Thursday, December 28, 2006

Making a Literary Life Friday

This week, we have more good news. Read Hannah's post and you'll see why.

Road trip research was one of the many things I fit into my holiday plans. But this I hadn't planned on. Reading Elizabeth George's book, Write Away, reminded me how important details are when it comes to rendering a setting. Though I've spent plenty of time in the New England setting of my novel-in-progress, a couple brief stops along the drive (through New Hampshire and Vermont) seemed to be a great idea. It was. Nothing like a few moments taking in sights and sounds of an area to leave a few lasting impressions and incorporate them into my writing.

I finished outlining my next book and am eager to get writing. First, however, I need to diagram exquisite sentences from some of my favorite books. I'll take pages from say, Cold Mountain or Memoirs of a Geisha, definitely The Inheritance of Loss, and feel the rhythm, listen to the tone, wander the settings, absorb the beauty of the characters' pain. I am a hungry student.

In addition to reading, I chose to forego a family trip to the zoo to stay home and write. I was so busy thinking in the shower about what I was going to write, I forgot whether I shampooed. I think I did. What did I write? The end to Draft One (okay, more like draft five, if you count shifts along the way). Now to revisions!

I read On Beauty by Zadie Smith and started reading Banishing Verona by Margot Livesey. I've outlined the first three chapters of my next novel and plan to steal time to write on New Year's Day. I want to start writing my new novel on the very first day of 2007.

Getting back to writing

A line or two from Lynne

Given the unusual demands and unique rhythms of the holiday season, the subject of our posts this week has been taking time off from writing. If you define writing strictly as the number of words on a page, then I take a lot of time off from writing. When a broader more forgiving definition is used, then you could say like many writers, I'm writing all the time.

This holiday season, I've done some character sketching at a neighborhood party. I've stolen a wonderful line of dialogue from the sermon on Christmas Eve and placed in on page 176 of my manuscript. I even made note of an unusual facial expression I saw on Christmas morning when one of my family members feigned surprise over a not-so-surprising gift. Examining human behavior, storing up fine material, writing. Writers write all the time.

While the broad definition of writing is valuable, comforting and true, ultimately words on a page matters most. So, how do I get motivated to get back to the process of writing after taking any time large or small off from putting words on a page? My methods of getting back to writing may not be universal but they help me bring back into sharp focus my desire to capture character, setting and plot. Think of these ways in which I get back to writing as my New Year's gift to you. Here are some of the ways I get back to writing.

  • I pull out a beautiful journal and a good pen and jot down some interesting observations or conversations I've had over the past few days.
  • I set aside a half hour or more to read over the last few written pages of my work in progress, with no expectation I will write anything new.
  • I set aside some time to edit a portion of my work in progress; I choose an entry or chapter that's in good shape to spur me on.
  • I choose a writing prompt or exercise from one of many writing books or writers' websites then find a comfy corner and play with the words.
  • I love to research a particular character's job or illness or life struggle. Finding new ways of examining issues or describing behavior is a wonderful motivator for me.
  • I sneak away to a library or bookstore for time to write; stolen writing time often brings out the best in my writing--something to do with guilty pleasure.
  • I read my favorite authors' work. Submerging myself in beautiful language, savoring the turn of a phrase, imagining a specific setting, contemplating nuances in a relationship--these things always inspire me to try my own hand at it.
  • I look forward to writers' group. For as you know by now, my writers' group meetings are my touchstone for believing in the process of writing and my ability to be part of the literary life.

These are a few of the ways I try to reignite my fire to write. Feel free to share how you get back to writing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Right Questions

By Hannah

Sometimes the words don't come. Won't come. There may be no current project, or there may be half a book already written. No matter. We sit at our desks and frown at paper or screens. We sit on sofas and stare into space. We wonder whether we will ever have a fresh idea again. Ever. In our entire lives.

In those moments, the only thing to do is to read. Other fiction, other non-fiction, and best of all, the real-life words of writers we respect. Pages magazine currently interviews “Lions in Winter” such as Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike. In one way or another, each of twelve legends addresses why they write, and why and when writing is important.

I curled up and read the interviews one question and answer at a time, letting each response linger. There were perhaps only six paragraphs from each writer, but I had to put down the magazine between subjects, sometimes within one interview, to consider it all.

These writers I love demand answers and effort not just of themselves. Gore Vidal wonders where the American writers are who will write truthfully about the state of the American Republic. Ursula LeGuin talks about the limitations of conscious intention in art. Kurt Vonnegut asks everyone to write a six-line, rhymed poem, to be torn into little pieces and disposed of in multiple trash depositories, purely to get the brain working. Just reading the right questions gets ideas flowing, sets words free. They make me want to pick up a pen again, and again, and again.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Time-off from Writing

Tuesdays with Amy

Conventional wisdom suggests that once a writer finishes a book, s/he must immediately start writing the next. It’s excellent advice when one considers the angst a writer can succumb to when that first manuscript is sent off to agents and then to editors. Move forward toward a renewed goal; have another project ready to present if an editor bites; immerse yourself in a new world, with fresh characters, create hope once again.

Solid advice I give my own writer friends, but, unfortunately, cannot take myself. I’ve just finished a manuscript and I’m eager to start the next. Truly, I am. The problem is I need time to research my topic. I need to know the specifics of my protagonist’s life: the sounds she would awaken to each morning, the fauna that surrounds her home, scents that pervade her village. I have to know the routine specific to her and her culture. Before I can begin to build a world around her, I need to lay the basic structure of her life.

All the while, she whispers to me, becoming my most intimate friend. Her voice is distinctive, so utterly different from the protagonist in my first book. She’s already told me how her story starts and ends. It will be my job to discover the places in-between, to immerse myself in her world.

In the meantime, I’ll write essays and try my hand at a short story that’s been percolating for weeks, exercises to prime myself for the marathon ahead. In spite of the title of this entry, as every writer knows, truly, there’s no time-off from writing.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Making a Literary Life Friday

It's been a very exciting week here at the Writers' Group. You may have noticed Lisa updated her profile to include her wonderful news: she now has an agent. Brava, Lisa! The rest of us have been busy as well. Here's a sampling of what we've done to broaden our literary lives. We'd love to hear what you've been doing, too.

This week a dream came true! An agent at a well established literary agency left me a message Friday afternoon. On Monday morning I returned the call. He told me the ins and outs of how their agency works. He detailed his plan for submitting my novel to publishers. He even complimented my work, telling me what drew him to my writing. I told him about my background and my writing aspirations. Though I had planned to tell him I would consider his offer and contact other agents looking at my full manuscript, I didn't. I told him I would be thrilled to have him represent me. I have never been more sure of a decision. My manuscript is being sent to publishers in early January.

