Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I have had a couple of unexpected positive challenges in my current writing group. One has been working in a different writing group format than I tend to do and a structure different than I expected; the second is that the predominant genre of the group is not mine.

In previous writing groups, everyone writes outside of the group and brings something every week to share. The writer passes out copies of the piece, reads the work out loud, and gets on-the-spot feedback. With one group, since people were writing longer pieces, we didn't get to everyone every week, so we took the stories home we didn't discuss and started with those stories the following week. We usually did hear and give feedback on at least four or five pieces per week, sometimes more. We didn't create any new writing in the group; we did that individually and brought what we were working on. I know there are many other styles - and this was the one I was familiar with and preferred. The writing workshops I tend to do are of the Natalie Goldberg variety. These are the workshops where the writing process actually happens for a large portion of the time together, with time for discussion and some sharing.

My current writing group usually does crit for about an hour of our time together with a focus on two writers. The writers who are up email their piece during the previous week so we have time to read it more in-depth and are able to provide more in-depth feedback, as well. The writer does not read his or her piece; we just discuss it. The rest of the time is spent talking about writing, doing check-in, and talking about some writing samples from other authors, which the facilitator brings, and other writerly topics. Sometimes there is a class-like feel to the discussions - and I've let that be okay, too. At first, I wasn't sure if this was the format I wanted; I had expected it to be more like what I was used to, with the writing being done outside and everyone bringing something every week to share. And I wasn't feeling the need for a class.

Once I let myself be open to that structure, I found that I was being exposed to other writers and gaining perspectives that are different than my own - a good thing for life in general, and a necessity for a writer. One of my intents with doing this writing seminar was to try some new ways of writing and ways to inject some new energy into my writing. This is what the facilitator is bringing to us and it's probably good to try a new structure now and then *smile*.
photograph by Janey Garnet

The other unexpectedly good challenge is working with a couple of writers who work in a genre I don't write and I rarely read. This has been mind-opening and I'm thinking about things I haven't really considered previously because they haven't crossed my path. More questions are raised than answered - but isn't that the purpose of interactions, anyway!

Our group is pretty varied, especially considering our smaller size. And I am enjoying reading the different pieces and hearing others' perspectives. And I'm learning about a genre I have pretty much ignored. Insight into their hurdles and take on situations has been good, because it has pulled me out of my same old mental grooves.

And I had to step out of my own way to let these nuggets of experience and information get in. I could have gone with my initial reaction and not returned to the group - but I would have missed what I have now. I would have missed the connection with these writers and I would have missed the opportunity to read some styles I may have never picked up. And this "is all good," as the saying goes.

Writers need exposure and information. We can't get that if we keep our door closed and ignore the differences which make us uniques, which make us complex beings with stories to tell.

I wonder what I have missed during the times I've been too busy doing things my way.