Once, I belonged to an amazing clutch of writers who met every week to explore writing through timed exercises. It was one of the best writing experiences I ever had, and it did more to develop my skills as a writer than almost anything I’ve done since. Twenty years later, I still miss meeting with that group of women. We shared a very important time, you might even say a sacred time, two hours each week, supporting one another and learning to develop our writing voices. Few things were allowed to interfere with our commitment to meet. We gathered faithfully each Friday at an outdoor table at the Bear Street Cafe in Orange County, California, and parked our individual cares at the door in order to be fully present and nakedly honest during our joumaling session. We wrote furiously, read aloud with quaking voices, listened respectfully, and grew as writers.
Now that I live in Northern California, I maintain virtual relationships with several of these fabulous women, and we see each other when we can. But the thing that remains one of the greatest gifts of my life is that even though whatwe mainly have in common is our passion for writing –no matter what, we support each other. We celebrate each others’ successes, and provide insightful comments to help make each other’s work the best it can be. Writing groups are an excellent way to develop as a writer -you can find or form a group by taking classes, getting to know other writers, and then meeting outside of the classroom setting to give yourself more honest writing time.
Back in the day when we met at Bear Street, we maintained a strict routine that went something like this:
- write nouns or phrases on a slip of paper
- drop the paper slips in a cup
- draw a word and write like the devil
One by one, the words were selected from the cup, and we wrote timed exercises based on them. After the time was up, we went around the table and read our work. This wasn’t easy at first, but our group was a safe place to put it out there. One unbreakable rule was that under no circumstances, could we comment on what we wrote -neither the writer not the listeners were allowed to comment. But let me tell you something: our writing got stronger and better and more deeply creative by just listening to each other. I think we secretly tried to out-compose each other, but the result was that we pushed each other to spiraling heights of creativity without so much as one well-intended criticism. It was amazing and illuminating, and a huge lesson in the art of paying attention.
So, dear writer, waht are you paying precious attention to? Where lies your genius? Leave a comment with a single word. What is it you find to write about — in a completly original way? Ooh. Do tell.