Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Story Sprouts blog tour - Why Writing in Community Rocks our Socks

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.

I've heard tales of early morning writers who rise before the world wakes, ready to welcome the day with a visit to their keyboard. (Is this as shocking to you as it is to me?) I know of others who treat writing as a nine to five, clocking in and clocking back out. Then there are the night owls, like me, who struggle to find the inspiration until finally it drips out of our pores in the silence of the night.

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 either.
  • 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 either.
  • 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 writing.
  • 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!
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: CBW-LA Publications (October 18, 2013)
  • Edited by: Alana Garrigues, Nutschell Anne Windsor
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0989878791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0989878791
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)

  • 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

Find Nutschell at:


  1. Excellent post! There is definitely a big difference between writing around family, and writing with other writers!!

  2. I'll admit I've never written in a group setting. I want to give it a try now after reading this article.

  3. I've never been part of a writing group either. Be nice to be surrounded by people who aren't going to interrupt you though!

  4. Kyra - absolutely. A huge difference! Trying to write around my children and spouse is laughable, but writing at a workshop is pure bliss! I never know what will appear on the page during that uninterrupted time. :)

    Lynda - oh, I hope you do! Let us know how it goes if you try it out!

    Alex - it is so great! Maybe you can make the trek up to the LA area for our next Writing Day workshop. We'd love to have you!

  5. Christine - thank you SO MUCH for hosting Story Sprouts on tour! We are very happy to be here! I'll be back a bit later to comment and converse some more. :)

  6. This sounds like a great book. I love your list. I have to remember to not just be physically alone while drafting, but to ignore other writers' progress and concentrate on my own journey...

  7. Christine! thanks so much for hosting us today. :) you are soo appreciated!

  8. Getting to know other writers has been such a huge part of my growth and development as a writer. You have to make some friends, why not make them writers? :)

  9. Great post! I never realized there could be so many benefits to working in a group...

  10. Alana and Nutschell, I'm happy to host you today! I love the topic you chose. You've covered it thoroughly!

  11. Deniz - thanks so much! Hope you are able to check it out. Yes, you are absolutely true - you have to go at your own pace and find what is right for your book. :)

    E.J. - absolutely! I learn so much from each and every writer I meet, and it feels nice to connect over common writer traits. There is something so familiar about talking with someone about their writing routine and comparing notes. Plus, writers tend to be very observant, which can always lead to interesting conversation!

    Heather - thanks so much! There's definitely something to be said for mixing it up every once in a while!

    Hooray, Christine!

  12. Other writers can be great sources of support and inspiration.

  13. Writing among other writers is great. There's a sense of community and shared effort. That's one of the things I love about NaNoWriMo. Everyone encourages each other to keep up the hard work.

    Also congrats to Alana and Nutschell :)

  14. Writing among other writers is great. There's a sense of community and shared effort. That's one of the things I love about NaNoWriMo. Everyone encourages each other to keep up the hard work.

    Also congrats to Alana and Nutschell :)


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