Literary critique

Write Club

Apart from the online Book Country, I’ve never been in a writers’ group, simply because there isn’t one where I live. There was a time I thought I was missing out, but I’m not so bothered now. All the same, I’m interested to know how they operate, and when Shirley Weir, a contributor to one of the first anthologies I edited, said she was in a group from the UK’s Open University, I asked her if she’d like to write a piece about it.

In 2014, I completed my 3rd and final (so far) course on creative writing with the Open University (fondly known as the OU to its students). As writers and students, we were used to brainstorming with each other during the course, and quite a few of us wanted to keep in touch.

‘Why don’t we create our own writer’s group?’ suggested one bright spark.

And from that idea, Write Club was born. The group is a perfect example of a democracy with even the name being chosen by ballot, with fans of Chuck Palahniuk coming out on top.

Write Club is open to any OU participants past or present. The only other requisite is an interest in writing. Fiction, life writing, poetry, or something unique – any type of writing is welcome. Membership increases every year as more students start studying with the OU. The original committee, with a couple of persistent exceptions, has mainly given way to new members with fresh ideas. Changes for the better are always welcomed.

Socially, members meet in a Facebook group. It’s a relaxed group with daily prompts, but any writing is kept to short (mostly fun, but often dark) pieces. Members are supportive, congratulating fellow members on any achievement from having work published, to becoming a writer with the receipt of a first rejection. This group is also useful for passing on details of writing competitions and other tips.

Any serious writing is kept for the forums nestled on the OU student servers. These are secure and private. So, members can put in writing for advice or review, even if planning to submit elsewhere. There’s no obligation to use the forums, but peer review can be very helpful. To get the correct support, members are encouraged to include headings with abbreviations such as

  • BEG – Beginner,
  • INT – Intermediate,
  • ADV – Advanced
  • JFF. Just For Fun. -You don’t want any critique. You just want to brighten our day with your piece!
  • GF – General Feedback. You want to know if people like your piece, if they would read more, and you require some general opinion of areas of improvement.
  • GP – Grammar and Punctuation. You don’t want feedback on content or techniques, you just require grammar and punctuation feedback.
  • AF – Advanced Feedback. You are happy to receive an in-depth critique, with areas of underdevelopment highlighted, suggestions of improvement in various areas, and an analysis of the literary techniques you have used, and those you may like to consider, should they strengthen your piece.
  • FE -Final Edit. You have received feedback and re-drafted your piece several times. You would like one last check for the purpose of ‘polishing’ up, before submitting to comps or agents.

Although most of the groups’ interactions are in the online forums, we also meet up live once a month online.

We currently have six forums. The original for any short writing piece and announcements of activities, Novel Support, Poet Tree – a poetry forum, Children’s fiction, Non-Fiction and Monthly Meet Up Work-Sharing Space for any homework we give ourselves in the monthly live meetings.

Having a break between OU courses is no excuse for sitting back. Over the summer, the committee, steered ably by the amazing Cinnomen McGuigan, provides weekly writing tasks such as Cluster Club and Character Lab.

As well as our own forums, Write Club helps the OU Students Association to run a monthly online book club, where members chat for an hour a month and share thoughts on a specific read. The reading group uses a Goodreads group to keep book choices together.

It’s common taking part in writing courses run by other institutions (such as those run in the past by Iowa) to come across fellow WC members. And For NaNoWriMo and its camp, Write Club members often share a cabin together. (None of us snore.)

Over recent years, if there is one thing that has kept me writing through my ‘imposter syndrome’ spells, it’s Write Club. I’ve belonged to a couple of local groups, but one gradually died out and the other survived only until lockdown.

But Write Club keeps going. An online group, lockdown holds no problems for it. When members leave, there are always new students joining. And new members bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

When I struggle to write, the daily tasks keep me going. Many are just a matter of writing a few quick sentences (Sundays are six words). It makes the difference between writing (however short) and not writing. I love contributing to this and reading the other contributions.

With so many members, work in progress will always find someone in the forums ready to advise and encourage. Even when I think a story is finished, I’m grateful for suggested improvements which help me improve my technique.

But perhaps the chief advantage of Write Club is that I can be quiet for months, but when I come back, it’s still there going strong.

Over the years, group members have contributed to a number of charity anthologies, held together by a few dedicated members. Participation is as always voluntary, but there are plenty of members happy to contribute.