My writers' group gave me such amazing support and reacted with such kindness to this news: each of them called me to congratulate me, one dropped off a thoughtful gift that made me laugh. I know I will be there to congratulate the next person when good news arrives.

I discovered a stunning writer: Robert Olen Butler. He was awarded the 1993 Pulitzer for Fiction and, best of all, has 14 more books I look forward to reading. Naturally, I have my lovely stationery out and am about to compose a charming note. His writing leaves me breathless. If you recall last Friday's post, I mentioned I was writing Tom Perrotta to congratulate him on his Golden Globe nomination. Literary gem that he is, he wrote back. Remember when you become a famous published author that charming notes work both ways. Also, you may have noticed the multi-talented (she writes in two genres!) Tish Cohen (Town House, May 2007) commented here this week and I returned the favor over at The Debs. It seems we both have panic attacks, though hers seem far more reasonable. And if you're a frustrated writer (who isn't?) in need of a little reassurance as we close out another year, I urge you to read literary agent Rachel Vater's December 19 post, Consolation and Inspiration. Then hop on over to mother-of-all-multi-taskers Allison Winn Scotch and learn why you can never again complain about not having enough time to write. Yes, that's me in the comments section marveling at Julia Glass again. What will you be reading over the holiday break next week? I have Butler, Alice Munro, and Kiran Desai waiting for me. Here's wishing you lots of gift cards to your local independent book store.

Per a long-standing agreement with my husband, we purchase our own gifts and act surprised when we unwrap them at the holidays. Thus, I have a strong suspicion I will be opening the current copy of Pages magazine, and then be doubly thrilled to find out I am getting a subscription. Nick Hornby's Long Way Down may be in the white paper with the gold bow, while Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude may have a silver bow. Needless to say, there will also be chocolate, which is not completely literary, but surely inspirational. Almost as wonderful, I have been promised some solitude of my own for writing during the vacation week. The gift of time is a beautiful thing!

This week I reached a major milestone in my writing career. I finished the edits on my first novel and sent the manuscript to my wonderful agent at Trident Media Group. Here's hoping she likes it. I spent my holiday shopping time supporting my local booksellers. The gifts under my tree for my family include, The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman for my husband. The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers and three of the Ross MacDonald classic mystery novels for my son. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves (no relation) are wrapped in beautiful paper for my daughter, the emerging writer. I can only dream about which books are under the tree for me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Treated like a writer

A line or two from Lynne

I gave a lot of thought to how I would behave when it was my first time to receive feedback at writers' group. We'd already had one meeting, and I'd had the chance to see how the group might operate. Each person began with positive comments about the work being presented. When it came time for constructive feedback, it was exactly that--constructive. No barbs, or jabs. The writers' work was respected, yet critique and suggestions were thoughtful and deep.

Then it came time for me to send my pages. With twenty pages of a novel to my name, I knew I needed to do this, and I knew there would be feedback, lots of feedback. But I was fearful they wouldn't think I was a writer. Maybe I didn't really belong in this group of talented women. When I pressed the send button on the email that contained my work, I immediately wondered what they thought. Like a teenager dying to fit it, all day long I asked myself, are they reading it right now? More importantly, do they like it?

I'm the kind of person who usually dives into new learning situations but for once I consciously chose to hang back and see how this would play out. I was nervous when I arrived at our meeting one week later; I tried really hard not to show it. I knew Hannah, Lisa and Amy had enormous power that night. I prayed they'd use it wisely.

I still have the notes I made during that meeting. I scribbled away in my journal, my pen to paper keeping me pinned to my seat. They really liked my protagonist. They felt drawn into my story. Now for the constructive feedback. I chose a difficult story to tell. They struggled with the way I structured my story. One of the main characters was inaccessible.

I knew when I joined the group that from a fiction perspective, I was a novice. Lisa, Hannah and Amy never said I was, and though I'm sure they always knew it, that night they treated me like a fiction writer. They examined and discussed my work, never once comparing it to anyone else's. Never once judging it. Their feedback was and still is, a rich blend of the art and science of writing. Always aimed at making a piece better, stronger, more moving.

When I left that first meeting, I was energized. They'd had positive things to say about my work! The next day, I carved out time to edit those first pages and I wrote three more. I could do this, I thought. I could write and I could withstand the critique of my work. I was on my way.

Since that first meeting some fifteen months ago, I've finished telling my difficult story, I've made that main character complex yet likable and I've won the group over to my unusual structure. It never would have happened if during my first night of feedback in writers' group I hadn't been treated like a writer.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'Tis Better to Give or Receive?

By Hannah

When friends find out about this group, two questions always arise, from non-writers perhaps more than from writers. Before they ask what we write, who we are, or how we work, their faces crinkle up with sympathetic worry.

“What is it like getting your story discussed? And what if you don’t like someone else’s?”

Or, seasonally put, when it comes to criticism, is it better to give or to receive?

It is hard to have something you create taken apart. I am used to being edited, but before our first several meetings, a surprising case of nerves hit as soon as my twenty pages flew away by e-mail. Each time, however, Amy, Lisa and Lynne started with what they loved and then pointed out what needed attention, with honesty and kindness, and a goal of making the work stronger. So while I delight in their enthusiasm, their criticism has become addictive.

Do I take every comment? Most, yes. If three people react the same way, it’s a no-brainer. Do I rewrite along the way? Yes, unfortunately. I start with an outline, but my characters surprise me, and certain Group edits pave the way for dramatic shifts. 2002 Newbery Award winner Linda Sue Park describes herself as more a rewriter than a writer; when I heard her say this, I wanted to hug her. I write ahead, make mad notes on old pages based on Group comments, shift things about, and push forward again. Because of my writing style and Group, my first draft looks like a Jackson Pollock, but because of their honest critique, I will pour out the second full draft quickly and with confidence that those characters are real, settings are clear, threads are tied.

As for giving feedback, I find it hard to take apart something created by another. If it's a good story, I get swept away, and I have read three amazing stories over the past year. But in addition to offering Grammar and Punctuation Nerdliness, I continually try to make my critique more useful: pointing out foreshadowing that makes me excited but asking continuity questions; doodling under character comments that deliver a crystal clear voice, and checking any that seem out of place.

The answer to the seasonal question at hand? Simple. It is always nice to receive, but if I can give back even a small piece of what has been given to me, it is my pleasure to do it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Believing is a Powerful Gift

Tuesdays with Amy

I had no intention of turning that first chapter into a book; I didn’t believe in it enough. It was dark; the characters ached with melancholy and the setting was too morose to sustain a reader’s interest. My protagonist, Clara, had been through enough in life, she didn’t need to have her character dissected as well.

