Need loose structure ideas for a community writing group.
October 3, 2010 10:38 PM   Subscribe

Need loose structure ideas for a community writing group. It's completely open to the public and will meet every other week. However, since it hasn't yet started, and I'm the only certain participant, I want to be prepared with suggestions to get the ball rolling.

I've offered to play chaperon to the new group. Ideally, participants will jump in and help determine the structure. But if that doesn't happen, I want to be prepared.

My initial thoughts are:
1) to have a fishbowl of writing prompts, which we could address in short free-writing exercises. Anyone can add to the bowl.
2) to introduce a single sentence and ask participants to incorporate it into a one-page piece to share aloud at the next meeting.
3) to allow each person a set period of time to present a piece of writing and a set period for group feedback.

Anyone new is welcome to join at any time, and that presents some challenges not seen by the standard closed writing group. I'm especially lacking in concrete ideas for those writers who come wanting feedback on ongoing works. I encourage and welcome your ideas or suggestions!
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What fun! Wish I could join too.

Your ideas so far seem right on target.
Do you know, yet, what genres you're dealing with? Fiction or poetry or memoir?

Good resources for exercises:
A Writer's Book of Days: by Judy Reeves. It's mostly toward fiction and narrative, but has hundreds of possibilities.

Writing the Natural Way
by Gabrielle Rico. Explains "clustering," diagrams to organize creative new ideas

For poetry: The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach by Robin Behn, who collects exercises about all kinds of genres from poetry teachers.

Those are my favorites. Would love to hear more about the writing group as it goes on, and would love to know what exercises and ideas work best for you guys. Keep us updated.
posted by SaharaRose at 6:03 AM on October 4, 2010

Best answer: What you do may end up depending on the group. A group in which everyone is new to creative writing is going to be different from a group in which everyone is already at work on their novels, and a hybrid will be different from both. You're likely to have loyal, regular attendees, people who show up once and vanish, and everything in between.

I wouldn't worry about long-haul writer issues that much, especially in advance of the first meeting. Meeting-to-meeting workshopping may be a challenge until you know what regulars you have. The first meeting is a good place to be welcoming and have just the right amount of structure to convince writers to return two weeks later. Anyone who shows up with 350 pages of fiction can be told it's an icebreaker meeting -- which will also give you time to figure out if there are other likely-to-be-regular participants with 350 pages of work they'd like discussed...

An icebreaker prompt I've had luck with sometimes is to get everyone to write down three things about themselves -- one of which is a lie. Then everyone reads and guesses. Make sure everyone knows what the exercise is from beginning to end before you start writing, though.

Natalie Goldberg's books have good prompts. Old Friend from Far Away is geared toward memoir, but I think the short prompts in it could be beneficial for anyone. Pat Schneider's books might be worth reading -- the "Amherst Writers & Artists" methodology is sort of a hybrid of freewriting and workshop, and seems to work pretty well for groups like you describe.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:31 AM on October 4, 2010

I find it helpful to have a different focus area for every session.

So if the focus area for a session was plot, the activities would look like this:

1. Group discussion about plot. What makes a good plot? What techniques do people find helpful in planning and maintaining it? What famous writers can people recommend who give good plot? How have you resolved plot holes in a satisfying manner?

2. Writing exercises focusing on plot. Like the one where you're given the first and last lines of a story and have to get the characters smoothly from one to the other.

3. Specific feedback, where people can ask for advice about a specific plotting issue or get a critique of their ongoing work which focuses on the plot.

Suggestions for focus areas would be: plot, characterisation, dialogue, pacing, audience, setting, theme, style and subtext.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:30 PM on October 5, 2010

Response by poster: As I mark this resolved, I thought I'd provide an update. The group has been slow growing and just this week had five appear--enough to generate banter that identified a loose structure. So here's what we came up with (mind you, it has to work with a group that meets for 2 hrs 2x/mo and welcomes new people to come at any time):

1) Start with a 15-minute exercise. Our first will be a discussion on how to make critique a positive and productive experience. But a future example might be a freewriting exercise on a prompt, or perhaps it will have a specific focus like dialogue, in which someone places a random object in the middle of the table and we roll with it.

2) Spend the rest of the time sharing written works brought by the participants. Divide out the time remaining, use a timer and allow each person, say, a total of 15-20 minutes to read a written work and have it critiqued. Not absolutely ideal, but there must be equal time allowed for everyone.

3) If we end up with any time left at the end, people can voluntarily share what they wrote during the opening exercise.

That's it. We decided that advance or take-home critique would not work for our format, mainly because we all have lives and we all want to work on our own writing, and nobody want to feel resentful if they didn't have time to read something. For our purposes, all activities of the writing will be confined to the meeting time, unless specific participants make a separate arrangement. Thanks for your feedback!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 8:01 PM on November 3, 2010

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