Sunday, February 8, 2009

Writing Group Redux

Which means that I’ve joined a writing group. It’s been about ten years since I’ve been part of a group that met consistently. In the mid ‘90s I joined my first one. We started out at the Barnes & Noble in Burlington (the old location). We met every two or three weeks. Eventually they kicked us out because one of our members started answering their phone when the employees weren’t quick enough (hey, it was annoying!). We continued on, meeting at a member’s house in Belmont. We would all bring in something to hand out each meeting, if we had something ready. A short story or a chapter—nothing very long. Also, one person’s work was read aloud by another member of the group. I really liked this as it was insightful to hear somebody read your words, your dialogue, infusing your sentences with their own cadence. Writing mistakes and awkward phrasings are easier to pick up when interpreted aloud.

That group lasted for a few years and at the time I was very prolific, writing almost one new story for each meeting. Not all gems, but it was a great exercise. One of the stories was published in a small literary journal out of Los Angeles, Lynx Eye Quarterly and recently republished in the Grub Street 10th anniversary anthology Hacks.

A few years after the demise of that group, I started a group with some fellow writers I met at my first Grub Street class, Ten Stories in Ten Weeks with instructor Rusty Barnes. We got along well and felt we were at the same writing level. (This is clutch to forming a strong group—you don’t want to constantly hold a newbie’s hand; conversely you don’t want to be constantly left behind, feeling out of the loop. You need to find a comfortable middle ground.) Hours before our first scheduled meeting, two of the five members bailed. The three remaining writers met. It was a relaxing, productive few hours, but we were never able to decide on a good time to meet again and it fizzled out before it really got going.

My new group contains a revolving 12 members, all current or former acolytes of Ms. X. She remains with us in spirit, tenor, and good humor. One or two people will hand out at a time, for a total of a hundred pages every two weeks. This is fine as it gives me time to come up with something to bring in. We plan to not just read and critique work, but also hold informative discussions about real-world publishing topics such as how to market yourself, how to target the right agent/publisher, and write a memorable synopsis. Some of us may go in on a collective blog together as well.

My goals for the group are to add to my ever-growing database of publishing information and writing and revising knowledge. For my critiques I will bring a revised chapter, a finished short story, or possibly the beginning of a new novel if I have anything decent by then. I have a couple months to pull something together.


Liz's Mom said...

It sounds as if this new group is going to be creative and pragmatic, a great combination.

It is a pleasure to read your honest description of the false starts, fizzles and small successes of the groups you have known.

Robin said...

Dell -- I agree wholeheartedly that writing groups are helpful to writers at any stage in their careers. For over fifteen years, I have been meeting with two different poetry groups. I like having the deadline of a meeting coming up because it forces me to sit down and write. Also, the valuable critiques have helped me polish some poems for future publication (one of the poems I published in "Yankee" magazine was shaped by my Falmouth Poets group). Plus, it's great to meet with like-minded artists. I'm sure Liz would agree with this. Good luck with your new group!

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Robin and Liz's Mom. I think deadlines can help rather than hinder a writer. Of course, it depends on the writer, but being in a writing group or part of a workshop can do wonders for piling up the pages.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Good luck with your new group!! Sounds like you've assembled a great mix of writers. :)