“Oh, I wish I could write. It’s just so hard to fit it in with everything else going on.”
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that this is often what I hear from people when I tell them I’ve been writing. We all could be writers if we wanted to be. As my kids’ teachers tell their students, “You are full of stories!”
When writers tell me what worked to get them started, they mention attending a workshop or taking a class -- and being surprised by the quality of instruction even in community school continuing education courses.
We need to be held accountable to our goals, whether that’s writing or otherwise. It’s too easy to get discouraged or distracted or both.
For me, over the past year and a half, I have tried a variety of methods to stay focused on my writing. I found a stay-at-home mom buddy to write with semi-regularly. I signed up for classes that involved workshopping excerpts -- and consequently required continuous generation of new material. And from the first class, I was fortunate to find a group of women who wanted to continue to work together. Our writing group was born.
What bonded us together? I think it was a combination of the desire for accountability, the belief in each other’s work, and the secret (perhaps not so secret feeling) that everyone else’s work was so much better than our own -- but perhaps I should just call that last one mutual respect.
Last month, Belmont Books hosted members from a successful writing group to lead a panel discussion on what makes writing groups work well. Two of my own writing group members met me there to note takeaways for how to improve our system.
They advised their audience to keep systems but stay flexible. They shared their method of meeting once a month, with three people up for workshopping up to 25 pages each session. The rest of the group provides line edits and letter-written feedback, with everyone reading and commenting, whether they can make it to the meeting or not. The consistency over time has allowed them to understand each other’s projects and career aspirations, creating a space to address the needs of each writer.
They also supported each other outside of this format -- by celebrating publications and getting together as families, by reading double-length submissions of 50 pages at times to give overarching feedback on a manuscript. Above all, they stressed the importance of making sure everyone’s voice is heard. They also said that while forming the group or at times when deciding whether to add a new member, they ask themselves what perspectives are missing from the group (age, race, MFA background, family background).
At the end of the session, my own writing group members and I felt pretty good about the rhythm and routines we had established for ourselves, meeting once a month to critique our ten page excerpts. We could use a little more diversity (we are all white women), but we are diverse in age at least, and in family background. We are a little heavy in the healthcare background, but what can I say, this is Boston!
It was exciting to be in that room full of aspiring and active writers eager to plug in and be a part of the conversation, and I was surprised by how easy it was to start meeting people.
If you feel like you have a story you want to share, I encourage you to try a workshop. GrubStreet has a free “brown bag lunch” writing series once a month, for example. Or call me. I’ll sit across from you in a coffee shop. We can dig in with our heads down together.
Likely the hardest part is choosing to sit down and do it. The group will help carry you from there.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.