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The Gift of Group Writing

[1]
Team Work by Mehul Pithadiya

 

Writing is a solitary sport. Nobody comes to watch you write and cheer you on. You sit alone in a room, just you and your head and your preferred method of writing.

To be honest, I find this extremely difficult sometimes. When I go too long without talking to another adult (outside my family) I find that my social skills become rather caveman-like. I forget how to be human and turn into some kind of yoga pant-wearing, coffee-swilling goblin who grunts out a few syllables at the UPS man. Sometimes I miss the companionship of a workplace, the enjoyment of building something as a team.

What if I told you it didn’t have to be like that? What if I told you that getting together with other writers, whether virtually or in life, could be just the thing to get your words flowing?

I’m reading Marie Mutsuki Mockett [2]’s memoir about Japan and grief, Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Good-bye. In one section, she does a group meditation. For three hours she and other people sit in the dark and meditate on a hard floor. The hours pass quickly, a surprise. The priest says they would have never been able to do this alone.

Writing with others can be a bit like that kind of meditation (disclaimer: I haven’t actually done that meditation so I’m sure there are also ways it’s different). Your energy gets exchanged with the rest of the group. Hours pass quickly. You feel the invisible energy of support. This is group writing.

There are three types of writing gatherings.

 

Virtual Hangouts

For the past few years I’ve been in a writers’ group that meets in Google Hangouts. We spend about fifteen minutes chatting, then forty-five minutes writing. We’re all over the country, but it feels very much like being there in person, except we can mute our microphones so we don’t have to hear people breathing. I look up to see my friends’ heads bent over their keyboards as they work, and it both comforts me to know I’m not alone and inspires me to keep working. Because suddenly it’s a team sport, and we’re all egging each other on.

 

In Real Life- Casual

As a writer, it’s good to meet with other writers on a regular basis in the flesh, especially if you don’t have a regular day job. You can tick off two boxes: work and socializing, because even introverts need to talk to other people sometimes, and who will better understand you than another writer? For the past year, I’ve been having Wednesday writing/coffee sessions with author Barrie Summy [3], who lives just a couple miles away. We chat, discuss story problems, drink coffee, and work.

 

In Real Life- Sponsored by an Organization

Last week, the local improv theatre, Finest City [4],  held a writing jam session, where interested people got together while the theatre was closed and wrote for four hours (with a break for a field trip to the liquor store for snacks). Writing in a darkened theatre made me more productive; I cranked out 2500 words, including this blog post. Again, I’d write some words, look around, see everyone else was writing, and get back to work. There was the good kind of peer pressure.

 

San Diego Writers, Ink, a non-profit writing center, also sponsors a regular writing space. Members can come in and write the morning away two times a week. Check to see if your local writers’ guild has a similar program.

 

Meetup groups are another way to organize this. Meetup.com in San Diego has tons of writing groups that gather in coffee houses to write. If you can’t find one, this is an easy way to find like-minded people.

 

Making Your Group Work

Be Disciplined

The danger of these hangouts is that you’ll socialize too much and not work enough. So set a time limit for chatting, and a work time of 20-45 minutes. Then you can have another break to chat as a reward.

 

Be There

Sometimes life gets in the way. But if you want this group gathering as part of your regular writing practice, it’s important to try not to flake on the other writers.

 

Treat this gathering like you would an appointment with a hard-to-schedule doctor. Someone had to organize this, someone is counting on your yes and has planned their day around it. Their time should be respected to the best of your ability.

 

Our Google Hangouts have admittedly dwindled to once a month, as all of us have had more commitments, so now it’s understood that whoever is available will be there. This is an easy thing to do for an online group.

 

Group Details

Decide on some details. Will your group just write together? Will you share your work with each other? Are you willing to read? How many people do you want in it? How often will you meet? You might have to feel out these issues as you get started.

 

It would also be helpful to decide on a leader, someone who will schedule the meet-ups or start the hang out group.

 

That’s it! I hope you find group writing as helpful as I have.

 

Have you tried writing in a group? In what ways did it affect you and your writing?

About Margaret Dilloway [5]

Margaret Dilloway [6] is the author of the new middle grade series MOMOTARO: XANDER AND THE LOST ISLAND OF MONSTERS (Disney Hyperion) and three women’s fiction novels. She lives in San Diego with her family and a big Goldendoodle named Gatsby. She teaches creative writing to middle schoolers and does developmental editing.