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Week 6: Chapter 7 The Writer as WE

July 6, 2015

IMG_0191I’ll make a confession: one reason I wanted to take on this two-month writing endeavor is that I am at heart a social animal. I don’t know how much writing I would complete if it were all done in solitude.  This week floating around Facebook is a quick and easy, unofficial Myers-Briggs test. I do know that the results matched perfectly to my official pen-and-paper test: ENFP.  While some of the letters are less clear to me, I know the E for Extravert is me to a T.

This week, as we turn our focus from I to “We” writing, I’m eager to hear how others have engaged in writing with others, and I want to know what new ideas were inspired by this particular chapter.  I think I read it with my brains blowing sparks.

Part I:  Writing Partners

Have you worked with writing partners? McClanahan’s suggestion of setting a time to write side-by-side with someone else was an appealing idea I hadn’t considered. We’ve considered already how, when, and where we write best. The idea of having a regular writing appointment with someone might be worth trying. I wish those of us sharing this space this summer were close enough to do just that. Since we are spread out, how might we put this tactic into action?

If you’re journaling, take time to write about your social writing experiences. When have you worked with another person–or a group–to accomplish a shared goal? Whom do you allow (or beg) to read what you write? I’m always interested to hear writers who say, of their spouses, “[s]he is my first and best reader.” There is a level of trust necessary to share what we write.

I’m getting ready to go back to the Weymouth Center for the Arts in Southern Pines, NC, a lovely old home set on four hundred acres where writers can apply to spend time in residence writing. I’ve gone twice before with some of these same writing friends. Since we all have our own rooms, along with a shared kitchen and a living room lined with pictures of writers in the North Carolina Writers’ Hall of Fame, we spend most of our days writing in our rooms (or whatever corner we carve out), coming together for meals and then for sharing some of what we’ve written. It’s a perfect balance of society and solitude.

What “ground rules” would you require to make this kind of writing partnership effective?

Part II: Small Writing Groups

I hope I don’t seem unfaithful, but I have two writing groups: one for poetry, one for prose.  We meet at different times, with different structure.  Some members of one group may have met some of the others (since many of us cross paths at Poetry Hickory, our local monthly event), but I needed the two groups for my different kinds of writing.

Have you written with small groups before? Did you find the interaction successful? pleasant? Did the interaction have a beginning and ending time or was it an ongoing group?

Do you prefer working with a group that has closely related writing interests? similar goals? diverse interests? Do you prefer structure or flexibility? What kind of place works best for you?

In my two groups, we developed our expectations and even dates and “assignments.” In my prose group, we share what we are doing and critique one another’s writing.  In my poetry group, most of us have notebooks of work completed. Now we’re encouraging one another (1. to submit  individual poems for publication; (2. to assemble a collection or chapbook for publication.

In both groups, it helps to have someone who will take notes of what we do at meetings, and even more important, what we said we would do next.  A quick email after the meeting helps.  (Have you been in organizations in which the minutes of the meeting aren’t sent around until just before the next meeting–just enough time for you to think, “Oh shoot! I was supposed to…..”?)

Other than this summer project, have you engaged in online small groups? Some of my most prolific writing has been accomplished in online groups. Even though I am interacting with people I haven’t met face to face, we expect one another to “show up” when prompts are posted and to read and respond to one another’s writing.

One of the most valuable parts of small writing groups, for me, is the sense of audience I gain.  When I’m writing something of importance to me, I am able to imagine my group members as my readers.

Part III: Larger Groups and Projects

First, you might list the established groups of which you are already a member. I’m not talking about writing groups now, but social or family units, organized or informal groups. I can think of several with ready-made writing project possibilities. My father’s 80th birthday is at the end of this month, so my sisters and I are soliciting letters, pictures, and written memories from friends who have known him over the years. Since he’s a preacher, there are members of several congregations where he has served who have stories to share.

We did something similar for my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, putting everything into a scrapbook–that made them both tear up a little! Success.

I’m also a teacher–and English teacher–so I dream of putting together a writing project in which experienced teachers could share ideas with beginning teachers. I can also imagine putting together a writing project with our ladies group at church.  I’ve wanted for a while to do a project modeled after “By the Book” in the NYTimes Book Review, having my book club members or larger group of reading friends to answer the questions posed to an individual author each week: What’s on your bedside table? What kind of reader were you as a child? What book are you embarrassed not to have read? If you were hosting a literary dinner party, whom would you invite?

