Sunday, December 9, 2007


Are writers the only ones who have groups? Do computer guys and girls meet at somebody's home once a month to angst about code? Do doctors meet for lunch to read their diagnoses to each other? Do plumbers gather to discuss plastic vs. metal pipes? Do librarians long to flock together over wine?

New writers always seem to be looking for a writing group. They want to know how to a.) find one; and b.) tell if it's a good one. Finding one can take some time, and it can take some boldness. . .like going to a class or a conference and asking people if they want to form a group with you. I did that once, and we met for years. So, yeah, finding a group can be a challenge. But telling if a group is a good one? That's easy.

Here is Nancy's Law About Writing Groups, and it also applies to writing classes and teachers, friends and relatives, agents and editors, spouses and dogs:

It's a good one if it makes you feel like writing.

It's a bad one if it makes you feel like not writing.

Oh, sure, I could say a little more. I could say the best writing group is one where people tell the truth, but in a kind and sensitive way, and where each of them understands that their opinion is just that. . .their opinion. That, honestly, is all there is to it. If you gather kind, truth-telling people around you, everything else will work out fine.

Here's Annie Lamott's description of one good writing group she knows:

Helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. . .All four of them are excellent writers, but only one of them has been published at all, and that was just one article. But you know what? They love each other. They still look forward to their meetings after all these years. They are better writers and better people because of their work with each other.

That last line is the part I love best: "They're better writers and better people because of their work with each other." That should be true of any work we do, because if it can't make our hearts bigger, then what good is it?

Happy Monday to one of the good groups. :)


AndiF said...

What a wonderful post -- since I have absolutely nothing to say about this post, it gives the never before exercised opportunity to say that it's a good thing that it's Monday.

It's a good thing it's Monday since I have the Monday picture post to give me something to contribute.

So, sick of frost flowers yet? Well, too bad.

A frost flower garden


the end is near

Family Man said...

Good morning Nancy and Andi.

Lets see, is there a group for what I do. Nope. In extreme slacking most people are too lazy to find each other, and then don't even think about getting up to go somewhere for a group.

As usual, wonderful pictures Andi.

Beth said...

Morning, andi and fam. Never tired of your pictures, andi! I just want to see one of those flowers in real life someday.

Too funny, fam. Too bad one of you isn't a renegade, and could form a circle of recliners for fellow slackers to stumble into and snooze collectively.

I hope to find a critique group in Colorado, but this group is the best for supportive blog buddies I could ever hope to find. A group hug to you all! said...

Hey, FamMan, I think our group meets at the graveyard. :-)

Oh, Andi, that last one spooked me! It looked like a face.

Jen, Nancy, Beth, thank yo so much for your high school anecdotes! I am trying so hard to remember... but I am also interested in what adults take with them through the year from those brief and intensified moments we call high school.


As for being slutty (I already mentioned this to Beth) in modern fiction we call it "romance." Tongue-in-cheek on this one, Jen.

But, relly, aren't many romance novels simply a created bunch of false circustamnces to allow the protag to have sex with a handsome stranger dressed like a cowboy? To have a bit of adventuresome sex but remain likable, uh, wholly acceptable.

I loved your K. Ghia, Jen. & your learning to drive in one. It too will roll back the odometer when driven in reverse. But it wasn't my car in h.s. Dang it.

katiebird said...

(Desperate for Coffee. Why am I even AT the computer?)

Good Morning Nancy, Andi, FamilyMan, Beth & Ghost! said...

Nancy, I so enjoyed your ice blog yesterday. I think an ice storm is the first criterium for a good writers group.

What's really odd to me is that my very closest friends, who are writers, and I don't share our writing in anyway. Which is a bit of a heartbreak, but it just doesn't work out that way.

Sometimes a really good writers group may consist of people you know primarly (if not solely) through talking seriously about writing. Or, hell, making serious fun of it... or such. said...

Katiebird, you're at your computer because you ducked (or duck butted) my question yesterday. :-)

May I ask everyone again: What is the most important thing you learned in high school?

Help, please. And also:

What do you remember most about h.s.?

What was your worst experience in h.s.?

What was your best experience in h.s.?

Most embarrassing moment (clothed) in h.s.?

P.S. I am taking notes. :-)

I'm honestly looking hard for an entry point into a character's high school experiences... a way of getting into and out of the h.s. setting quickly.

I don't remember a thing. All I did was drink beer on country roads with my friends. Except we didn't have a vampire, nor a Buffy. said...

Come to think of it, that's all I do now. Except I live on a country road to begin with.

katiebird said...

(Ghost, I didn't just duck/butt your question -- I barely looked at the computer all day....

I was a weirdo/misfit in h.s.

Most important thing I learned?

That "Good Night My Someone" & "Seventy-Six Trombones" have the same tune. That fact has the distinction of being The Only thing I learned in high school.

Worst experience? Being called into the VP office and asked if I was pregnant. Which was totally. TOTALLY impossible. I'm pretty sure it was my most embarrassing experience too.

Even they couldn't help but yawn at my excuse for falling asleep so often in class: Staying up to work for McGovern during the primaries.

AndiF said...

What is the most important thing you learned in high school?

Most people are indifferent go-along-get-alongers.

What do you remember most about h.s.?

How much I hated it.

What was your worst experience in h.s.?

Going in the building everyday.

What was your best experience in h.s.?

Setting lights in the flies above the stage. I can't say whether I loved the sense of isolation or the sheer joy of being up high more.

Most embarrassing moment (clothed) in h.s.?

Sorry but the extent of the hate pretty well meant that minor emotions like embarrassment never got a chance. What probably should have been my most embarrassing moment didn't bother me in the least -- I got drunk in the library (going into the stacks and drinking gin out of mouthwash bottles brought by buddy Dennis) and was thrown out for the 6 weeks for "misbehavior" (the librarian, an innocent soul named Miss Wort, had no idea we were drunk).

katiebird said...

