of the novel whose lead character is a 12-year-old boy originally from England. The family owns a mansion in a state of some disrepair. While not giving too much of the plot a way, the child’s grandfather tends to be eccentric, albeit likable.

  “I like all the different references,” said Netterwald after reading the story aloud. “I like that you have older references and then some modern references like Netflix.”

  “I liked the language, and I think the characterizations are very good,” Netterwald continued. “I would just like to see a bit more eccentricity in the main character though.”

  Susan Flynn of Howell runs a nonprofit focused on helping women. She learned about Monmouth Writers when she came into the library to drop off a book already published with her byline.

Anne Morris provides some constructive criticism to James Netterwald, a songwriter and musician. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  As a newcomer, Flynn spent the meeting mostly observing rather than offering feedback to her fellow writers. She then shared the basis for her “A Journey into Serenity: A Personal Path to Self-Transformation.”

  Again, the concept of writing about what you know best surfaced in the writer’s introduction to the group.

  Flynn’s work is both reflective and inspirational and includes quotes from various sources.

  “I’ve been working on myself for the past 25 years,” admitted Flynn. “Over the years, I’ve read a lot of self-help books. I went to seminars and classes and am now a life coach.”

  One other aspect of writers gathering together provided fruitful – the group spoke about different publishing opportunities and touched on aspects of copyright law.

  Writers take to their craft for assorted reasons and can often feel alone in the process. Meanwhile, the concept of sharing feedback dates back to the times of Socrates and Plato. Some consider writers’ groups a support system for dealing with self-doubt and relief from writer’s block.

  Monmouth Writers meets every second Saturday of the month at the Howell Library starting at 9:30 a.m. More information is available at

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at