Mar 03

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The Writing Circle (Writers writing about…writing?)

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (illus...

"Swords? Bah! Let us find ourselves some pens..."

The following is an edited post that I originally published last year.  It’s the first of several I’ll be sharing with you.  They are all from the writing forum of a web-comic that I was reading during my deployment to Iraq.  As my blog focuses primarily on writing, I thought it might be a good idea to mention why I don’t take part in writing workshops–and instead choose to band together with my fellow authors in “writing circles.”

A couple of years ago, I was doing some research on Neil Gaiman‘s 2004 short story The Problem of Susan (which I still haven’t had a chance to read yet) and found out some interesting things about C.S. Lewis. Most notably that he wasn’t only a contemporary of Tolkin, but the two of them met to read and critique each others works (along with other authors) in an informal Oxford literary group known as the “Inklings.”

And that’s when I had an epiphany. Almost all the published authors I like to read, have informal groups of other published writers they share their works with. An “insiders club.” A supportive circle of intelligent and mature people who speak the language of writing, and can look objectively at a piece of fiction; break down not just what they liked or didn’t like about it, but why they felt that way. After all, that’s the major difference between critiquing a work, and criticizing it—which is what most people have a tendency to do.

Maybe writing workshops don’t work after all…professionals don’t use them, right? But they do make extensive use of their networks with other writers—their writer’s circles. These professional writers acquire that network from industry association (publishing, book signing circuit, conventions, and lectures and instructing classes at universities).

What about writers who haven’t been published yet? How can they acquire a network like that?

As some of you may have read from my other posts on this blog, I’ve already created my own circle. The purpose of this post is to talk about what goes into starting an informal group of writers like this, and what it takes to keep it going. And perhaps, serve as a springboard for other writers to start their own circles.

As many of you writers out there may have already discovered, the major problem with a writing workshop is that you can only get out of them what people put into them. And most workshops people have had experience with, are from an academic environment.

In school, you don’t get to choose your classmates. And as I can personally attest to, there is nothing more irritating than work shopping with writers who don’t share your dedication, or, a similar level of talent. When I write, I only want to workshop with writers who share the same drive, and a similar level of skill. Anything less is a complete and total waste of my time.

And also, I really only want to workshop something that I’m interested in reading. I know it sounds strange, but just like wolves, writers it seems, travel with their own kind, each having their own respective “pack.” Look at the inklings, and other writing groups out there…those who write similar types of fiction, and whom have similar world views, group up.

What this all comes down to is: a successful Writer’s Circle can’t have an open door policy. Each and every potential member has to be carefully scrutinized to see if they will be a good fit.

Also, it’s important to note, that unlike an academic writing workshop, a Writer’s Circle is not just about improving the technical aspect of writing; as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, writing isn’t some mystical activity. It’s hard work. And when you’re working hard, sometimes you need encouragement and emotional support—even more then help with sentence structure.

This is where the social aspect of a Writer’s Circle comes into play. When you aren’t looking at someone’s fiction to get a grade in a class, but with a genuine desire to help an author improve their writing; you become invested in them, and their work. You become friends. And the circle opens up.

Although we are all writers, writing really is only one aspect of our lives. And all too often, the world outside the stories we write about affect us; often in unpredictable and scary ways. It’s truly hard to write when you can’t find work, and are going to be evicted from you apartment in a week. Or when your significant other gets jealous of all the time you’re spending with imaginary friends in your notebook, and leaves you.

Not only is the act of writing, and learning to improve your writing difficult, the simple fact that you are a writer will lead to all kinds of difficulties. Difficulties only other writers can truly understand. Life’s full of roadblocks and landmines. In a circle of writers, there is a very good chance that a problem or difficulty you are going through, has already been navigated by another. While they might not be able to step into your shoes, and walk your path for you–they can at least point out the directions of nearby roads, or hidden patches of quicksand.

Borrowing a line from Alexander Dumas, a Writer’s Circle truly is like being a part of the musketeers. We may wield pens instead of swords, but we all truly believe in our motto:

“One writer for all, and all writers for one.”

One last word of advice. Try not to get exclusive. If you think someone might have what it takes, give them the benefit of the doubt. A circle after all, isn’t about exclusion, but inclusion. If you raise your castle walls too high, you’ll find that it’s turned into a prison…

After all, while it actually may have been called the Three Musketeer’s, it’s important to remember…there really were four of them.

Good luck, and good writing.


Peter Usagi
(The Writing Rabbit)

Permanent link to this article: http://peterusagi.com/2011/03/03/the-writing-circle-writers-writing-about-writing/

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  1. Become A Writing Community | Kristi Bernard

    […] The Writing Circle (Writers writing about…writing?) (peterusagi.com) […]

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