Writer’s Group

Writers are supposed to group. This is a thing. Just trust me.

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were in a writer’s group called The Inklings. Look it up. I’m not lying.

I started something like a Pogue Family Writer’s Group back in ’07, when I sent an email to my dad and older sister telling them, “Next month you’re going to write a novel.” That was our first NaNoWriMo, and we spent all of October and November in fierce email exchange exhorting one another toward the goal. Since then, it’s been nothing so formal, but in ’08 my younger sister joined us all in writing, and then we ended up having a family writer’s conference at a cabin in Branson, where we spent a weekend critiquing each other’s work, teaching lessons and participating in exercises. We’ve all benefited from that.

A while back I accidentally spent a Small Groups session discussing my book, and then when I wrote Gods Tomorrow I shared it with our preacher (who is also the host of our Small Group), so inevitably word got around at church that I was a writer, and the preacher’s son realized we had a number of writers among us, so he suggested a writer’s group. Word of this suggestion reached me via T–, and my immediate response was, “Nope! Not gonna do that.”

On Saturday, we had our first meeting.

The members of our group were Shawn McElroy (the aforementioned preacher’s son), Courtney Cantrell (the recently much-mentioned, here on this blog), and J. T. Hackett (a poet and storyteller from the youth group). We got together at Courtney’s place at two.

(As an aside, Shawn and I showed up first, and I had the unnerving experience of encountering IRL things with which I’d become familiar IBlogger. Specifically, Courtney opened the door to greet us and had to stop Pippin rushing out the door, and I thought, “I know that cat!”)

Anyway, we began our discussion with the weirdness of dreams, and the usefulness of journals, and proceeded to a discourse on sleep schedules. One phrase often uttered among us variously (at least at first) was, “I know I’m going to sound like a freak, but….” The answer quickly became, “I don’t think you need to say that, here.”

That’s the point of the writer’s group. Writers spend a lot of their time thinking about things sane people shouldn’t be thinking about — and often in ways sane people cannot think about things. We dedicate huge amounts of our time to learning to do just that. If you’re reading this blog you know me, and you know I’m a little off, and yet those first few sentences are clearly exaggeration. They’re not, though. Writers just know how to hide it, when they have to. The things I’ve discussed with you only barely scratch the surface.

Part of the joy of a writer’s group is getting to let that guard down — to just relax and say what you’ve really been thinking. When I said, “That’s what I’d been looking for for years! A mechanism to bring about the end of the United States!” It got a laugh, sure, but they knew exactly what I meant.

More than just indulging in our special weirdness, though, the writer’s group gives an opportunity to vent about the special frustrations of writing. The actual process of writing is such an isolated experience that it’s easy to feel alone in your struggles. I’ve found — first with teaching my family, and then again in our conversation Saturday — just how valuable it is to hear someone else say, “Oh yeah! Me too.”

As I understand it, we’ve got two veterans and two novices in our group. I don’t know exactly how long Shawn’s been writing, but he presented himself as new to it. Courtney and I have both been scribbling since high school, and we’ve both gone through the same Writing program at OC. It’s nice to be able to bring that experience to the table. It was nice when Shawn said, “These are the things I’m struggling with,” to understand them and be able to give real, solid advice. At the same time, I was able to take a lot of energy from Shawn’s enthusiasm, and some of the stuff he said gave me a new perspective on material I’ve been staring at for years.

We went around the circle and discussed our major projects — with much interruption, of course — and by the time we were finished with that we were all anxious to read each other’s stuff. We talked about our literary influences and made a round of book recommendations, and we all agreed we’d like to do it again. Regularly.

Thanks to Courtney for hosting, and to Shawn for suggesting it in the first place, and to T– for gently prodding me toward participating at all. I can’t wait for the next one.

2 Replies to “Writer’s Group”

  1. Reading the posts on the Pogue Family Writers Conference and Discussing Your Book at Small Group, I have two thoughts:

    1. I am totally jealous that you have family members who are writers–and into it enough to make a retreat of it. That’s fantastic. I love it.

    2. I always feel at least mildly uncomfortable discussing my books with non-writers. With writers, I know they’ll be interested long enough for me to say what I need to say. But with non-writers, I’m never quite sure how long their interest lasts. I watch for the glazed-over look, but that’s not always an accurate gauge. ;o)

    It’s kind of like trying to judge the level of someone’s interest when I’m talking about TCK stuff.

    I wondered if walking into a place of which you’d only seen pictures would seem a little surreal. ;o)

    I got soooooo much enthusiasm and energy from all three of you! I was concerned that JT might feel overwhelmed at how much the rest of us talked, but he told me later he really enjoyed listening and the discussion helped him get past his writer’s block a little.

    I’m so glad you went from “not gonna” to “can’t wait.” I can’t wait for the next meeting either!

  2. I had the same concern about JT, but his emails seem pretty enthused.

    When it comes to discussing my writing, I’ve got a small enough and reliable enough group of friends that I know where I stand with each of them, but it does get intimidating with acquaintances.

    I was in a meeting at work the other day and (during a break) I let slip that I’m working on a sci-fi series and a guy I’d only known for six hours asked me where I get my ideas for what the future will be like. He seemed genuinely interested, but there were others of my coworkers coming and going, and I figured to some extent my job security depended on hiding the crazy, so I tried to keep my answer brief.

    I still don’t know how well I did sounding sane, but I know the guy wasn’t satisfied with my answer.

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