But that first time I shared Clara with them, they empathized with her. They felt her pain and also wanted to know more about another character, a little girl who played in the funeral home. They were intrigued and I, a writer in search of approval, was hooked by their interest.

In subsequent weeks and months, I would sit quietly at my end of the critique table, my shoulders hunched (I never hunch!), my hand covering my mouth to hide a smile whenever they paid a compliment or busily taking notes when they offered suggestions to make my writing better.

Always their voices swirled in my head as I wrote:

Lisa would encourage me to play with whole paragraphs, perhaps this would be better if it came at the opening of the chapter, and move this to the middle.

Lynne would whisper to me about a character’s motivation, would he really behave that way?

Hannah always had me reaching for my copies of Strunk & White and Chicago Manual, the semicolon is probably the least utilized and most misunderstood punctuation mark.

And there was more, too many substantive critiques to account for here.

Now that I’ve completed my book, I often wonder if I would have continued on without the support given me by my writers’ group. They believed in me and my writing, and that’s a mighty powerful gift.

This much I know is true: Had they not been there every step of the way, it would not have become a manuscript I believe in too.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My writer's group helps me build a snowman

Posted by Lisa

Sharing my writing with my group is easy - that's what I'd like to say. But, I'm afraid, I can't.

Since the first time we met, it has never been easy to e-mail my pages. As I hit that send button, I wonder whether my characters' actions are consistent, believable. Whether pacing and stakes work. No, sharing my writing hasn't gotten easier. But, now I understand how it helps me as a writer.

When I write a first draft, a second draft, I am building a snowman (I grew up in Canada - building a snowman should be easy for me). It takes time, planning, hard work, and sculpting. Final details are crucial; you need more than a carrot nose to give your snowman a presence and a personality - at least I learned that much about building character in my favorite writing book, Word Painting.

The first time our group met to review work, I hoped Amy, Hannah, and Lynne would LOVE my writing. They did love my writing, PARTS of it. But they had questions about a character, concerns about the timing of events in the first chapter. I walked away from those first couple meetings, more or less confused.

Now when I write my pages (build my snowman), I get their feedback knowing their insights can only help me grow as a writer.

If my writing REALLY were a snowman, they might say:

"I like the structure you chose. Four snowballs instead of three. Neat."

"But the foundation, it's lopsided. Look, Lisa, from this angle, it's not working. It looks like it might tip. Pack some snow here. Take this."

The first meeting I was leery of their criticism. Now I long for their feedback. Writing, for me, it's the same as building a snowman. And so, my writer's group helps me build a better snowman. Sure it's tough to hear that I must knock off the top snowball to straighten and sculpt the middle one. But they help me do what is necessary to produce my best writing.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Habits become a part of our lives

Our blog entries this week focused on the writing habits that help us build our literary lives. As we've shared with you, we meet every other week and at this weeks' meeting, our discussions focused on querying, marketing, revising manuscripts, agent-author relationships and of course, blogging. As always, writers' group was the gem buried in our busy schedules. Here are our individual highlights.

This week I watched the movie "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." Fun to see a creative novel brought to life on the screen!

Tis the season for shopping and while I'm in my local independently-owned bookstore, I'm sure to introduce myself and ask about any upcoming events they may have. Not only am I genuinely interested in meeting other people who love books, I also want to know which authors will be doing readings (always support your fellow writers by attending; they'll really appreciate it!) and I want to establish a relationship with book store staff. Remember, they're the ones who hand sell your books and submit nominations to Book Sense Picks. Also, I sent a charming note to the amazing and truly gracious Tom Perrotta whom I recently met at a PEN/New England event. Yesterday, he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay for Little Children. Good luck, Tom!

The Writers' Group was the anchor for my literary life this week! Our meeting gave me the ooph I needed to keep focused on my novel. I've written two big chunks and two small chunks since Monday.

I worked very long days finishing edits on my nonfiction manuscript. I sent it off to my editor Wednesday. Next, following a productive workshop of my fiction from the fabulous writers in The Writers' Group, I began the edits on my novel. When I was Christmas shopping for others, I bought a copy of James Bell's Plot and Structure. I'm looking forward to reading it to get ideas for my next novel.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ideal writing routine or reality?

A line or two from Lynne

I love writing on my laptop, sitting in an Adirondack chair on a deck overlooking the sea. The smell of salty mist and the din of waves hitting the shoreline are the perfect level of sensory inspiration.

Would you like to know how many times I've had that writing experience? Exactly twice. That's because the ideal writing routine and reality, are oceans apart.

I write a good deal of nonfiction parenting material for my "day job." My writing routine for this work is similar to Hannah's; I'm all business. I place my coffee to the right. I sit at my desktop computer in my office. The phone's ring. The copy machine is copying. This writing for me starts with outlines. It includes scientific research and well-tested strategies for problem solving. It ends with my credentials, telling others why I'm able to write what I write.

My fiction writing routine is different in so many ways. I don't write in my office. Whether it's my window seat in the family room, my dining room table overlooking my front yard, or the bedroom chair given to me by my mother that overlooks the backyard--I need the sensory input a view provides.

My nonfiction writing is predictable; it's done between 9 and 5. My fiction writing is done--all day and unfortunately all night. Like Amy, I often write without putting words on a page and like Lisa, I experiment doing it here and there. I steal the time from the other things I should be doing. I think about plot and characters while driving, as I grocery shop and yes, sometimes while I'm sleeping.

My nonfiction is written to deadlines. A parenting paper needs an article, my manuscript is due to my editor. For my fiction, I have no daily page limits or word count goals. Someone once gave me advice, that to this day, drives my creative process: touch the work everyday. Sometimes I only have time to make notes about a scene in a pretty notebook given to me by one of my children. Some days I might write three pages.

If I were to wait to write until I found that Adirondack chair and felt the sea salt on my face--well, I wouldn't be a writer.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Taming the Beast

By Hannah

Every writer is fascinated by other writers' habits, let's confess, because we want to know how to tame this Beast of sorts we've found in our lives.

I am an extremely structured writer. Someone taught me to speed read in first grade. Bad educational experiment, but I do research in a snap. Outlines, key points, phrases my clients use, all come together into their finished products.

I write for them in the morning. The house has to be quiet. I need enough but not too much caffeine, cereal, and orange juice. I read the newspaper, check Web sites, throw in laundry. No meetings on the calendar, so I can let rip for two or three hours at a time. I follow a similar routine after lunch.

