Last night I attended the first meeting for 2013 of my writers’ group. I’ve been a member now for nearly five years and it has been wonderful experience, each meeting stretching me as a writer. For the first time in the group’s eight year existence, we changed venue to a nearby country location, namely, Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, rather than near the city CBD. As it turns out, this location is far more central to the majority of members; we just didn’t realise how many of us lived away from the city.
I’ve been an active member of several writers’ groups in the last five years. Over the last few years I’ve even jointly helped to run one. I’ve found that being a member of such a group has many beneficial spin-offs. Some of the benefits as I see it are as follows:
- A sense of belonging – writing can be such a lonely business.
- A place to safely share your work with fellow writers.
- A place to safely share in the struggles of being a writer, and getting mutual support.
- A place to receive honest and constructive critiquing of your writing. (If your group doesn’t do this, it might be time to set down some rules of conduct – or leave the group.)
- A place of encouragement in a world where trying to get writing published can be very discouraging.
- A place to be challenged and encouraged to write more, and perhaps in a genre one would normally not write.
My advice to all my readers is to seek out a writers’ group near where you live. And if you can’t find one, start one, perhaps coordinating it through your local library, or writing a letter to or article for the local newspaper, or even getting an interview spot on local radio.
Ever since I started my creative writing degree in 2008 I have been a part of two writers’ groups at the university where I studied. One was primarily a prose group. Each meeting the participants are given a writing challenge. The latest challenge was to finish a 1000 word short story with the last few words of a classic novel. The resulting stories were amazing in both the variety and the quality.
During the last four years I have also been a part of a poetry critiquing group. Over the last two years I have helped to organise this group. We also set writing challenges for the participants. It might be a set theme or a set form (eg sonnets) and sometimes both. The discussions are also very stimulating.
On Saturday just gone I joined yet another writers’ group. This group meets only a few times a year, usually in someone’s home. The group has a discussion on a set topic and then there is a sharing of current projects before breaking for a shared lunch – and more informal discussions. This group has a special focus, as it’s title implies: it is a Christian Professional Writers’ Association. All of the participants are either professional writers – or aspiring to be. Everyone in the group has a publishing record, and is striving to have more published. Our focus discussion this time followed on from the last meeting: “What is Christian fiction?”
I find that attendance at such meetings to be very stimulating, always generating new ideas, new writing avenues, networking (I found out about a potential opening at a publisher for my novel), encouragement and just plain good fun. If critiquing of one’s writing is also part of the activities, this is a bonus. Having others reading and commenting on your work is invaluable in the process of becoming a better writer – and more likely to get published.
I’d strongly encourage you to seek out a local group for writers and try it out.
On Thursday of this week I attended my monthly writers’ group in Adelaide. It’s one of two I regularly attend; the other is devoted to poetry only.
We usually gather for pizza at 6pm and then start into reading and critiquing each other’s work. The readings are based on a challenge set the month before. We limit the activity to 1000 words so that everyone gets a go at reading and having their work critiqued. A good attendance is about 6-8 people, but this week we had 12 eager participants, 7 of whom had risen to the challenge of writing a short story.
This was the fun part. The challenge we had appeared to be very hard, but we all found it very interesting. We were asked to take a poem written by a fellow student which was published in last year’s anthology. This poem had some interesting Nordic references and names, which made the task even more challenging.
The writing task was as follows:
- Take the first word of the poem and use that as the first word of the first sentence of the story.
- Take the second word of the poem and use that as the first word of the second sentence.
- Take the third word of the poem and use this as the first word of the third sentence.
- Follow this pattern until you get to the end of the story – or the poem – whichever comes first.
The variations were wonderful. Using the same words we came up with seven quite different stories. These included:
- A recount of a classroom teacher grappling with unusual student names in the class.
- A stream of consciousness account of someone justifying why she should murder her mother.
- An account of the arrival home of a Viking raiding party.
- An snippet from a Shakespearean like scene written almost completely in iambic rhythm (this was my effort).
Try it for yourself as a writing challenge. Take a poem – any poem – and try it. Last year we used a Robert Frost poem. Use one of your own poems. Whatever. You could be pleasantly surprised at the result.
Have fun with your writing.