The sound of fingers tapping on laptop keyboards reminds Paul Shirley that he isn’t alone.
The former professional basketball player moved to Southern California about five years ago to pursue writing, but he found it a lonely enterprise. He’d go to coffee shops, buy a drink and a scone and see how much time would pass before he got sidelong glares from the staff. He figured he could do better.
“I wanted to create a space — that sounds so millenial — a place where people would feel like they were welcome,” he said. “It’s hard to find people who care, and it’s helpful to be around other writers who know the struggle of sitting down and getting to work when you don’t know if the thing you’re working on is going to see the light of day.”
It led him to establish Writers Blok, a Santa Monica-based group of authors, screenwriters, poets and playwrights who meet twice a week to flesh out ideas, solicit feedback and commiserate.
And the collective has spawned a variety of projects. The group includes author Scott Bly, a Santa Monica resident whose middle-grade suspense thriller “Smasher” was released in 2014. Earlier this year, Kerry Kletter released a young-adult crossover novel entitled “The First Time She Drowned” that was crafted partially at Writers Blok gatherings.
The Moth storyteller Matteson Perry, a longtime member, will host a reading and Q&A session as part of the collective’s meeting June 6.
“It really exists to build a community of writers,” member Katie Savage, a Santa Monica resident, said of the group. “It’s a place to write that’s quiet, and everybody’s working on their own thing, but the real value is meeting people doing the same thing.”
Writers Blok was launched about three years ago. It began informally at the now-shuttered Earl’s in Mar Vista with about a dozen people, a donations box and no discernable format.
Then it grew. The group met at Bagel Nosh on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica for more than a year, a span during which Savage began participating.
She later mentioned to Shirley that her husband, Scott Savage, is the pastor at the Church of the Nazarene at 18th Street and Washington Avenue and that the church has an upstairs room conducive to writing and mingling. It’s been Writers Blok’s home for about a year.
“I’m not a religious person,” Shirley said, “but it hearkens back to my childhood of going to church in Kansas and using the church for other things. It makes it more of a fabric of the community.”
Shirley’s group meets Monday and Tuesday nights from 7 to 10 p.m. The first couple hours amount to what Savage called a “glorified study hall,” during which writers spend time on their own projects.
“I’ve had a lot of writers say, ‘I get more work done here in two hours than I have the rest of the week,’” Savage said. “You’re with people who have the same goal in mind. Looking over and seeing the person tapping away at their keyboard is a big motivator. It’s the community aspect.”
That community aspect is nurtured in the final hour of each meeting, when writers share what they’re working on and discuss the challenges they’re facing. They also use it as an opportunity to network.
Writers Blok has a stable of close to 50 regulars, and each session typically draws between 15 and 25 people. Membership costs $7 per session or $20 for a month of once-per-week attendance. The funds cover rental fees as well as coffee, tea and other accessories.
One of the most inspiring features, Savage said, is the makeshift bookstore of projects published by current or former Writers Blok members.
“It’s cool to walk in and see all of the work that has come out of this,” she said.
For more information, visit writersblokla.com.