Did I mention these fabulous habits work only when writing for other people? Because for me, the Beast of Fiction is a completely different animal.

This Beast can demand attention before breakfast. Before coffee. I have missed lunch. I’ve written when I should have been making dinner. All I need is a good half hour. I’ll lie in bed, drift off, only to have the Beast nudge me with an idea. A small notebook in my backpack handbag, lying next to a pen, is filled with children’s doodles of flowers and graffiti lettering and directions for character action, circled and question-marked.

My Beast doesn’t mind noise. It has withstood test alarms for the local nuclear power plant. If my characters are ready to move, if I am in the story, I can write with one child playing drums and the other singing Broadway tunes.

Then again, my Beast will hide, leaving my head and the screen empty. I have not yet tamed this one; but I have gotten better about coaxing it. I set aside time, have coffee at the ready, turn off the stereo. I type a sentence or two, erase, retype. I go for a walk or do an errand and think about my story, and everything and nothing, hoping the Beast will believe itself ignored and will stick its nose out into the air. I do this sometimes for hours, for days. It is alive, there in its lair, and given steady encouragement, it eventually has no choice. It rustles, sniffs the coffee and roars.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Writing Routine?

Tuesdays with Amy

I have a confession: I don’t write every day. The conventional wisdom is that a bar must be set each day for a person to call herself a writer. In his book On Writing, Stephen King states that it’s 10 pages a day for him, even Christmas. Claire Cook suggests in her writing workshops that two pages is a manageable goal. In her book, Making a Literary Life, the darling Carolyn See titled Chapter Three, A Thousand Words a Day. Jennifer Haigh told me she sits at her kitchen table each morning and drafts her pages in long hand. Every single day.

All of their industriousness left me to wonder about my own routine. When I began my last book, I spent weeks simply listening to my protagonist tell me her story. She was a bit shy at first, reserved may be a better word, but soon I was able to capture her voice on the page. I worked for six months on that first chapter, getting to know my characters, letting the story unfold. And not every day. Entire months would pass before I’d take out my WIP and look at the pages again. Sure, in-between, I was freelancing essays, but I was not writing my book every day.

Still, it called to me.

I have three children, a job, a house that needs cleaning (it doesn’t help that I’m a bit OCD); there are many demands on my time. Many days I would rise at 4:30 a.m. to get in two hours of writing before my children woke. Other days, I would sneak in only 45 minutes when I was supposed to be at yoga, ten minutes when I should have been folding laundry. There were times when I would go as long as four days without writing at all. It was always a purposeful break, though.

I needed to wallow within my characters’ lives. I afforded myself time to ponder their innermost thoughts and fears, imagine what secrets they kept, what experiences had brought them to their present states. My best writing was done in the shower or while walking. Afterward, I would race to the computer and pour out entire chapters within a few hours. Still, I was aware that I wasn’t living up to the true writers’ standard.

Then I read an interview with National Book Award recipient, Julia Glass. In it, she said she followed a similar routine while writing Three Junes: stealing 15 minutes from her workday, constructing plot points while showering, and long periods of writing nothing at all.

So, really, be assured there is no one perfect routine to achieve your writing goal, only the one that works for you. Just ask Julia

Monday, December 11, 2006

When it comes to developing writing habits, experiment.

Posted by Lisa

When it comes to writing, and writing habits, authors' quirks are as unique as the books they write. As I grow as a writer, I continue to refine my writing habits: What time of day works best for me? Do I need quiet to think, or do I function well with background noise? Listen to music? Write with paper and pencil? Or keyboard?

Maybe, I figured, I should study the masters. That's the best approach, right? If something works for them, I should try it myself. Luckily, here in Boston, we have a wealth of local talent. Why shouldn't I turn to them for ideas? You know, check out their writing habits then try those habits myself.

Well, these authors are way cool, and this is what I've heard:

Christopher Castellani likes the background noises of a cafe when he writes (conversations, music - the occasional clatter of dishes). The anonymity of sitting in a corner with a laptop.
I tried it. I loved it. I was sold. I frequent my closest book store once a week.

Steve Almond digs writing to music.
So do I! I tune my I-pod to the mood of the scene I'm writing. Sad scenes, play sad music. Action scenes, play fast music. Happy scenes, play the Grateful Dead.

Jenna Blum has a special type of bound journal to write in, only available at Barnes & Noble. At least I think she said Barnes & Noble at the Novel Class I attended at Grub Street Writers last summer.
Jenna's onto something. Though my writing pads are thin lined looseleaf, the consistency of the feel, the spacing, it works.

So what's just right for me? Definitely morning. Definitely evening. Definitely not any time between. Other approaches work for me:

Writing at the kitchen table.
Writing on the top bunk of a bunk bed.
Writing cuddled next to my dog (how cute is my dog?)
Writing on long drives to Canada.
Writing on short drives to French Memories Bakery (passenger seat, of course - husband driving).
Writing in French Memories Bakery.

Then taking a break. After all, I need a break sometime, and if I'm in French Memories Bakery, well...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Little steps on a long journey

In three weeks' time writing for this blog, we've shared how we found our writers' group, who we are as writers and how we conduct our meetings. Check out our index to read what we've posted so far. One of the most frequently asked questions any writer gets has to do with the actual process of writing. Next week, each of us will describe our unique writing processes, including how often we write, how much we write and under what circumstances we write.

But it's Friday and time for a round-up of what each of us did this week to take little steps on this long journey.

This week I continue to learn more about the art and magic of drafting query letters. I helped a friend perfect her letter, and I am so excited she is sending work out.

This week, I've been reading a wonderful manuscript and can't wait to workshop it. I love it when my writer friends succeed. I've also been brainstorming with friends about marketing their books in advance of their pub dates. Unlike most writers, I love this aspect of the business; why not to spread the word about great books?

A crazy week, so I stuck to the basics of reading and 'riting. Reading was Lynne's wonderful, completed novel manuscript, and the writing moved onward, forward, toward that ever-growing light at the end of the tunnel.

I spent most of my work time this week working on edits for Negotiation Generation. I got the news that noted educational psychologist Jane Healy, author of the classic, Endangered Minds will be writing a testimonial for NG. Most of my fiction writing time was focused on doing the beginning research for my next novel. I chose character names, did some character sketches and researched the history of the period in which the story will take place. I am excited to be getting to know these new people; I plan on spending a great deal of time with them.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rituals build trust

A line or two from Lynne

Young children thrive on routine and structure. Predictable and consistent routines make them feel safe and secure--ready to learn. Why wouldn't writers feel the same way. We do.