The next anthology Where’s the Manual? And Other Thoughts on Parenthood is in its final stages. Profits from it will go to Homestart and Save the Children.

Already published anthologies are:

The Other Side of the fence: Real Social Housing Tenants

The Gift

Generations

Footprints and Echoes

2020 Together: An Anthology of Shorts (published to support NHS Charities Together)

2021 Still Together (published to support NHS Charities Together)

I was in on the ground floor of Write Club and although I haven’t put as much time into it recently as some members, I still take part when I can. My own books are written under the pseudo name of Sam Speed and currently are

Flora the Fearless

Three short stories and a novella of a feisty octogenarian.

Dinosaur Diet

A not so cosy murder mystery first in the Dawn’s Dinosaur Detectives series.

With Jurassic Justice, 2nd in Dawn’s Dinosaur Detectives, due out shortly.

Shirley-Anne Weir

Standard

12 thoughts on “Write Club

  1. Fascinating! I have belonged to several writers’ groups, both face-to-face and virtual. I don’t think I’d ever complete anything without their expectation that I’m going to submit a chapter on time.
    My problem is with submitting regular short pieces. If I’m writing a novel, I’m reluctant to interrupt that flow to write a short story or flash fiction. But I know that I thereby lose out. I’d love your feedback on this.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. That’s interesting, Mike. Like you, I find I’m more likely to produce what’s needed, when I have a deadline. But my experience of face-to-face groups has been disappointing.
    Living in a small town, it’s difficult to find other people serious about writing. When participants left my first group to concentrate on other interests, or through ill health, the group gradually died out. More recently the group I was in was fairly new when Covid lockdown hit and had only a few regular participants. I do not know if it will survive when everything opens up again.
    Write Club, on the other hand, has such a large and renewable participant base that if I take time to concentrate on a novel, there are plenty of other people to keep the club going.
    And if I take time to join in the messages, I find after taking a brief break for some fun writing, I can go back to my novel refreshed. Mind you, I do my best writing in the shower, not in front of the computer. lol
    Although we have a forum for help with novel writing, participation is voluntary and can be sporadic. Despite this, there is always someone around to help with comments or advice.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      “Living in a small town, it’s difficult to find other people serious about writing. When participants left my first group to concentrate on other interests, or through ill health, the group gradually died out.”

      My experience exactly. The leader of my languishing writers’ group called yesterday to try to get a first post-pandemic meeting together. A couple of our members have died, and others are unreachable or unresponsive, and I’m afraid the group is done.

      Several years ago I took an evening class in a neighboring town where the commitment to writing was low. No one else in the group had ever published anything, and didn’t seem interested in such things. One member told me that she took the class as a way to get out of the house on Thursday evenings.

      I’ve had better luck with another class with another instructor. I went for two winters in person, and this year we had meetings by Zoom, which worked out better than expected. We did general feedback and advanced feedback and final edits for one another. We collected our tales in a class anthology. I think we all grew our skills in our time there.

      Rumor has it that there are many good writing groups in the big city, an hour and a quarter away by car, but I can’t commit to night time winter driving at that distance.

      A good writers group is a good thing, but it has to be right for you.

      Liked by 6 people

  3. Thanks for that, Shirley. I guess I’m a bit like Mike, so absorbed in writing novels that doing shorter pieces, especially to a prompt, would seem like a distraction. So a couple of questions: Was novel writing covered in your OU course, and how is it dealt with in Write Club?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Novel writing is not covered in the OU courses. Short stories, life writing and poetry were covered with some choice of which to choose for the final assessment. I used the first chapter of a novel I was thinking about for my final assessment. That was allowed but not recommended. But I wanted to get an idea of whether it was worth pursuing.
      In Write Club members writing a novel can put in one chapter at a time for review in the novel forum. It’s up to the member how often they do it. Sometimes a couple of members will exchange comments on a regular basis. Or it may just be anyone in the forum who gives their opinions.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. I belonged—briefly—to a writers group that met at a Barnes & Noble bookstore about fifteen years ago.

    Dramatis Personae:

    E. E. Knight: Accomplished, prolific pulp writer who went on to publish the Vampire Earth (post apocalypse dark fantasy/military fic) and Age of Fire (dragon) novels—amongst others. 20+ books, folks! One member of the group—a portly, middle-aged character who self-published thrillers that revealed in his back-of-book bio blurb that he ran CIA-sponsored “black ops” missions—pronounced on Eric’s future as a genre writer one infamous night (after Eric had excused himself to use the bathroom): “No publisher will ever touch this manuscript. Notice the font: too small.”

