A Look at My Writing Group’s First Year, part 1

What do you do once you’ve nominated yourself to champion a local writers group? I mean after you have a small following of interested writers who have no other opinion save one: you should guide them? And have picked out just the right name with the perfect slogan…and designed the logo? Once you’ve established some ground rules for the members, and the group’s purpose? After you know whose kitchen table will host the group month-to-month?

In a previous article, I shared some good advice and the importance of moving forward with a group of writers to keep you motivated, with whom to arrange appearances and book-signings, to exchange work and collect feedback. I had a lot of ideas for why you should, but little advice on how you should.

Are you ready for how?

The first year facilitating my writers group is almost at an end. I say “facilitate” because I didn’t want the whole group to be dependent on one leader. I wanted everyone involved in how the group moved forward and how we helped each other. This format I’m sharing worked for us, but it evolved from its origin, and I encourage you to use your ample creativity and better ideas to make it perfect for your group of writers.

Overview: Stories is a writers group full of novelists who want to focus on our novels-in-progress. We meet once a month to discuss and workshop a specific quality common to all well-written stories, with additional quarterly enrichment gatherings. Our main hub of communication is a private group page on Facebook. Each meeting is added to the group calendar in advance, detailing the meeting’s focus, presenter, and links to info on that specific topic. I like to add quirky-yet-relative photos and snappy-yet-relative one-liners to these event pages. A different member of the group presents the topic each month, whether through internet research or the research that comes from loving writing and doing it regularly. It has been unanimously decided that this approach is most beneficial to the presenters, and we have no shortage of volunteers. We live in a rural area and do not meet during January, February, or December. This also allows planning time for next year’s calendar of events.

March’s Maiden Voyage: The driving concept behind Stories is the writing advice: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Every story is an adventure and learning experience—even more so for the fellow writer. You can learn a lot from what has already been written. By way of introduction, everyone brought a book influential to their writing, prepared to read an excerpt that exemplified that influence. (This part turned a little book-clubbish). Everyone was encouraged to also bring a working back cover “hook” for their fledgling novel. We shared these to introduce the other writers to our novels-in-progress (referred to hereafter as “nip” or “nips).

Traditional-Publishing-Dining-Room-Table-Discussion: This was our first quarterly enrichment gathering…and it all happened so fast that this is the best title I could come up with on the spot. One of our members is an English and creative writing professor who also happens to be agented and now scheduled to be published through HarperCollins by next year. She shared all of her experience with queries and agents, from how to write a query letter to what traits to look for in a literary agent. And I made lasagna.

April’s Introduction Instruction: We shared the first line from our favorite books. We also covered Writer’s Digest’s 10 Ways to Start Your Story Better and discussed the effectiveness of the first line of our nips. For homework, we took what we’d learned about beginnings and applied that to the first lines of our nip’s subsequent chapters. A new chapter is a chance to re-hook your reader. A good opening is just as crucial for each new chapter as it is the first.

Arkansas Literary Festival: Also in April, a few of us carpooled to Little Rock (about three hours of driving) for the public library system’s Literary Festival. We were the envy of all who didn’t go. Never miss these opportunities when they are reasonably close and reasonably free!!! The highlights from this event were Darcy Pattison (advocating writers striking out indie-pendently) and Jeff VanderMeer (expanding our imaginations and fiction-writing prowess with a Wonderbook-inspired workshop).

May’s Dish on Your Main: This was an opportunity for us to familiarize the group with our nip’s main character. Remember: the first person a book introduces to its reader is the character to whom the reader most readily relates. We shared excerpts about our main character, offering each other critique of his interest, growth, and ability to resolve the plot’s conflict.

June’s Fightin’ Words: As we got to know our protagonists in May, we learned all about the source of their conflict in June: the antagonist. The presenter reminded us that the antagonist is not always another character; sometimes it is the setting or even an aspect of the main character himself. You’ll find the most interesting and effective antagonists are the intricate characters you can’t help liking even though they’re “bad.” There is a lot of solid, thought-provoking information on the antagonist out there. Just ask Google.

I want to emphasize again the value of researching each of these topics with intent to discover a trick, tool, or angle completely new to members of your writing group. As much time as I spend reading about writing, I learned something new each time our group met–whether I was the one doing the research or not. I’ll share the monthly schedule for the second half of our first year in the next post, just in time to inspire your 2015 writing group itinerary.

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