Like young children at the beginning of a school day, we file into one of our member's dining room between 7 and 7:10 pm one evening every other week. Funny, we arrive in a predictable pattern, too. We do not change locations each week. This decision was made early on because of a child care need but has turned out to be terrrific for minimizing the distraction and stress changing locations each week would bring.

We place our journals and pages down at our regular seats. These seats were not assigned but chosen the first week and now no one would change them. There is comfort in sameness.

The four of us meet first in the kitchen where we pour a cup of tea and take a biscotti or apple square. The refreshments are not the focus of our meeting yet they've become a small ritual that marks the beginning of our time together. There is no pressure to bake the perfect cake; only the self-imposed pressure to write the perfect story.

If you've read the earlier posts this week written by Lisa, Amy and Hannah, you know the ins and outs of how we run a meeting. We thrive on the routine and structure. It is the calm in the midst of putting forward your work for critique.

One special ritual adds uniqueness to our group and it is our celebratory glasses. Drinking alcohol has never been nor will it be part of our meetings; we are at work in our meetings. But the celebratory glasses filled with sparkling lemonade or pear juice is my favorite ritual.

When one of us finishes a manuscript, gets an agent or a book deal, out come the glasses. We raise our glasses high, genuinely thrilled for the person for whom we are celebrating.

The structure we rely on and the rituals we've adopted have allowed us to trust each other and to be comfortable sharing our precious work. We've found over the fifteen months that we've been a group that we're all eager to do the same thing. Write what we love, share what we write and do it with other serious writers.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


by Hannah

The focus of the blog this week is our writers’ group structure. As you can see from Lisa and Amy's posts, we have strict rules, and for good reason. It is impossible to make progress without them.

Except. How can any one person, never mind four, keep to such strict rules? Do we really follow our rules 100% of the time? Well…

- We meet every two weeks. Okay, except due to illness, holidays or vacation. But we do create a replacement meeting as close to the original date as humanly possible. We do not push it off to the next meeting, ever. We have always met twice a month.

- Two people present 15 – 20 pages. Although we have read the last 50 pages of three manuscripts now, at a shot. And we reread each completed MS, start to finish, which is a total joy. Never less? Well, after finished manuscripts, we have read query letters, but we rarely have to wait more than another round before we get the first 20 pages of a new project.

- Pages are sent at least a week in advance and edited in advance. This one holds fast. Even and especially with entire manuscripts. It is useful having a group of voracious readers.

- The person being critiqued remains silent until the others are done. We may confess to occasional sign language, but we are good about this.

- We begin with compliments. Always; it is never an issue.

- No unnecessary chit-chat unrelated to the writing life. This is work we love, and we are virtual office mates in an otherwise solitary experience. Who else would listen to discussions of punctuation, possible plot shifts, and the wisdom of Agents and Editors and Authors met along the way, without going cross-eyed? Do we ever mention other parts of our lives? Maybe. Okay, now and then. But we always get back to the writing.

We were far stricter about our rules at the start, which is how it needed to be. As we have gotten to know each other, to trust each other, we have loosened them. But not much. Bottom line: rules provide structure, wise exceptions make them stronger, and trust and commitment within the group make both possible.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Right Writers' Group

Tuesdays with Amy

The first writers’ group I joined met every Monday. Eight to ten women would arrive (we were never really sure how many would show) some empty-handed, others clutching pages: one wrote angst-ridden memoir; another, picture books; and still another would burst in with a flash of brilliance scribbled in the margins of her shopping list. The rules were that everyone read aloud up to ten pages to the group, and then the group would devote the next few minutes to critiquing the writing sample. All of this was preceded by lots of personal chit-chat.

Clearly, this wasn’t productive.

There was no order, no real structure, and worst of all, no expectation of momentum concerning either our meetings or our writing. We were a dysfunctional group and we knew it.

Most agreed to part ways, and Hannah, one of the newest members, offered to host a farewell party. Somehow -- I don’t recall the particulars -- Hannah, Lisa, and this new woman, Lynne, whom we met for the first time at that party, cajoled me into giving it another go – shhh, just the four of us.

Now, I am not a person to be cajoled into anything. People who know me well can attest that asserting my will has never been a problem for me, but these three women were all so…eager.

Reluctantly, I agreed, but with several caveats. Not only did they agree to these conditions, they had some of their own:

- We would meet every two weeks. Once a week was too cumbersome to our other lives and created unnecessary pressure to produce pages instead of good writing.
- Two people would present up to 20 pages, no fewer than 15, at each meeting. That meant each of us had to generate a certain volume of respectable pages once a month; manageable and productive.
- Pages had to be sent at least a week in advance and edited by the other members before the meeting.
- At the meeting, the person whose work was being critiqued had to remain silent until the others were finished discussing her pages.
- We had to begin each critique with several compliments about the writing.
- No unnecessary chit-chat about topics unrelated to the writing life.

I knew before the first meeting that I would soon withdraw. The dynamic of the last group had worn me through, and I didn’t believe that this new group could hold fast to this terse structure. That first meeting, though, even I had to agree it went well. Still, I planned to tell them the next time we met that I was leaving. But the next time, I couldn’t because I had agreed to read their pages. The next meeting, then. It went on like that for a couple of months, until one night when they were work-shopping an early section of my novel-in-progress. They understood the themes, quickly identified the weaknesses, and were genuinely supportive of my project. They got it. More than that, I recognized I was working with individuals intent on creating something beautiful with their words. Without even realizing it, I had become devoted to their writing as well.

Since then, they’ve become the critics swirling in my head as I write, the ones who understand what it means to type for hours and never notice the time, they have become my dear friends, and my needed touchstone.

And together, we have become a writers’ group.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Writer's Group is a check-in

Posted by Lisa

The Boston Globe recently had a piece on a local writer. She hit it big with her first novel. The second was a struggle. The story in the paper described how she ultimately hit her stride when she joined a writer's group. She described her meeting as a weekly check-in. Essentially, letting her know if her writing was working or not.

It is the same for me. We meet twice monthly, two of us share pages every other week; we e-mail twenty or so in advance. When each of us get to writer's group, the others have had a chance to read it. When we meet, the writer goes "in the box": that means no talking as others discuss the writing's strengths and weaknesses. In general, we speak fifteen to twenty minutes. Positive feedback is balanced with constructive criticism and suggestions.

And, it works. At least our writing has shown improvement over the past many months. How many times, I wonder, have I toiled over one aspect of the pages I submit. A plot element, a change in setting. But I don't ask questions. I let them share their thoughts. My writer's group tells me if a scene works or not; it is up to them to find the strengths and weaknesses.

