We meet once a week to write together.
At the first meeting, several years ago, I was wary of the whole process. Okay, I was totally resistant. Write in company? Never. When I had writing time, I closed my writing-room door. Nobody saw my drafts. This was the way nature intended writers to work, I believed: alone but for a computer and my usual host of narrative woes. But Sue and Jen are dear friends and when they invited me to write with them, I thought, what the hey, it’s only paper, I can fake something up and then burn it.
I discovered that I write better prose sitting at a table with my writing friends around me. I choose my words with greater care. I keep the transitions short, because I’ve only got 1500 words with which to intrigue them. I make certain that my hero or heroine experiences a turning point, makes a sacrifice, takes action in some way to advance the plot. When, at the end of the writing hour I read my scene aloud, I’ve got an audience feedback that tells me I’m on the right path.
And, no matter how busy the week is, how close we are to deadline, how many illustrations I still need to draw, I’ve written a chapter. My novelist career motors on.
But most of all, I love my writing circle because I am privileged to sit wide-eyed and enchanted, listening to Jen read aloud the next installment of her gripping Allaigna high fantasy trilogy, and dissolving into laughter over Sue’s hilarious The Mommy Diet.
We write with Dale Adams Segal’s card set, “The Hour Stories”. http://www.thehourstories.com
We open our writing circle to two or three additional writers on the second Thursday of every month in our Hour Stories Workshop.
Our last newsletter contained an invitation to join the Pulp Literature editors in our personal writing session, so here’s a description of the process which we have come to hold so dear.
Jen, Mel and Sue write together weekly using cards designed by Dale Adams Segal. The process begins with a meditation and focus exercise, then a prompt to launch into twenty minutes of writing. The prompts can apply to any writing style or project; we usually apply them to the next chapter of our novels. There are two more prompts and timed writing sets to total one hour, or a full circle on the clock. Upon finishing, we read what we’ve written aloud to each other. No apologies, no hiding, just sharing the pleasure of a fresh first draft in all its rough hopes and dreams, with the response of each other’s laughter or silence resonating with our own feelings about what we’ve written. It is immediate and visceral feedback and there is nothing like it to give a sense of which direction the story is headed, and which veins of story are laden with gold.
I’m personally addicted to this method of writing because I work to deadlines. I work especially well to commitments I’ve made to other people, feeling a personal obligation to not let them down, and my secret people-pleasing nature is well satisfied if I can entertain another person. It’s the perfect exercise for an ADHD introvert. It’s a discipline that grows with each use into a habit, a tradition, a sacred rite. There’s a mystical quality to the cards I can’t explain, as if they know what I need to write about better than I do, better than my preconceived outline does. I find myself looking forward to this as the highlight of my writing week.
They say that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Because this method breaks my enormous dream of “writing career” into smaller bits (one hour divided into twenty minute increments), I have been able to finish two first drafts of novels in three years during this weekly writing practice. And like any circle, there is no end to this process. It keeps going and building. It isn’t just the thousand words of that day, but the consistency of writing every week, the stability and support of friendships that deepen and sustain and bud forth unexpected fruit. After five years together, the magic built up to birth a magazine that seems to have a life of its own.
Small beginnings can have big endings. Several people have already signed up to join us for a writing date, with proceeds to go towards the magazine. If you live far away, you may purchase the cards we use through Dale’s website (thehourstories.com). Wherever you begin, we hope you can find your own writing partners and experience the magic of an endless circle.
T. S. Eliot described poetry as being overheard. Most writers agree that pure sentiments come in private, with the tentative, wavering focus of a single candle lighting a face. Imagine, then, how brave writers must be to read their works out loud, facing a spotlight on a stage with nowhere to hide. Their words expose all.
I didn’t face a glaring spotlight on Wednesday night, but I did present at a public reading with other brave writers in North Delta who meet regularly at the George Mackie Library. We read out loud and fearlessly from our own works, and we grew from the experience. I can think of no better test of one’s words than hearing them resonate through audience as they sigh, laugh, or take in their breath.
I admit that I cheated. Not only did I come prepared to read my own story, but I indulged myself in four other excerpts from our first issue of Pulp Literature, the loose pages of the printer’s proof lying on my lap. On behalf of everyone’s stories, I received applause. Better than the applause was when an audience member jumped up afterwards to add her name to our email list. I guess she liked what she heard.
It is a good journey to go from private words to public readings. We are very proud of the talent in our first issue and it is a privilege to put these works in print and take them from candlelight to spotlight.