It sounds cliché but it’s true: every writer needs a writers group. I’m not talking about online forums or Facebook groups. The ability to look each other in the eye and talk candidly about one’s writing is, well, priceless.
Eleven years ago I answered a Craigslist ad. With the same level of expectations I might have had if exchanging cash for a bookcase, I showed up at some guy’s house in the Brady Street neighborhood of Milwaukee. We (a group of five people) met a few more times before the group’s founder announced he was moving to San Francisco. Myself and another member vowed to keep the group running. Slowly we’ve added more members. We now have nine people.
My writers group functions a lot like an MFA program. We meet every other Wednesday evening in someone’s home. By the Sunday prior three submissions (no more than 10 pages each) are emailed to the group. The expectation is to print out the documents, read them, lightly mark them up (a mix of line-edits and addressing big topics like plausibility, scene setting, character development and dialogue), and be prepared to discuss.
Our journeys are remarkable. One member is on her third novel. Another placed high in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Many of us have published essays and short stories that were born out of the group and quite a few have read essays on Milwaukee Public Radio. The novel I’m writing—about an Italian-American family’s fight to hold onto its California winery—is a passion project after trekking to Sonoma and Napa numerous times as a wine writer. This coming week we’re having a Plot Party—using the book “Nine Day Novel-Outlining: Outlining Your Fiction Novel: Plotting Your Way to Success” by Steve Windsor to hone in on the inner workings of a book’s plot. Two years ago, in celebration of National Novel Writing Month (held each November) we launched something new: a 10-minute writing prompt at the start of each meeting. Often these fits and starts turn into polished drafts and future submissions.
When I met with agents during the Client Connections at this year’s ASJA conference, to pitch my novel, my writers group was first of mind. I wouldn’t be writing a novel if it weren’t for these guys. Knowing there are people out there who not only want to read my creative prose, but mark it up with a metaphorical red pen and throw around words like dramatic tension, plausibility and the hero’s journey is, like I said, priceless.