Sometimes I think writing is akin to devoting one’s life to the sound of one hand clapping. Yes, our characters talk to us; and yes, our imaginations continuously strobe ideas and seeds for fiction and nonfiction our way.

But we also need the camaraderie of fellow writers, compatriots who understand rejection. We need kindred spirits who’ve experienced the writing life’s highs and lows. Who understand the superstitions — applying for grants and residencies and staying silent; applying in threes and then willing ourselves to forget; agonizing over how long to wait before contacting an editor or agent who’s sat on our work for six months. We are loath to offend these faceless arbiters lest we get our work tossed because we are too noodgy.

This is why writing groups are so precious. Writers at any stage can benefit from that cadre of trusted souls who offer criticism honestly but kindly and know how to sandwich necessary comments between praise and encouragement. Anyone involved in the creative life needs a few companions who can commiserate, who can rail with you when the rejections come in and can celebrate you without envy.

This is what the women in my writing group offer one another. We’ve been meeting for nearly four years. Sometimes sporadically as we bend to the demands of raising children, our jobs, ailing spouses and chemo treatments. We are poets, Jane Austen experts, novelists, futurists, essayists, memoirists, travel writers. We are attorneys, farmers, former chefs and journalists. Sharing our visions through our words, we expand one another’s worlds. We hone one another’s prose. Gently, we hope.

It took me a while to find a group that fit. As an inexperienced writer, I wasn’t sure whose criticism to “believe.” I would come home from weekly sessions in a tizzy, wondering whose advice to follow. It took a while to realize I didn’t have to listen to anyone; that I had the right to sift through my fellow writers’ comments and take what I wanted, even if sometimes that meant taking nothing. We keep one another disciplined, loathe to show up empty handed. Yet sometimes we do and that’s OK.

Writing is a tough business. My group softens the path.