Browsing Tag

writing groups

Making Time to Write

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We’re on the brink of autumn and it seems like everyone is starting something new. School is back in, classes are starting, and most of us are trying to figure out a way to balance work, life, and writing. It’s easy to say “This weekend I’m going to really sit down and get some writing done” and much harder to actually do it. If you’re really looking for the best way to make time for your writing then you have to make yourself accountable.

Here are just a few ways you can make the commitment to show up for your writing. Continue Reading

Who’s in YOUR Writing Sangha?

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Last week I listened to the Saturday morning Dharma Talk from the SF Zen Center by Rosalie Curtis. The subject of her talk was sangha, which in its simplest form means “community.” Curtis mentioned that her favorite definition of sangha is “a community of people who come together to do something good,” which I really liked. It resonated with me because the moment I started thinking about community, I started thinking about writers. Specifically, I thought about how I meet with my own little sangha of writers on Thursday nights, but also how I’ve recently joined larger sanghas of writers online in the past few months. Continue Reading

Writing Out Loud

SAMSUNGA couple of weeks ago my writing group got together and staged a reading. We did it at the apartment of one of our members, and each of us brought a dish or snack to share. We each picked a bookstore or venue where it would be our dream to have our own author event. One of the other writers in our group introduced us and we presented our writing exactly as if our book had just been published and we were doing the book tour. Then we did the Q&A afterward.

It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.

This is what I learned:

Your writing is always different spoken out loud
Sentences that flow on the page might turn up clumsy out of the mouth. Dialogue that seems lackluster in written form can surprise you with how funny it sounds in actual conversation. Your writing takes on a different personality when you read it in front of other people (or even just yourself), and this difference can give you valuable information about the way you work your particular craft.

Reading in front of people builds your confidence
Yes, it is nerve-wracking at first. When it was my turn to get up and read my voice was shaking, my hands were shaking, and I even had trouble breathing! Every gland on my body that could sweat started sweating. But it got easier as I read page after page. The audience laughed at my funny stuff, and groaned at my embarrassing parts. I heard with my own ears how my writing was doing what I wanted it to do, and inside, I grew stronger.

Other writers are just as unsure as you
When you’re struggling to write your first novel, it’s easy to assume that other writers magically have their shit together and know exactly what they’re doing. This is simply not true. There are so many other writers out there who are just as uncertain about what to expect as you are. If we make the journey together and support each other along the way, it won’t be as scary. The energy we would have put toward fear, we can shift toward getting our work published and finding new readers.

So now that you know the benefits, who will be your audience for your very first reading?

How about…

Your Writing Group
If you’re part of a Reading Circle, you’re doing this kind of work anyway. But if you’re part of a Critique Group or a Timed Writing Group, it couldn’t hurt to propose a practice reading to your group, solely focused on encouragement and the art of public speaking. Your writing group should function as your sounding board and your local community; a practice reading will contribute to both of these functions.

Open Mic Night
If you live in the city, you can probably find an Open Mic Night at a local bar, bookstore, or community center. These are usually focused on poetry and spoken word, but sometimes you can present flash fiction too. This is a good option for more extroverted writers who like being in the spotlight.

The Stuffed Animal Brigade
If you’re an introvert, or just not ready to share your writing at that level, then the two options above might feel like too much for you. This is when you call in the troops—your favorite stuffed animals, ceramic figurines, Halloween masks—anything with a face! Assemble them all together as your audience and read your work loud and proud.

Reading your work out loud is a serious step toward finding your voice as a writer. You don’t have to agonize over which option to choose, just make the choice and start reading your week out loud, at least once every couple of months.

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How to Populate Your New Writing Group

RobotOkay, so you’ve decided you want to start a writing group, you’ve picked a good café, and you’re excited and ready to roll. As I’ve mentioned, I started my writing group with just one other person. But ultimately, it’s ideal to have at least a few people showing up every week to make a group. You get multiple points of view going, and multiple streams of personal support. Plus, it’s just more fun. It starts to feel more like a party than a partnership.

But where do you find your fellow writers?

Right in front of you. You just have to know where to look.

Craigslist
If you live in a small town, I suggest taking out your own ad in the Community section for your metropolitan area. You can post in Activities, Artists, General and/or Groups. I’ve found the most success with Activities and Groups.

If you live in a large city, it’s sometimes more helpful to comb through the ads already out there. I’ve found a few of our new members by checking that same Community section (Activities, Artists, General and/or Groups) and just typing “writer” or “writing” in the search box. It’s kind of incredible how many cool people are out there looking for writing support. And even if people are specifically looking for a critique group or just a writing partner, I’ll shoot them an email anyway and let them know they’re free to stop by our group and check it out.

Meetup
Meetup is really nice because you can easily create your own group page, add your group description, meeting dates and times, and a list of members. Anytime someone visits Meetup and searches on your city using keywords like “writing” or “writers” your group will come up.

