– by Christy Moceri
In 2015, I joined a writer’s group that changed my life. We call ourselves the International Writers Syndicate, because one of our members is Canadian and ‘Syndicate’ sounds sinister and mysterious. After four years of steady improvement and one year of co-leadership, this is what I’ve learned.
We Are Intentional
We created our group to become better writers. This may sound obvious, but many writing groups form around a shared interest rather than a shared purpose. In other groups I’ve sampled, motives for participation range from, “I need something to keep me occupied on Tuesday nights,” to “I love hearing what a great writer I am. Please tell me more.”
Once you decide the purpose of your group, and commit to that purpose, decision-making about how to spend that time – and who to spend it with — becomes a lot clearer.
We Are Crafty
In keeping with our goal for continued improvement, we are heavily focused on craft. Lately a number of us have been doing a deep-dive into global structure. The more we study craft together, the more we develop a shared language for communicating about each other’s work. Our explicit, written objective in the critique process is not to impose our personal preferences onto someone else’s work, but rather to help each member clarify the story they are trying to tell and provide tools and techniques that will help them tell that story more effectively. Though we write everything from YA to erotic thriller, we believe that the principles of good storytelling are universal. We honor those principles at every meeting.
We Are Ruthless
Here’s the truth about writer’s groups that nobody wants to hear: The desire to be nice will ride roughshod over your most deeply cherished vision for a group of committed, like-minded writers. Nice will invite anyone through the door, roll out the welcome mat, and allow them to suck your time, energy and resources regardless of their skill, commitment, or cultural fit. Nice will encourage whispered, covert conversations and erode group cohesion. Don’t believe for a second you’re sparing anyone’s feelings by not being direct with them. In the long run, they will only be hurt more.
After a number of frustrating experiences with open membership, we became a closed group, by invitation only. We evaluate for skill level, capacity for improvement, demonstrated ability to give and receive a critique, and tolerance for dirty jokes. Does it suck to tell an otherwise lovely person that they aren’t a good fit for your group? Sure does. You know what sucks more? Devoting precious time and energy to someone who doesn’t share or even comprehend your vision.
We don’t just guard membership with ruthless fervor, we’re also ruthless in the critique process itself. We tell each other what we really think, sometimes loudly. Honesty is our commitment to one another, no matter how much it hurts, because not improving as writers is the worst possible outcome. We consider this thing sacred, and we’re going to protect it with everything we have.
We Love Each Other
If you care passionately about improving your writing, you will suffer. You will face writing tasks that seem impossible, spend months parched of inspiration, writhe with insecurity, and probably hear feedback that makes you want to pitch your manuscript in the trash and go do something fun. When you are trapped in the gaping maw of the worst this lifestyle has to offer, nothing matters more than having someone to ride out that suffering with you. They will listen to your paranoid 3am text rants and read your five versions of your third act because you will do the same for them. When they are full of fear and trembling, you will tell them they are brave and destined for greatness, dress them for battle, and push them out into the world. Your bond becomes their armor. And you will never feel more powerful.
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