    Tony the Poet: Great guy. Young schoolteacher and accomplished poet. Wrote sharply observed, evocative, gently humorous free verse. I inadvertently offended him one evening when I praised his work in effusive terms he took as mockery. (Understand: I was a tattooed, muscled, ex-marine biker praising another poet’s sensitivity, deft whimsy and warm humanism—of course he initially thought I was mocking him. We got it straightened out.)

    Kurt: Kindly, salt-&-pepper bearded bookstore employee (since deceased, alas!) who read the most astonishing first and second paragraphs of new work—and then never anything further. He literally couldn’t commit more than a half-page of prose (well, once a full page of prose—we cheered!) to paper.

    Name Witheld (60-ish matronly, retired schoolteacher). She’d written a poem called “Road to Amalfi”. And then revised it. Again. And again. And yet again. Which is fine—that’s the writer’s iterative process at work—but as E. E. Knight growled through gritted teeth one night (before she arrived): “My god, if I have to suffer through another recitation of her seminal work I’m going to scream.”

    Stand-out incidents: (1) The night I thundered, purple-faced with rage and consternation, “Pat (not her name), bring me a dictionary!” Black Ops boy had challenged me on the use of a word. I was correct; he was wrong. How E. E. Knight howled with laughter afterward: “Goddamn Carl, that was positively Shakespearean! Charlton Heston couldn’t have done it any better! (Mimics my upraised hand, erect posture and ringing vocal dynamics.) And the way Pat leaped up to find a dictionary and come scurrying, white-faced and trembling, back–to triumphantly stab at the definition on the page–hilarious! You guys are killing me.”

    (2) The night I read a very dark, grim and violent tale (since published) without issuing a warning first. One of the women there glared at me with absolute fury and loathing when I had finished. “That is the most grotesque, soul-numbing and graphically violent POS I have ever suffered through. I am done.” Upon which she got up and left—never to return. Lesson learned: We can mock “trigger warnings” all we want, but some people are retraumatized by exposure to certain subject matter and events narrated in explicit, nihilist tones. A decent human being—I now believe—should forewarn a captive audience before embarking upon the grim, stentorian-voiced recitation of such a tale. (BTW: I don’t view the tale as nihilist–others did–but rather as an unflinching examination of the nature of courage and responsibility when confronting violent, sociopathic monsters attacking their victims in public.)

    Liked by 6 people

    • Sounds like you got a lot from that group, Carl. I love your descriptions and am rather relieved I wasn’t in your group. lol When I joined my first writer’s group a writer friend commented I would meet some good characters. She wasn’t wrong.
      I had a similar incident to your Tony one. He was a sci-fi writer and very shy about sharing his work. One night he read out a considerable amount of it. I praised it, to encourage him and he went off the head because he didn’t believe I liked it. He apologised the next week.
      I find trigger warnings difficult because I never know what or how much will offend or upset. I’m in a writer’s trauma group on fb and the admin refuses to allow trigger warnings. They say if we are are sensitive to the discussions; we are in the wrong group. It’s a relief not to worry about it.

      Liked by 5 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    I am my own writers club, along with Lawrence Sterne, Robert Louis Stevenson (his books of essays are tremendous, in addition, of course, to his fiction. His pieces on walking tours are full of stuff for Sly to obsess over on his journey northward), and *bunches* (I’m anticipating italics still not working) of others.

    I have in years past joined two writer groups, one a chi-chi gathering up in Kent CT, weekend home to oodles of celebrities from Manhattan (chi-chi I’m not), the other down in Fairfield. That one was a Children’s book group. Needless to say, I did not fit in there either.
    _______________________________________

    “Understand: I was a tattooed, muscled, ex-marine biker praising another poet’s sensitivity, deft whimsy and warm humanism.” I’d be in a group with Carl any day.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    Some of those writer group people followed the rules, and are probably very successful. I know they are. One lady had already been published, and was working on a second book already under contract.

    I gave her a chapter of mine to read of one of my several works that have been lost (typewritten ms/pre-computer ) in my many moves. She gave it back with about twenty words on each page circled. She said, at least half these words have to be changed into words of one or two syllables. (It was another of my pretending-to-be children’s books.)

    I said to myself, enough of this bullshit, and never went back.

    That piece was no more difficult than the stuff Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, meant for children. But that was a century ago, when kids could read.

    Liked by 4 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s