Writer's group is a check-in. Oftentimes, a much-needed check-in. Though questions are welcome at the end.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Workshops Work

It's Friday, which means the Writers' Group blog entry for today highlights what each of us did this week to take new steps toward creating a meaningful literary life.

Three of us, Lisa, Lynne and Amy went to a Grub Street South workshop with Stace Budzko called Characters in Conflict--The Art of Storytelling.

Stace pictured above, holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College where he teaches composition and creative writing. Through discussion, lecture and writing exercises, Stace challenged us to create conflict in our writing, rich in complications for our characters. These complications propel plot, deepen characterization and flesh out character motivation.

Thanks to Amy for organizing this event in cooperation with Buttonwood Books. And thanks to Stace, he was interesting and his ideas thought provoking.

So here is what we did this week to make a literary life:

Stace is a dynamic and motivating teacher. So glad he got me thinking more and more about my new protagonist. What makes her tick, her ambitions and fears.

I finished the revisions to my novel based on the detailed feedback from The Writers' Group; I owe you everything, friends. I also sent out four charming notes, thanking writers for inspiring my own work. Finally, I've drafted my query letter and hope to start sending it to agents soon. If anyone is willing to do the agent dance for me, I'll send you a charming note too.

I finally rewrote (more on our processes in future posts!) the biggest chunk of the middle of my story to remove a character. Ugh. Knowing I missed a great workshop, I did skim a couple of Jessica Page Morrell's chapters in Between the Lines, and expect to rewrite the next bits quickly, with the finish in sight!

Though I had a crazy busy work week, I found a way to sneak out to hear Stace. I finished edits on my novel and gave my manuscript to my friends at The Writers' Group. It will be my turn to hear feedback in two weeks. I signed off on the written material that will be on the cover of my parenting book, due out next September.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Finding the right expression

A line or two from Lynne

At four, I was famous for tantrums of dramatic proportions. My father used to call me Sarah Bernhardt and assured me, that like Sarah, I would some day receive an Academy Award. It wasn't until later that I understood this wasn't necessarily a compliment. I became a dancer at six and would dance jazz, tap and ballet until I was eighteen. Some dance teachers were kinder than others, but they all said the same thing. Though I was pretty good, a career in dance was impossible because I didn't have a dancers body.

I became a singer and actress in middle school. No perfect physical requirements necessary here. I sang in plays throughout high school, I even had the lead in my senior year musical. In college and for several years after, I sang with an acoustic guitar player in nightclubs throughout Boston. We were called White Breakfast. I did radio jingles for a major convenience store chain, a college and even a hair dressing school. Today, I only sing for fun and I love to sing in church.

It seems I've always been searching for the right artistic expression, one that fits my intense and sensitive nature. I do cherish my memories of being a singer, dancer and actress but those days are behind me, now. It was relatively easy to set aside these artistic pursuits in favor of a demanding job then later my marriage and finally the arrival of my children. Until I started to write.

Writing. Whether it's a parenting piece for my blog or website, a parenting book or my novel. I need to write. Everyday. The thoughts, feelings and opinions that march through my mind, day and night, beg to be freed. I simply must express them and when I do, I feel wonderful.

Writing is challenging, that's true. It takes lots of time and plenty of patience and at times enourmous courage to reveal private thoughts and secret feelings. But what's more challenging for me, is not writing. I've finally found my artistic passion.

Some may see my pursuit of the right artistic expression as fickle or judge me harshly because of my late arrival to the writing life. But those of us in the trenches writing and trying to navigate the world of publishing know, only the steadfast would stay in this game. I am a writer. I need to write and I couldn't stop now if I tried.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Smell of Ink


Have you seen those challenges to write entire stories in six words? My childhood and young adult years can be summed up as: Girl at typewriter, over and over.

Yes, a typewriter, with ribbons that turned fingers black and blue in the struggle to change them, when "font" was a word only printers used. There are black and white photos of me reading, then at a typewriter pecking out stories, or haiku, or whatever else struck my imagination. The fourth grade “Junior Newbery” award? Still have it; don’t tell anyone. The maudlin high school poems pondering existence, written with my latest favorite pen or pencil from the stash in my desk drawer? Tossed them. Boy, were they bad. But my confidence as a writer was fine: I saved reports for the last minute, knowing I could rip through a profile of Minnesota or the Roman Empire in no time.

There is a later photo, of my cropped head bent over a Selectric at my first grown-up job: assistant director of communications for a state agency. By then I had a degree in journalism, a major I came to only after writing for and serving as news editor for the UMass Daily Collegian. Writing came first, a degree its useful outcome, not that I was completely immune to the practical. After graduation I turned down an opportunity to be editor of a fledgling music magazine (annual salary below poverty line) to work for a brilliant man named Harry Durning who wanted me to write while the state paid me a living wage for the pleasure. Press releases, brochures, speeches, annual reports. Words, sentences, paragraphs, one after the other.

Public relations agencies need writers, too, bless them. The Weber Group, twelve people strong when I joined, grew to become the foundation of an international powerhouse. More releases, collateral, speeches, then edits of other people’s documents, then increasing meetings and strategy and business. I missed having a byline and started writing bits on the side for The Improper Bostonian, the Phoenix, and supplements of The Boston Globe. After marriage and a first child, I started to freelance both public relations and marketing writing. Every time, it amazes me that someone will pay me to write. When they’re not paying me, I do it anyway.

All my life I have entertained characters who flit in and out of my head, closed my eyes to memorize smells and sensations, jotted them down in endless notebooks with Rollerball pens. In addition to capturing other people’s experiences and thoughts over the years, I have put my stories to paper, on the computer, and more recently, have told them in lines at the zoo, in doctors’ offices and hospital rooms, on long car rides. I have tried to describe it to my husband as the flip side of reading a book and that feeling of going to another place; but in writing you go deeper and farther because the place and events are coming up out of you. There’s no choice. If I don’t write my own stories, I feel it physically. The tension grows, bottles up, waiting for me to pick up a pen or bang on the keyboard. When I'm done it's as through the ink is still on my fingers, filling all the senses. Some people may think this is crazy, but so be it.

Children, house, job, still I write.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The World Beyond

Tuesdays with Amy

Each Christmas, my family is invited to dinner at my uncle’s house. It’s a gorgeous old Victorian in a quaint New England farming town. My aunt is an artful decorator and generous cook, serving both turkey and ham, cheesecake and chocolate pie. We’re always eager to visit with family. One year, after we loosened our belts and sipped the last of our coffee, my uncle asked if we’d like to see the renovations he’d recently completed to the rooms below. They lived in the upper two floors and maintained the family business – a funeral parlor – in the lower two. Of course, we said. There wasn’t a polite way to say no.

