I'm very pleased to welcome Alana and Nutschell to my blog today.
I love the guest post topic they chose. Take it away!
Writing Groups: Why Writing in Community Rocks our Socks
In my experience, writing tends to be a pretty solitary activity. As writers, we all seem to have our … quirks, shall we call them? … about the ambiance in which we compose.
For some, it may be a certain musical style, for others silence or the persistent hum of a favorite white noise.
Then there are the rituals associated with a favorite beverage, a preferred warm-up, the litany of distractions such as email and social media to breeze through first, perhaps a moment of meditation, favorite clothing, angles, particular lighting, charms, stretches, pets, seances … who knows?!
Notice one thing I did not mention?
Writing demands focus and inner reflection, and generally having people around does not help with either. People are noisy. They ask questions. And they talk. And they move, which makes noise even if they are not talking. So when people are around, writers are often forced to turn away from writing, or else dive so deeply into ourselves that we force the world around us with all its cries for attention to disappear. Everything else must fade but the words on the page. And people, especially people who know us and love us, don't usually like to fade.
So why, if we are so particular, would we ever want to write in a group? Why attend a writing retreat or a writing workshop? Why put ourselves smack dab in the middle of a bunch of people to do the thing we usually want to do alone?
Twenty writers recently spent six hours together with the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles, writing furiously through ten exercises and ultimately producing the Story Sprouts: CBW-LA Writing Day 2013 Exercises and Anthology book you see below. Considering how many of us usually write alone, delving into the idea of writing in community and why the Writing Day was such a success at creating beautiful poetry and prose fascinated me.
- To start off with, there is a huge difference between
writing around other writers, and writing around our spouses and friends
and roommates and children. Writers get the quiet. Writers seek the quiet.
- Everyone has a streak of competition, including writers - it is not limited to athletes. If
you, as a writer among writers, are sitting in a room, or in a resort,
and you are the only one sitting with a silent keyboard or a motionless
pen and paper, you will find something to write about. Inspiration will
strike. You will not let all of those other writers get their story going without you.
- Writing in rhythms is healthy. The mind and body need
breaks and cycles. They can not go for days without taking brief
respites to refuel or relax. When you attend a writing workshop or a
writer's retreat, you will be able to (forced to?) break together,
finding a healthy balance between social interaction and alone time.
- Speaking of alone, you will find out you are not alone.
Feel vulnerable about your work, certain you are a genius one minute and
a fool the next? Wonder if you are the only person in the world who
must sit down at the desk, stand up to boil water, sit back down and
pretend to write while you really wait for the whistle, get up to make
sure you turned the stove on because it seems like it's been ages and
there's no sign of hot water, sit back down after you see the red light
that indicated the burner is turned on, stand up when the whistle goes
off, prepare your tea, sip your tea, and sit back down before you can
write? Yeah, you're not alone there either. Or whatever else your
hyper-critical inner editor says or your pre-writing ritual involves
- Comparing notes helps. Sometimes all we need to finish
up a first draft or get back into revisions with renewed verve is
someone else's thoughts. Quotes are great. Insight from "real people" in
person is even better.
- Brainstorms are way more entertaining and unexpected in groups. And they are guaranteed to get your mind moving in a direction you hadn't planned.
- Bookworm fashion.
In L.A., I generally see women with designer bags, or at the very least
a trendy department store bag to fit the season. I carry around unique
artsy-fartsy bags that are handmade by artisans and large enough to fit
my books or writing tools. I know I'm home in a room full of writers
when I see a dozen bags that don't belong anywhere near a designer rack
- Instant feedback. Are you stuck on a certain character, or having trouble with a scene? Maybe you have a "big picture" problem, like whether to use first or third person, or whether your hero is a male or female character. Whatever you're trying to figure out, there are uber-creative people around to bounce ideas off of.
- No distractions! When you are away from your home or office desk and computer, writing in a group setting towards a shared goal, all those distractions that normally plague you and compete for your attention melt away, and allow you to focus on the task at hand.
- Writing in community builds up your support group - and holds you accountable.
Writers want to see one another succeed and achieve great things!
Retreat and workshop participants will want to cheer you on in your
future endeavours- they will also want to know that you are still
- Blogging is great, social media is great, reading books about writing is great, but nothing beats the energy exchange of being together in the real world. We
are wired to be together. Even the introverts among us. The beautiful
thing about writing in community is that introverts can be around other
people and choose not to engage deeply or put on a social act. They can
just be, quietly, in the energy of others, working parallel towards a
similar goal. No pressure to speak or perform.
- It's a confidence boost! If you share your ideas or writing, chances are at least one person will offer up praise and support
for what you are doing. And even if you don't share, the fact that you
dedicated time to your craft and knocked out a few hundred, even a few
thousand, words will give you a sense of accomplishment.
- If you're working your way through the Story Sprouts exercises, fair warning - you'll really need a group for exercise six. So you might as well plan your group writing experience now.
- Finally? Writing in community is just plain fun.
So, how can you write in community?
- If you don't have a group of writers who you know, you can start slowly by writing in a park or a coffee shop.
Chances are, there will be lots of students or freelance employees
working all around you. You may not have the opportunity to interact
like you would at a workshop or a retreat, but you'll certainly get a
taste of what it feels like to write around others.
- If you do have a group of writers, agree on a date and time to get together
and promise to spend at least an hour of it writing - no chatter! When
you're done, share what you're working on, or simply congratulate one
another for an hour well spent.
- Look for "official" writing groups on Google or Meetup, even your local library,
and join in their next writing workshop or retreat. CBW-LA is a
non-profit group open to anyone who wants to attend - our members get a
discount, but anyone can look for us and take advantage of a critique,
informational lecture or writing workshop!
- Peruse the back of writing magazines for writers' retreats. Find one that speaks to you and sign up for a full week of uninterrupted writing time.
If you are in the L.A. area, please do look us up: CBW-LA. We'd love to have you join us at any event! And if you're not in L.A., we hope that you find a good group and write in community at least once to try it out. If you live elsewhere and you have a writing group you love and want to share, mention it in the comments.
Thanks so much Christine … and to all you bloggers, writers and readers our there! We had a wonderful time here on our Story Sprouts worldwide blog tour! Cheers!
STORY SPROUTS: CBW-LA WRITING DAY EXERCISES & ANTHOLOGY 2013
STORY SPROUTS 2013 ANTHOLOGY STATISTICS:
- 19 Authors
- 38 Combined Anthology Entries – 2 per Contributing Author
- 6-hour Workshop
- 10 Writing Exercises (included in Story Sprouts)
- Dozens of Photo, Character and Conflict Prompts (included in Story Sprouts)
- 240 pages
What happens when linguistic lovers and tale tellers workshop together? Inspiration. Wonder. Discovery. Growth. Magic.
Brave and talented, the writers featured in this anthology took on the challenge of dedicating one day to the raw and creative process of writing.
A rare view into the building blocks of composition, Story Sprouts is made up of nearly 40 works of poetry and prose from 19 published and aspiring children's book authors.
This compilation includes all of the anthology writing exercises and prompts, along with tips, techniques and free online writing resources to help writers improve their craft.
Learn more about Story Sprouts at http://www.storysproutsanthology.com/
Join the Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles at www.cbw-la.org
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