Think of groups you might enlist on a short- or long-term shared writing project.

Part IV: Doing Something About It

One more idea that involved collaboration, even though you might be the one doing the writing: interviews. You might start by interviewing your oldest living relatives and move chronologically to the younger members.  Record their stories.  I’ve also loved hearing of student projects finding survivors or WWII and interviewing them.  When you read the number we lose every day, this becomes more imperative.  Visit a senior living facility (That’s what I’m going to call the nursing home when I go!) and listen! Remember that the first step in writing is paying attention. It’s also one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Keep in mind that no project gets started on its own. Which of the ideas included in this week’s chapter speak to you? What would it take to get them off the ground?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2015 1:16 pm

    Kathy and Sandy (and whoever else is also reading along): Any interest in some kind of little shared writing experience–something for fun?

    • Kathy permalink
      July 9, 2015 1:46 am

      I do well with “assignments” ha ha, if either of you teachers wants to pick a topic or idea I will go with it. I just have such a hard time trying to figure out what to write about …

      • sandyyoung75 permalink
        July 12, 2015 11:07 pm

        Hi, Kathy! Sorry that I haven’t seen this before. Hmmm . . . I’ve been in your place many times. Why don’t you just write about your Pensacola memories. I’ll bet you and Carmen and Maureen have some adventures that would be lots of fun to read about. You can always do an Alphabet Journal. Just choose a word that begins with A and write about it. I remember having so much fun with the letter H. I wrote H is for Hunhh. I wrote about being so hard of hearing. You can really have fun with the alphabet.

    • sandyyoung75 permalink
      July 13, 2015 2:18 am

      Just let me know what you want to do. I’m so sorry that I’m just now seeing your message, Cuz!

  2. July 13, 2015 11:44 am

    One reason I enjoy using this book is that she doesn’t prescribe topics. She encourages us to write about what we want to explore, but helps us to discover our own writing strengths and needs. Sandy, I loved reading what you wrote here. It’s interesting to see what gets in the way of a successful writing group (or any kind of group, for that matter). I don’t think the members need to be homogenous in every way, but a respect for others’ feelings and beliefs is important. Too many people assume that everyone thinks the way they do and feel free to spew.

    Kathy, are you a reader? I do have one little bitty project I’d love to pursue, and if you are, I’ll explain. Now I’m ready to move on to the next chapter!

    • sandyyoung75 permalink
      July 13, 2015 7:40 pm

      And you know, Nancy, that Rebecca’s not prescribing topics is one of the reason that I love her book. I didn’t mention in my essay about writing groups that I attended two others only once strictly because we had to write right there with everyone sitting near me and on assigned topics. Just impossible for me. Last week, I wrote only the one long piece, but as I’m reading your words and Rebecca’s, I’m thinking of lots of things to write . . . but they may be all in one piece, too. We’ll see.

      We have a guest all week, so my writing may be mighty slow. Grrrrrrr .. .

  3. Kathy permalink
    July 14, 2015 2:46 am

    Ahhhh, I loved reading about your experiences writing with groups, Sandy! I have never been in a writing group, but I have had similar experiences with other types of group dynamics. My house full of company kept me from writing this weekend, and my attempt to have my “sister” girls help ended up in silly poems about the “Angels flying Blue, I’m so glad to be with You” ha ha ha. Lots of rhyming with little substance.

    Nancy, I do love to read. I was trying to get through Pride and Prejudice because I had never read Austen. But it was so boring to me I gave up and started My Losing Season, one of Pat Conroy’s books I’ve never read. He is one of my favorite authors. Also, I’m enjoying the Writing Your Heart Out book, keeping up with the chapters even if I’m not putting much “ink to paper”

  4. sandyyoung75 permalink
    July 14, 2015 10:19 pm

    Hmmm . . . I wrote a reply, but it disappeared. Poor Sandy! Anyway, what I said was that I loved your poem. It reminds me of “pomes” that I used to write for retiring Woodham teachers. Hope you had a wonderful time playing with your girlfriends and watching the Blues!

    I love Pat Conroy’s novels. I think I’ve read “My Losing Season,” but I can’t be sure. I taught so many classics when I was in the classroom that I have a hard time reading them now, so I’m all sympathy for you, dear Kathy. Have you checked Nancy’s other blog ( She reads so many books and writes reviews. As always, excellent pieces and great suggestions for reading.

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