Sunday, 5 June 2016

Writing Groups - Who Needs Them?

You write furiously, or type laboriously, and otherwise passionately put your thoughts and ideas into words, day after day, month after month and year after year.  You're a writer.  Maybe published, or maybe not yet.  But you are indeed a writer.

So if you're already a writer, why would you bother to gather around with a bunch of other writers at regular intervals to write, maybe share and then talk about writing?

I have two groups of writers I currently aim to spend quality time with on a monthly basis. I find great benefits to the process of writing in a group:

Motivation to write can be found when you gather around a table of like-minded folks. I have a work in progress, and in the past two months I have only spent time on it during one of my writing group meetings. This group makes me feel like finishing the project is possible, one word at a time if I just keep going.

Commitment to meeting once a month (or whatever interval works for your group) is a commitment to writing even when life is busy and you are struggling to make time for regular practice. That group meeting marked in my calendar means that yes, I am still a writer, even if I didn't meet any word goals in between our sessions.

Camaraderie such as I have found in my writing groups helps me feel connected through writing, which can sometimes be lonely work.  When I gather with these women, we share tips and tricks, we empathize with challenges, we offer encouragement and we cheer each other on. That sort of support is easy to love.

So, how do you find a writer's group? Well, I'm told you can look up local groups on the internet, or sometimes by checking in with your local librarian. When I started looking for folks to write with, I was a bit hesitant to search groups out - worried I might not be good enough and concerned I might not be able to bear the critique process. So I didn't look for a group that was already established. I wasn't confident enough of the benefits to take the risk.

Instead, I formed my own writing group.  I invited other women I know who had expressed a desire to write during our friendly conversations over coffee, or while we watched our children play, or when we sat together at a gathering about writing.  I've invited 6 women, and there are usually at least 3 of us around the table one Saturday morning each month.  We chat a little (sometimes a lot - so much that we now plan a lunch the Friday before writing group. It helps us get some of the chatting out of the way to help us focus more on writing in the morning!) We write, some of us with pen and paper while others type. Sometimes one of us will share our actual writing, asking for help with a word, or for feedback about the flow.  But usually in this group we just chat, write, chat a little more then get back to our writing.

The second group formed when I joined the Winterfire writing retreat offered by Firefly Creative Writing. 10 women living in the greater Toronto area, gathered for a glorious weekend of cozy winter writing with nurturing coaches guiding us through exercises. A beautiful group of writers who made some magical connections, sparking a plan to hold monthly mini-retreats where we could gather, reconnect and support one another in our writing endeavors.  We chat, a little about life and a lot about our writing projects. And then we write. In this group, we share our work freely and offer feedback in the gentle, strength-based style that is the Firefly way.

Each group offers me motivation, reinforces my commitment to a writer's life and gives me a wonderful feeling of camaraderie with some amazing women. I am so grateful for the presence of these women in my life.

So, who needs a writer's group?  Every writer can benefit from joining a group of like-minded people to focus on writing, sharing and supporting one another in honing the craft. Find a group or form your own, but start writing together!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Is Memoir Within Your Reach?

Telling your story through memoir can be exhilarating, daunting, emotional, tedious and risky.

Are you excited to share your experience; to get it out there in the world because it feels important to you?

Do you know how to tell the story well, so that others can easily grasp the significance of your tale?

Are you ready to relive the experience, including the highs and the lows? Is this a ride you want to take again - in public?

Have you told your story so many times that it feels worn out to you - plain and underwhelming?

Are you ready to take the risk of laying out the facts from your perspective, knowing that it will not resonate with everyone, and in fact may be disputed by some altogether?

Every one of us has an interesting story, a lesson we have learned, a physical or emotional journey we have taken. If you are thinking about sharing your story, such questions might help you decide whether now is the time to make a commitment to a memoir project. 

I spent April writing a messy, rambling first draft of the story of the multiple miscarriages that were interspersed among the birth of our children. This July will be the twentieth anniversary of our first miscarriage.  Some days it feels like it was just yesterday, and other days it feels like it was a lifetime ago. I know that other bereaved parents sometimes look for stories like mine.  Stories that reflect some of their own experience.  Stories that carry hope.

I have another project in the works - a long term memoir, this one.  One of my children is on the autism spectrum, and I'm hoping that when she turns 18, she will co-author a book with me about surviving the educational process when neurodevelopmental differences have a dramatic impact on the experience. I know that other parents of unique children look for stories like mine.  Stories that reflect some of their own experience.  Stories that carry hope.

If memoir feels like the right vehicle for your story, then it is absolutely within your reach. Consider some basic ideas about memoir as you begin.

1.  Stick with the facts. A true tale can engage people and invests them in reading through to the outcome.

2.  Don't get too caught up in the details. While your truth is an important part of memoir, it is not necessary to include every tiny, graphic detail. Choose details carefully, for the greatest impact.

3.  Make the story about YOU. Don't spend too much time on the other characters in your story.  It's not about them even if they play an important role, and the legal issues can get quite murky if you make folks identifiable in your writing.

4.  Focus. Stay true to the theme, or the lesson you want to highlight with your story, rather than simply rambling through all of the events of your life.

Everyone has a story. Sharing your story can help you as you come to terms with the events of your life. Your story can also help someone else to know they are not alone as they struggle to cope with challenges. 

Now that you know memoir is within your reach, what story do you have that's ready for sharing?