First he showed us the mourning rooms with the intricately carved molding and comfortable seating, then the rooms where the bodies were waked. It was all tasteful, the colors and textures dignified and somber. The rest of my family was ready to return to the holiday cheer upstairs and forget the melancholy of those rooms, but I couldn’t help myself: Where do you prepare the bodies, I asked. It was no surprise when the others retreated.

My uncle led me down a flight of stairs and then through a labyrinth of basement tunnels. Behind an ancient wooden door was his workspace. The lighting was stark and the floors and walls so unlike the elegant rooms where the dead were laid out. Here was a room that was clinical, smelling of formaldehyde and industrial cleanser; with angled metal tables and floor drains. My uncle, a kind man devoted to the families he served, patiently explained the purpose of each item in the room. Then he nodded toward something I hadn’t noticed before, a portrait of Jesus staring out from beyond his frame. Pointing to it, my uncle said, That’s there to remind me that we’re never alone in this world.

But what if, I asked him, this man of impenetrable faith, what if you didn’t believe in God? Could you still do this job? He smiled at me, shaking his head, knowing how tenuous my own beliefs were. I don’t see how, he shrugged, you have to have faith.

For weeks, months after, I could think of nothing else; I was haunted by that workroom. Soon I began a story about a woman undertaker who didn’t believe in God. I named her Clara Marsh. One day while out searching for rugs, I told my husband about this character who whispered to me through the night and every moment of the day, telling me her story, desperate to share it. I knew how difficult publishing a book could be, I already had one gathering dust, and as we walked through an antique shop, I shared with my husband my concern. I didn’t know if anyone would want to read about something so dark, a woman so utterly crushed by life. He listened as we walked through the shop, scouting for something not too threadbare. And then I spotted it, propped on a table. It was a yellowed envelope adorned with a one-cent stamp and a carefully scripted name -- addressed to Clara Marsh.

It was a sign, surely it was a sign. My uncle’s words came back to me then and in every moment since when I’ve doubted my ability to finish this book. I can almost hear him now, as I begin to think about the querying process, wondering if Clara's story has a place in this world, if I do. Can you hear him? Have faith.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stories choose us

Posted by Lisa

I saw the stringy-haired girl one time.
In a bowling alley in New Hampshire. It was raining out. The drizzle woke me up and stayed for the day, a guest my parents never invited to our Lake Winnipesaukee cottage.

That day my dad drove the five of us to Wolfeboro, to give us something to do. My sister, brother, our neighbors, Kathy and Scott. I was twelve, I think. Or thirteen. My dad gave us money, for snacks, sodas, shoe rentals, and three straight hours of strings.

The girl in the bowling alley was my age, thereabouts. She watched me, the whole time. I wondered what she saw. I glanced at her from time to time, wondering why her dad looked so young and why her mom never spoke to her. She was someone lonely, with sad eyes that even a day of bowling wouldn't change. She was longing for a friend, longing for a lot of things. I think she would have liked a Coke. I sipped mine through two skinny straws.

Like any writer, anywhere, images stay with me. I have a picture of that girl – in my mind. It's next to a little boy I once saw trying to surf on washed up driftwood. We all have those photo albums. Sometimes I flip through the pictures. They tell snippets of stories. Things that never sat right with me. Things I didn't understand. I worried about those people. I write about them now, giving them names, and circumstances. I make up worlds for them to live in. I need to fill in the answers for the questions I had about them.

Writers such as CS Lewis, Joan Bauer, Jack Gantos, Patricia Leitch, Enid Blighton, all have made me laugh and wonder and escape. Over the past two years, I have lived with the characters in my middle grade novel, Sandcastle Secrets. Their imaginary seaside home on Cape Cod has been my second home. My novel is with agents now... and so I move on to novel number two. I'm well into it, both the writing and the world.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Making a Literary Life Friday

All four of us loved reading Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life. The warmth and wisdom of her book has inspired each of us to try each week to reach out in small ways to other writers. Creating a literary life can at times seem daunting, but See suggests chipping away at it, taking baby steps to get where you want to go.

Each Friday, the members of The Writers' Group will collectively share the sometimes small, sometimes big steps each of us has taken on our personal and unique journeys toward creating rich and fulfilling writing lives.

I wrote about Rebecca McClanahan, author of Word Painting in my blog entry this week. I contacted her thanking her for her inspirational book. She emailed me with words of encouragement.

I discovered a new (to me) writer, Patry Francis who has a book coming out in February, The Liar's Diary. Not only am I excited to read this book (it sounds amazing!), but I've invited her to speak at Grub Street South .

I read an amazing full manuscript delivered to my doorstep last week by a gifted writer. Reading it energized me to edit a difficult chapter of my own, killing off a character. RIP Aunt Pat; your passing makes what follows far better!

I received the first testimonial for my book, Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Authority Without Punishment! I sent a heartfelt thank you note to Dr. Judith Palfrey. Thanks again, Judy.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Finding my writers’ group was a trip

A line or two from Lynne

At seven, I wanted to take up sewing. I hopped on my bike with its front basket and pedaled three miles to the local library. I took out three books and taught myself embroidery. The first thing I did when I got engaged at twenty-eight, after accepting the proposal of course, was to take the T to a downtown bookstore and grab anything and everything they had on planning a wedding. So when I decided to write a novel, it’s no wonder I turned to books on writing fiction.

I’ve been a parenting expert, writing about families for over twenty years and I feel pretty good about my ability to judge the content and quality of my non-fiction writing. But two years ago, I turned my attention to writing fiction and I didn’t have the faintest idea how to gauge the effectiveness of my work. In Writing Alone or With Others by Pat Schneider and in Page by Page by Heather Sellers, both authors strongly urge new and even experienced writers to get feedback, good feedback. I needed a writers’ group.

Being a writer who follows directions, I started looking for a writers’ group. Following a lead from my local bookstore to a nearby library, I came across one listed on their website. The problem was it was closed to new members. Being a writer who doesn’t follow directions, I emailed the woman who facilitated the group and asked if I could join. She emailed me right back with an answer. I was surprised to find out that the group was no longer closed; it was no longer meeting.

This generous fellow writer kindly emailed the disbanded group members to see if any of them would be interested in reforming. She included me in the distribution list and the series of emails that followed were simultaneously clever and crazy, but all were extremely well-written. To my delight, the original group members agreed to a meeting to discuss whether or not to reconvene. I was invited to attend.

