Using Allysonʼs suggestions as our guide, five of us considered forming a writing group. Our ideas woman, Cheryl Andrews, former leadership coach, writer, artist and photographer, created a questionnaire, an evaluation tool to show what was important to us in the early stages of Life Writers Ink. Although we experimented with meaningful slogans, it was member Ruth Zaryski Jackson, writer, counsellor and heritage planner, who introduced us to Margaret Atwoodʼs advice: butt in chair — code for when we stray from our writing goals.
We chose a monthly rotation at membersʼ homes, with minimal hostess duties. Each person reads less than 1,500 words or brings books, articles or websites for discussion. We offer respectful critiques to whatever degree a writer requests. Between meetings we share communications by email, informing of relevant opportunities and events.
Cherylʼs property beside Otter Lake, south of Parry Sound, was the site of our first writing retreat — a pilot for Cheryl, with Ruth and me. There was no formal facilitator or agenda. We brought writing interests, laptops, research materials and a genuine regard for helping each other. We found five sunny days to consult on the upper deck, retreat indoors, or seek out places that inspired contemplation.
Day One brought relaxation and orientation, decompressing from city life by swimming, and sightseeing by boat.
Day Two, we cruised Georgian Bay on the Island Queen.
Day Three, we set up workstations and explored our personal projects. Discussions over casual dining included authors, writing, publishing, books, blogging strategies and our personal projects. We consulted with each other about writing techniques, story lines, story structures and title choices. There was no pressure for accomplishment other than the goals we set for ourselves. We benefited from sensitive and helpful critiques.
Before breakfast each day, we cleared our minds with yoga and meditation. One evening we sat by the outdoor fireplace on the lower deck and watched an impressive Milky Way hover above.
Three of our members attend Writers Community of Durham Region (WCDR) monthly breakfasts and workshops, Words Alive Open Mike nights in Newmarket and the Words Alive Annual Festival in Sharon. We attend writing workshops, tele-seminars, book launches, author readings and more. One of our founding members, artist and author of The Perils of Miss Pepper, Gail Rudyk, took leave to deal with moving and travel. Our youngest member, technical writer Anahita Nepton Printer, is mother to three children and attends events with us when able.
Within our group of five, we submitted four stories to WCDRʼs Wicked Words Contest, with Cherylʼs story selected as one of 25 finalists for the published anthology. Sharing writing knowledge produced immediate results. We enter more contests, write more articles, create more blogs, read more books, investigate more resources and attend more literary events. Our pet projects are closer to publication because we motivate each other. We created a private WordPress blog as a repository for our writing references, resources, book lists and websites.
Our advice to writers considering a writing group:
- Ensure invitees understand the goals and ground rules from the outset.
- Be understanding of each othersʼ commitments. Varied attributes of dedicated writers will enhance your group in the long run.
- There is more to a group than the act of writing. Considerate online communications, event notices, critiquing skills, encouragement, friendship and help with computer concepts outweigh strict attendance.
Life Writers Ink keeps its membership small to devote well-deserved attention to each writerʼs work. Everyone leaves a meeting feeling uplifted and excited about writing better words every day.
(Word Weaver, WCDR’s online newsletter published this post, May/June edition, 2010)
Update April 2016:
Two years ago we invited Dace Mara Zacs-Koury to become a member of our group. Her memoir project fascinated us and she is respectful of our established format. She begins a memoir writing course at Humber College in spring 2016, the impetus she felt she needed to bring her manuscript to completion.