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Writing Together

Writers’ Commitment

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to work together in a way that is respectful, productive and helpful. Here are some of the key aspects of our commitment to each other. Members are expected to:

  • Attend meetings regularly.
  • Reflect on commitment if they miss 3 or more consecutive meetings or 1/3 of all meetings in a year (approximately 6-7 meetings).
  • Submit work for review at least twice per year (Sept-June).
  • Provide some context to the piece submitted (e.g. first draft, near final etc.) and indicate the type of feedback she would find most helpful (e.g. plot, character, needs copy-edit).  Come to writing group with written comments, prepared to discuss each piece under consideration.
  • Submit written comments on each piece under consideration, even if absent.
  • Back up comments with reference to the text.

Group dynamics

A group is more than the sum total of the individual members.  We each have our own strong personalities and assume roles within the group that contribute to its overall character. We became more conscious of how important group chemistry can be when some members left and others joined. Although four of the original members remained, the character of the group shifted significantly as new members made their own contributions.

This shift in character was neither good nor bad but we realized that we needed to think hard about how we contribute as members and how we can shape the character of our group to make it supportive yet productive.

– Valerie McDonald

Negotiating Norms

Goals

During the first year, we hashed out our writing goals and experimented with different ways of structuring our meetings.  Five years later, we find it helpful to share goals periodically to prod ourselves to action and to gather useful feedback for our current projects. Our goals are as individual as our members and range from completing full-length manuscripts to meeting a deadline for submitting to the group.

Timing

Since the group’s inception we’ve switched between weekly and bi-weekly meetings. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Weekly meetings are easy to remember, create a commitment to writing and build strong connections among the members. If we miss a week, it’s easy to catch up with the socializing and the work. Bi-weekly meetings offer ample time for us to read and comment on each other’s work without compromising time spent on our own writing. However, if we miss a meeting, we may not see the group for a month.

Performing together

It’s hard to get to work at each meeting. As writers, we’re also story-tellers and we happily began share tales of our lives. Most of us are great cooks and we’re all enthusiastic taste-testers.  One of our biggest challenges is to balance our passion for socializing with our desire to write. We’ve tried many strategies including strictly scheduled “check-in” periods for personal news and a unilateral “No Food!” policy. What seems to work is setting and revising ground rules once every few months.

When we measure our progress as a group against our personal goals, we’ve had many successes. Between us, we’ve met group deadlines, entered writing contests, won awards and had several stories published! Five years after the first polite meeting, we are still writing (and talking, eating, laughing and traveling) together.

– Valerie McDonald

New Members

We often get requests from writers who are eager to join our group. After much discussion, we have agreed upon a process for considering new members and leaves of absence.

New members may be admitted to the group on the recommendation of a current member and after providing a writing sample and some background information. Current members will assess prospective members on the basis of:

  • Quality of writing (to be assessed by each member independently).
  • Presumed “fit” with group (i.e. ability and willingness to meet the expectations laid out, and ability and willingness to contribute constructively and positively).

We then invite the prospective member to attend a meeting and take part in critiquing a current member’s work to give them a sense of how we work. Finally, current members and the prospective member think about the “fit” and new members are admitted based on “reasonable consensus”.

Leaves of absence

Leaves of absence are considered by the group for a maximum of 3 months (approximately one academic term). At the end of that time, the absent member is asked to decide if she is able to commit to regular attendance. Absent members do not participate in group decisions. They may not submit stories for review unless they are present. They are not expected to comment on other members’ stories.

Joining the group–Alison Girling’s experience!

You open your email and it says,” We invite you to join our group. Please come to S’s house on Friday. We start at 12:30 pm. If you want to eat, come earlier.”

And so I come and we are eating and it is jolly and no one is talking about the writing. That will come later.

On my first submission, I tried too hard; I put too much into the piece and, like Icarus, came freefalling down from the sky.  My subsequent submission was less ambitious and proved more malleable in its rewrite.

Membership in a writing group involves commitment. It is challenging to write and submit a story, but it is also challenging to read and critique a story. Each of us does it differently. The comments – both verbal and written – make one pause. Some readers submit extensive suggestions; others are very brief; minimalist even. I pay attention to what my colleagues have to say, and feel lucky to be part of a supportive community. I won’t always act on their suggestions, but I will listen.

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