Association with other writers can be very useful for improving a writer’s craft. Meeting for regular review/critique/feedback and appetizers/beverages can be constructive and even – dare I say it – fun. There are some famous examples of writer’s groups. The Bloomsbury group with Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey is on such example, and J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S Lewis belonged to an informal group called “the Inklings”. Tolkein was apparently nicknamed “Tollers” within the group – so yeah – even back in the day the Professor had his bro’s. Everyone needs a few bro’s.
Writers work in a fair amount of social isolation and it’s a balm to the soul to talk to people who understand – and live – the same struggle. On those sunny days when your piece is accepted you can bask in the warm glow of congratulations and professional jealousy with the only other people who understand.
Not every writer likes the idea. Harlan Ellison apparently dislikes the idea intensely, which is hard to imagine given his reputation for mildness. I like it, but I am in a great writer’s group. The members have some publication credits, and range from contest winning and many-times published veterans to hopeful newbies. All can really write and their insight and feedback has made me into the once-published (with one pending – yes – pending counts!) goddamn force of literary nature that I am today.
I think the key to a successful writer’s group is to have a variety of roles filled by key members. You cannot have everyone doing the same thing. You need a division of labor and that division must suit the skills and personalities of the individual writers involved. Using our group as an example here’s a template of what you need:
The Mentor. Someone who has multiple publication credits and is more than a one hit wonder with an occasionally witty blog – i.e a professional writer. They’ve done a couple of laps around the publication track and can provide wise counsel and constructive advice/encouragement not only on writing but on the business of writing.
Note that the line between “Mentor” and “Enabler” is a blurry one and … that’s ok. It’s a writer’s group – not rocket surgery. Who’s up for one more? We’re submitting this tomorrow!
The Guy (or Girl) Who Used To Be in Band. Because your daytime job will never be that cool. I know mine isn’t. I swear to God if I see another theater seat cushion … but yeah. The rocker will have interesting stories to tell and everyone digs music.
The Designated Driver: Someone’s gotta drive. You know, on a hockey team they’ll have a stay-at-home defenseman. Their job is to prevent anything really bad from happening. Same with the DD. This isn’t a glamorous job but it’s at least as important as any other – especially if you’ve got an enabler on the crew.
The Ex-Pat: Basically; someone from another country. It’s “inclusive” and it’s great for translation services. My group is not that wealthy – our ex-pat is an American. That’s all we could afford. Sadly they are moving back to the land of private health care, cheap bacon, and local militias so we’re taking applications.
The Dude With the Interesting Life: You know the type. Some stories are too good to write down but must be told right? Copy-and-pasting their Facebook Status Updates is often better than most first drafts anyone else can come up with. Their chances of being dubiously immortalized in the other group member’s fiction once they suffocate under that pile of women’s-prison escapees they are driving to California in a rented van are very, very high but … no one will do it while they are alive. We need them.
The Rich Kid: This person may not write at all. They may not even read. They are not necessarily a kid. But try and find one anyways – they’re usually good for a round or two or 4 or holy shit where’s the Designated Driver I-not-only-can’t-hold-onto-the-table-I can’t-hold-onto-the-floor. “You guys are the best writers – and the best people – ever. I really mean that.” *cries*
We’re currently taking applications. I believe that there is a special place in heaven reserved for people who will buy frustrated authors round after round of Honey Jack Daniels. Contact me via this blog if you’re A) Wealthy and B) Interested.
The Guy Who is Not Nearly as Smart/Funny/Talented as He Thinks He Is: Hey – we all have a role to play.
That’s a basic template – you may have to adjust to suit your group – and I may have missed something. Free feel to let me know.
Thanks for reading – I’ll be back when I gnaw my way through the restraints.
My name is Steve Passey and I write fiction.