And if you’re having trouble drawing members on Meetup, some cities have timed-writing groups already up and running. You can sign up and then drop by in person to get ideas of how you’d like to run your group, and also meet potential writer friends. Shut Up and Write is an example of an excellent group offered in places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley, New York, and Austin. (Please note that they do ask you to RSVP and make the commitment to show up if you choose to attend one of their meetings.)

In Person
Writers and books are like seagulls and popcorn. If you go anywhere with a high concentration of books, you greatly increase your chances of running into a flock of writers. But keep in mind that some reader attractions require silence and hush (like libraries and author events), while others are more conducive to making new writer friends. You want to go to the book events where it’s easy to strike up a conversation with strangers—like book sales, library fundraisers, and open mic poetry nights at your local pub.

Once you run into someone who seems cool, just ask them who their favorite writer is. And then ask them if they’re a writer. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to break the ice this way.

Tap Your Existing Friends
If anyone you know is a writer, obviously extend the invite to join your group right away. And if it’s someone you trust, ask them if they would be interested in leading it with you. Ask your other friends about their friends, and their relatives, and the people they work with. Ask them if they know anyone they like and can recommend who is a writer. Tell your contacts to put the word out. Send out a mass email to your mailing list. Don’t be shy and don’t spam people. Just nicely ask around to see who’s interested.

Your writing group will be a major source of support and inspiration to you. And once you’ve found your tribe, the only thing left to do is write your book. It’ll be a long crazy journey, but starting this week I’ll be posting all about how to get through it. With a writing group, you’ll find others who want to get through it together.

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So You Want to Start a Writing Group…

In 2009 I started my own writing group in Seattle, and then I moved to San Francisco and started another one. Both groups are still going strong four years later. We meet every week and both groups have a revolving cast of about 8 to 10 writers who drop in whenever it’s convenient for them. Most of us have become lifelong friends along the way, supporting each other through finishing that first manuscript and then trudging through the long process of finding an agent.

Oakland Fairies

We use the format of timed writing. That means we meet specifically to write together for one hour. This is actually a very easy and fun format to maintain, because members don’t have to do any work outside of the group and it’s not necessary for them to make every meeting.

We ask people to show up by 6:30pm if they want to be part of it, and then at 6:30 on the dot we start writing together silently. At the end of the hour one of us calls the time. It’s super easy. So easy, that you can start a group like this too. And there’s only one secret:

Flexibility

Here’s your quick-and-dirty list of tips on building a timed-writing group with maximum flexibility:

Be Flexible on Location
If a member of the group is willing to open their home for your meetings, or you’re okay with having it at your house, cool. If not, pick a café that has big tables, decent food and coffee, and won’t mind your group planting themselves there for a few hours. Test drive the place for a couple weeks and then decide if it’s a keeper. If you’ve met at one location for a few weeks and it’s just doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to change it up and try somewhere new.

Be Flexible on Number of Members
I started my writing group with just one other person. The two of us met for weeks before we found a third, and then a fourth, and finally things took off from there. You don’t need an army to start your own timed-writing group, you just need ONE other person. And if your one other person can’t make it some week and you still want to write, show up anyway. In the early weeks of getting the group off the ground, someone has to hold vigil.

Be Flexible on Admission Requirements
Some writing groups are geared toward specific genres, and that’s great if you already know a few other writers who are writing in your vein. But if you’re starting from scratch, and the goal of the group is to sit and do timed writing hours together, it’s really not essential that everyone be writing the same sort of stuff. An example of some of the writers in my current writing group include: a fantasy writer, a screenplay writer, a poet, and me, who concentrates on literary fiction. Since the goal of our group is to complete an hour of writing together and give each other emotional support, we have a lot of freedom when it comes to the different types of writers that can join the group.

We also keep our attitude casual—writers can come whenever it is convenient for them, and the group is absolutely free of charge to join. Time and money are two of the stickiest obstacles that tend to hold people back from achieving their goals, so by welcoming writers who show up whenever they can and charging nothing, we knock out both of the time-and-money hurdles in one blow.

Be Flexible on Expectations
I’ve been attending weekly writing group meetings for over four years now, and no two meetings are alike. Sometimes it’s just me and one other person sitting quietly, and sometimes all of our regular members show up plus some new people and we have to scramble to push tables together and find extra pens. Sometimes the mood is light, with people cracking jokes or telling embarrassing stories, and sometimes one of us just suffered a serious setback and needs a listening ear. You never know what you’re going to get until you show up. So go into every meeting with only one expectation: You will get some writing done.

Okay, so you’ve got this breezy new attitude of flexibility and open expectations, and a game plan of when to meet and where—but how do you find writers who want to be part of your writing group? We’ll cover who to look for and how to find them next post, and rest assured, it’s easier than you think.

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