Community: A Writer’s Group

Writers need solitude. Writers need community. This is the teeter-totter writers navigate. Writing Conferences are one way to be in community; Writer’s Groups are another.

When I moved to the Fargo/Moorhead area, I was astonished that I couldn’t find a writer’s group. I pretty good on the web. No FM Writers, Fargo Writers, Moorhead Writers. If it was out there, I couldn’t access it. I’d search off and on. One year I found a group, but it was closed. Another year I found one, but it was elderly people writing family stories for their grandchildren.

Two years ago I came to the sad conclusion that I’d never find a group in my area. After feeling depressed for awhile over that sad fact, I thought, hey! Why not start a group of your own? Indeed. Why not?

I found one other writer and we met for coffee. She knew another writer, too. I sent out a few paltry emails. A small group of writers started getting together off and on for a year. People came and went. They said they Wanted to Come, but were always busy. They said they Wanted to Write, but somehow it just never got done. The group went up and down from two people to six. After six months we petered out to just Paula and I.

So Paula and I met for six months. The Writer’s Club of Two.

A few months ago, we decided we’d try again. I don’t remember the impetus. Paula knew two writers. We invited them. Then I ran into Selina at AWP Minneapolis, and invited her. About that time, I got an email from the daughter of an old friend.  She lived in the area and was a writer. I invited her. And our group grew to six. That’s where we are right now. Six women, all writing fiction, getting together for coffee and writing.

Writing Group Basics

  • JOIN/CREATE A WRITING GROUP IF:

You want to improve your writing.

You are willing to listen.

You are eager to learn.

  • DON’T JOIN/CREATE A WRITING GROUP IF:

You think your prose is perfect.

You have a deep need to defend yourself and your writing.

You know it all already.

Writing Group Structure

  • WRITING PROMPTS

Writing Prompt, Jill Kandel, So Many AFricas, MemoirThe group I am in starts (after some coffee talk visiting) with a writing prompt. One member brings a prompt and we all write for five to fifteen minutes. Last month, we used this prompt. This past week it was “Choose fear, pleasure, or anger and write a scene using your senses. You cannot use the word fear, pleasure or anger in your writing.”

After we write for the given length of time, we go around the circle and read. Out loud. Reading out loud is vulnerable. It opens us up to each other’s voices and thoughts. It is, in itself, a valuable process. When a writer reads out loud, she gains confidence in her voice and she hears it in a very different way then when she is reading silently in her own mind.

  • BRING WRITING to READ

We come to the meetings prepared to read some of what we’ve been working on over the past two weeks. Each writer reads two to five pages of her work. The group listens respectfully and attentively, sometimes taking notes. Afterwards we talk and discuss the work. What are the strengths? Weaknesses? My favorite question is, “Where did I loose you?” In other words, what part didn’t hold your attention? Was it because it was boring or because it was confusing and unclear?

Last week, the group critiqued a new character I’m working on. The insight I gained was invaluable. My character, in one section, was working out of character. I didn’t see it when I was writing. But now I do.

  • WRITING LIFE TALK

We often wind the time together down with writing talk. We talk about our schedules. What we are sending out. What we are learning. Frustrations. Victories. I always learn something. We talk about what is going on in the literary scene locally. Events to attend. Books we are reading. Writing news. Web articles, blogs, videos we’ve watched and learned from.

I spend five hours a day, writing, alone. And once every other week, I come out of my writing cave and meet with other writers. It is sunshine and fresh air. It is coffee and shop talk. It is challenging and creative.

I open my writing up to others and in return they offer me their attention, time, thoughts, intuitions and imaginations. These women are a large part of my writing life. They are a joy and a gift. And I can’t wait to blog about them, as their books finish and go out into the world.

Jill Kandel
jill.kandel@gmail.com
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