Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Writers’ Groups

I’m a huge believer in writers’ groups. Writing is a lonely, little understood, and slightly (very?) crazy business, and it helps enormously to have a group of people with whom we can discuss our fears, hopes, ideas, gripes, accomplishment, and failures.

My writers’ group in Adelaide met once a month. When I joined as an unpublished writer, they were a local chapter of Romance Writers of Australia; by the time I left, I had published four novels and the group had morphed (somewhat painfully) into the “Popular Fiction/Romance Writers of Adelaide.” The writers I met in that group were my closest friends in Australia, and I still miss them.

I’ve belonged to a writers’ group here in New Orleans for five years now. The Wordsmiths, as we are called, meet every Monday night at a local coffee shop conveniently located in a bookstore, and I can say unequivocally that the group has had a tremendously positive impact on my life. I’d say that even if one of the members hadn’t become my husband three years ago.

We are a core group of six, with one other member who comes whenever she can. Two of us (the other being Laura Joh Rolland, author of the Sano Ichiro Samurai mystery series) are professional writers in the sense that writing is our “day job.” Three are academics by day. Charles Gramlich, a professor of psychology at Xavier University, is a horror/sci-fi/fantasy author who has written COLD IN THE LIGHT and the fantasy Talera trilogy due to be re-released later this year, as well as scores of short stories and poems. Emily Toth, a professor of English at LSU, is the author of a historical romance as well as many nonfiction works (she also gives advice to academics as Ms. Mentor). Kathleen Davis, professor of modern languages at Tulane, is another scholarly author with the soul of a novelist. Our sixth member is a lawyer who is interested in writing fiction and in the meantime reads voraciously; she has a presence in the blogworld as Sphinx Ink. And, finally, Steve Harris is a retired Army intelligence officer who now works in human resources. He is my coauthor for THE ARCHANGEL PROJECT.

I suspect all writers’ groups go through periodic growth pains and contortions; only those that can adapt and change survive. At one time, our group used to do critiques, but we’ve eliminated that aspect, a change that seems to have worked for the better. Now we simply do a roundtable of “news,” then discuss a topic. Sometimes we pick something from a list of topics we’ve come up with in advance, sometimes a member will come in with a topic that they’d like to explore, at other times the topic will spin naturally out of our roundtable. Over the years we’ve explored some fascinating subjects, from satisfying readers’ fantasies to—these past few weeks—what makes a memorable character.

Our group works so well, I suspect, because we are all very much alike in some ways, and yet different in other ways. The members are all educated, well-read, open-minded people. We are all vaguely in the same camp politically, although some are more moderate and others more radical. Yet our interests and reading tastes and even backgrounds are fairly different, so that each brings a different perspective, a unique “take” on the topic at hand. I have tremendous respect for the Wordsmiths' intellegence, their opinions, and their analytical ability, and I feel privileged to be a part of their group.

They are also wonderful friends.

On a side note…

I won’t be posting for the rest of the week as I head up to the lake house tomorrow to try to finish the first draft of THE ARCHANGEL PROJECT. I have my daughter coming home from Yale for term break, and then my sister coming for Mardi Gras, and the book is due March 1. Yes, I’m panicking. But then, I do that a lot.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice words about our group. Everyone in the group values it--and one another--very highly. Coincidentally, Sphinx Ink has just posted a comment about our group on Stewart Sternberg's blog, in response to his request for info about other writers' groups. The comment appears at https://www2.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=33284685&postID=4252259245643648883

Anonymous said...

I know you won't be posting, but I am curious..why did you eliminate the critique component? You said it worked better for you. Better how. What about people who still wanted some feedback on their writing?

Anonymous said...

Good luck up at the lake. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Sounds very busy and exciting--good luck with all of it! :)

Trish Morey said...

Hey from Downunder!

I just got home from summer hols with the family and found your Xmas letter with your blog addy and what do I find when I get here? - you talking about writing groups with a mention for the old Adelaide group:-))

I have to tell you, you are sorely missed. We're much changed from those days, but we still meet once a month, so if you're ever down this way sometime, look us up:-))

And me of the hopelessly towering tbr pile has finally picked up What Angels Fear and as expected, I'm loving it. I foresee a CS Harris reading frenzy in my immediate future. Lovely.

Glad the stint at the lake house went well. A reply to your letter is in progress!