Clutching my Map Quest directions and ten pages of what would later become my first novel, I drove one town over to meet the women who would change my writing and change my life. Six women attended the “should we get back together” meeting but only four signed on. Lisa, Amy, Hannah and me. Fifteen months later, we’re working better than ever as a group. We’ve had such a positive experience, we’re eager to share with other writers how to form an effective group, one where members encourage and support each other while giving honest accurate feedback. Writing, querying and trying to navigate the complex world of publishing is a personal and challenging journey. We all need a little help from our friends.

Welcome to the Writers’ Group.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Not A Joiner


I am not a joiner. How many groups of any kind have you experienced that had a clear purpose, drew the best possible ideas from participants, then generated positive, effective results? Mmm hmm. A friend once said if you write, you’re a writer. If you don’t, you’re not. I measured myself by that. Either I produced words on a page, or I didn’t. I made a career out of writing speeches, bylined articles, anything anyone needed, and wrote fiction when I found time. Now and then.

Yet when a writers’ group sponsored a presentation at the local library several years ago, I scraped up the courage to call the woman whose number was listed on the bottom of the flyer. No, I can’t attend the presentation. But, do you, by any wild chance, have room in your group? I found “maybe” exciting. Gulp. Why?

First, I was never interested in talking about the writing I wanted to do. I wanted feedback on writing I had done. And only recently had I generated fiction my crabby internal editor found worthwhile. Not mere individual scenes, but scenes that followed one from the other. Was the pacing any good? I had characters that demanded my time and attention. Would anyone else find them interesting? And I had a storyline. An actual beginning, middle and end! At last I had something tangible on which I was ready to receive input, and professional writing and editing experience to offer in exchange.

Also, silly as it may be, the contact on the flyer was a woman. I wanted at least one other woman in a writers’ group, and there was her name as proof of her existence. When she called back, it turned out the group was all women: six to eight in a range of ages, a range of backgrounds, all with some measure of writing experience. And they would be pleased to meet me!

Fast forward. Of all the writers who welcomed me and my eight pristine copies of text that first night, Amy is still across the table. Lisa joined during the evolution of that group, which then devolved, shifted, all but died and, at the same time we met Lynne, rose from the ashes. This foursome has chugged along – sometimes dashed along – ever since, and we have analyzed the heck out of Why in many conversations. Thus, we come to Amy’s inspiration to start a blog and share what works for us, in the hope you will find what sounds right for you. The bottom line for non-joiners: yes, do the writing and be a writer. Then find or create a group that works. You will treasure every second.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why I Needed a Writers' Group

Tuesdays with Amy

In the middle of the night while soothing a fussy infant, I began writing my obituary. No, I wasn’t suffering from postpartum depression, but being a stay-at-home mother to three young children in the suburbs can give one pause. I immediately began listing off everything I could do well: I was a good mother, but no one gets paid for that; I enjoyed baking, though leaving for work at 3:00 am each morning would wreak havoc on my baby’s nursing schedule; I’d always done well in English class and I did write the winning essay to the Father-of-the-Year committee when I was 12 years old. That’s it! A writer was born.

I spent the next few weeks composing a series of essays, first in my head, and then, whenever a free moment presented itself, on paper. I sent ten off to Beverly Beckham who at the time was my favorite columnist for the Boston Herald . I was on tenterhooks waiting for her to call. After a few weeks, I realized she was too embarrassed for me and would politely ignore my pathetic attempts. As the days rolled one into the next, and then into long sleep-deprived nights, I’d cringe each time I thought of her sorting through my sheaf of papers.

But she did call. First she told me everything that was right with my work; it was a stunning revelation that anything I’d written could touch another. Her enthusiasm made me weep. And then in a kind, no nonsense manner she explained all that needed tweaking. Though my hand shook, I wrote down every word she said. A few months later, I sent off one of those revised essays and within a week, an editor at the Boston Globe called to tell me they were running it.

Soon my essays were being accepted at other publications and I was even picked up as a regular freelancer for the Globe where I lobbied for, and was given, a column. But I wanted more. One dreary Saturday, I heard Jonathan Franzen being interviewed by Terry Gross, and he said something that startled me. He said writing The Corrections was the most fun he’d ever had. Writing a book was fun? Not terrifying, not excruciatingly difficult, but fun?

Within minutes, I plopped myself in front of my computer and began a novel. Eight hours and twenty pages later, I understood exactly what Franzen meant. My experience with Beverly taught me just how important a good critique was to writing. But I couldn’t return to her with this mammoth project, I needed a writers’ group. That same week I saw an article in my local paper profiling just such a gathering that met at a nearby library. I called the woman who was interviewed, sent in my writing sample, and joined my first writers’ group.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Finding a Writers' Group Takes Persistence

Posted by Lisa

Two years ago, I knew setting was my strength. I had read Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan. I felt the scene, smelled it, listened to it, or tried to, before I ever started typing. Description too, I could handle – or thought I could … how a day at the beach coated my character with sea salt, then dusted her with a layer of sand. Her face would crack if she smiled, but how could she keep from smiling?...

But characterization? Plot? So tricky, so tricky. I wanted, no, I needed a writing critique group. This next step was obvious.

My first writer’s group never got together, not once. I met them through a three week writing course at a Boston college. Though we e-mailed some, we didn’t read each other’s pages, we didn’t share our dreams, aspirations, ambitions, fears. Needless to say, I didn’t get much out of it.

My second attempt at a writer’s group failed because of construction. Not story construction. Road construction. Cranes, front-end loaders, dump trucks, cement mixers. Ramps that disappear from week to week (if you live in Boston, you know what I mean). Driving from the South Shore of Massachusetts through the Big Dig to meet wouldn’t work for me; the 90 minute commute was too much.

I was determined to find a writer’s group; others who had reviewed my work gave me a taste of how valuable feedback can be. They had pointed out weaknesses, and strengths, in pages I had read ten times over, wondering what needed tweaking, or deleting. Writing is hard, addictive, and, at times, masochistic. I couldn’t go it alone. I knew that.

I was lucky: I found a group through my local library – a tiny link posted on a random page of my library’s website. I e-mailed the group’s contact. She asked for a writing sample. They liked it - enough. I was in.

We meet. Twice monthly. Have been for over a year. And it only takes 11 minutes to get there.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Welcome to The Writers' Group

Our new site will be up and running in two weeks. Stay tuned for entries on topics related to starting and working with a writers' group.

The plan for posting our themed entries is:

Lisa on Mondays
Amy on Tuesdays
Hannah on Wednesdays
Lynne on Thursdays
And a special group entry on living a literary life on Fridays