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On Writing Groups

San Francisco is rich with many things, and one of my favorite things it is rich with is writers.  On absolutely any day there are at least five different literary things going on all around the city (and sometimes more like fifteen).  The independent bookstores here are fabulous, the history of writers that have called SF home a diverse blend of fantastic and obscure, and creative types are forever pushing the limit of what a book is or where it might be found.  (Case in point, my new favorite newstand on Market Street).  I am totally spoiled with opportunities to hear readings, attend classes, and soak up the literary scene.  I love it.

One of the rich things that comes from all this richness is the opportunity to find and participate in many different kinds of writing groups.  While I am forever grateful for the world wide network of writers that I can connect with through facebook and twitter, there's nothing like meeting another writer in person and being able to go on and on about a shared love of words.

I am in one writing group that has been meeting (no joke) for more than thirty years.  It is comprised of a core group of friends who decided a while back that a book club was too boring for them, but wanted an excuse to get together regularly and do something creative while they were at it.  They have not only survived but thrived because of their ability to welcome newcomers (there is someone new every other time I go).  A few folks in the group would never call themselves writers, yet they've been writing things they share with this group for more than thirty years.  And they are damn good because of it.  Everyone brings something they wrote (short story, poem, article or "ticket" which is usually a haiku someone wrote on the way to the gathering), gets a chance to read it to the group and get a response.  It's not strictly a critique group, so the response is more supportive in nature, and reading a piece is a very intimate way to share with friends something you might not otherwise talk about.  There is a lot of eating and drinking as well.  They meet every other month, rotating houses and hosts.

I have a more traditional fiction workshop group.  We've been meeting now for 2 years and we got very, very lucky, finding each other through craigslist.  Everyone in the group is super committed to their writing.  And all of my pieces that I've workshopped in the group have grown into much stronger work that I would not have been able to accomplish on my own.  There is a little drinking and a little eating.  We also rotate houses and hosts.

And then I have Sub & Pub, short for Submissions and Publications.  I started the group three years ago so that there would be some external reason to slog through the process of submitting stories to literary journals in the hopes of some of them finding a home.  And I can definitely say that I have submitted more in the last 3 years than I ever would have if it was just me on my own.  The group varies from two or three of us, to sometimes closer to eight.  I hope that I make it feel open and available to any newcomers (let me know if you want to join!!!).  There isn't any particular structure, but we meet once a month downtown at a bar or restaurant and swap ideas for where to send stories, or grovel together over form rejection letters, or share things we've heard about that are going on in publishing or writing. Sometimes we bring previously read literary journals for swapping so we can check out publications we might want to submit to.  The only consistent thing that happens is that we individually share what our goal for the next month is, i.e., how many stories we will submit, or whether we'll finish revising a particular chapter or whatnot.  And sometimes we report out on how well we met our last goal.  So the whole point is some external accountability in a supportive environment.  I usually set a goal of sending five stories out, and because of that I at least send three.  Every time a rejection letter comes my way I feel better knowing I can commiserate with others in the same position as soon as the next meeting.  And every acceptance that anyone in the group gets feels like a win for the team.  We are emerging writers helping each other emerge.

I feel rich with writing groups, and so grateful.  If you are looking for a group and want to join me in San Francisco, please let me know.  Or if you want to borrow any of these ideas to recreate in your own community, I think that would be rad.

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