Oh, yes. Thanks for the reminder, Andi: I forgot the part about hating it. Everything you said about that.

Except I didn't work on Lights. I was on the Paint Crew. God knows why. I thought it was important.

Family Man said...

What do you remember most about h.s.?

Warm honeybuns with vanilla ice cream on top from the café across the street.

What was your worst experience in h.s.?

Not wanting to be indelicate here, but my first and only spring training in football and finding out jockstraps do serve a purpose.

What was your best experience in h.s.?

Prom night. Nuff said.

Most embarrassing moment (clothed) in h.s.?

Borrowing a pair of shoes from my date’s father so I could take her to a concert. My shoes were in the shoe shop and I got there too late to get them out. said...

Wonderful stuff! Thank you!!!!!

Except for the VicePrincipal's office, Katiebrid. Oh god!!!!

FamMan, Andif, Katiebird: I think we have discovered the secret appeal of Nancy's wonderful blog: It ain't school, man. :-)

Nancy P said...

Absolutely wonderfuly, Ms. Andif. Not sick of them yet. Not likely to be. Bring it on.

Hey, Beth, Fam Man, KB, and Ghost.

Ghost and I used to meet for lunch every week with another writer. It was the highlight of the week, until it was the lowlight.

Groups ARE like high school sometimes. said...

That "Good Night My Someone" & "Seventy-Six Trombones" have the same tune.

Yeah, and what about That Boy, This Boy (Beatles) and Sleepwalk???

P.S. I played the tuba in junoir high. Tell no one. It was so embarrassing, I quit band for h.s. and they gave the thing to some other fat kid. said...

>> It was the highlight of the week, until it was the lowlight. >>

Lowlight was never you, babe.

Nancy P said...

What I remember most about high school is excruciating self-consciousness and not being content with who I was and what I already had, wanting more and better.

Hmm, who'd have guessed it. . .not me. . .my best memories are of moments of being appreciated by teachers for some bit of writing. I remember two specifically--one made me a better writer, one nearly ruined me as a writer until a college freshman English teacher knocked it out of me.

Ugh. High school. Loved it, hated it. It's my strongest personal objection to reincarnation. :) Seriously.

Nancy P said...

And it wasn't you, babe.

Nancy P said...

Wait. Andi and Katieb you've reminded me. My worst moments involved stagework. An acting gig. Two of them that still make me shudder to recall. And being in charge of props one time--made me a nervous wreck.

Beth said...

I loved high school. Every second of it. Well, except for not being asked to the prom. Loved my teachers and classes, loved hanging out with my friends, loved getting away from my mother every day. I'd go back in a heartbeat, esp. knowing what I do now.

I was in plays too! Seems to be a theme. And choir and madrigals. The prom committee. Manager of the boys varsity basketball team. Busy, busy, busy.

Best moment: being kissed by the guy I had a HUGE crush on at my Sweet 16 party.

What I remember most: my friendships. My high school friends are still some of my closest, all these years later.

Worst? Chemistry class. Although the teacher let us grade ourselves, phew. When he'd ask me a question I'd remind him that I didn't have a clue what was going on, so he shouldn't waste his time. (I was a straight A student in every other class - science just knocked me for a loop.)

Most embarrassing? Slow-dancing with a guy and, um, he, well, let's say there was a physical indication that he really enjoyed it. And then he apologized! I was mortified. Not that he enjoyed it, but that he had to DISCUSS it with me!!

This is fun! :-) said...

Stagework. Wow, was that high school? Carla Reynolds.

When I was a sophomore (our speech teacher had far too few students to work with) I was paired in a "dramatic duet" with the most beautiful senior girl in our school.

She dated a drummer in a rock'n-roll band. Anyway, it was made up of cuts from Desire Under the Elms. I was Eben. (Our speech teacher was nuts, btw).

The drama teacher toured us about to speech contests. My first time at "regionals" with Carla (did I mentioned she was perfectly beautiful? And a senior?) I went into the men's room about five minutes before our scheduled performance... and never came out.

I threw up a lot, for starters. But I wouldn't come out. There was only one other guy on the speech team. He would come in from time to time and smoke a cigarette. Eventually, he said we were all leaving, the competition was over.

Worst moment perhaps was that two-hour ride home in our teacher's station wagon. I wanted Carla to love me and I didn't think I had accomplished that. said...

Slow-dancing with a guy and, um, he, well, let's say there was a physical indication that he really enjoyed it. And then he apologized!

Beth, was that me?

Nancy P said...

Beth, have you checked the Daily Coyote photo yet? It's amazing.

Kelly McCullough said...

Howdy all,

Writers groups, on a con panel once I gave a very close paraphrase of your rules, Nancy. A bad writers group is one that makes you say ARGH!!! after. A good one is one you leave going ooh, ooh, ooh!

High school: I'm not much use there as my experience was utterly atypical. I went to an Open School 2nd-12th grades total of 350 students, K-12. Teachers were called by first names and students were encouraged to mentor their younger peers and be mentored by their older ones, so strong bonds were formed up to several years in each direction. I didn't go to a high school, I went to visit my very large extended family every day.

Coincidentally I stopped by for an event this weekend and hung out with the guy (2 years ahead of me) who taught me to sing for a musical and the girl (4 years behind me) who I took under my wing and protected on the school bus.

Going to go look for tea now. Back in a bit.

Conda said...

Hi All,

Nancy, so succinct about writing groups. Your law is great--and gets away from hurt feelings, shame and embarrassment (wait a minute, now I'm getting into high school stuff) of members not working out.

Sometimes that's not about the writing or even the personalities involved. A friend of mine attended our writing group and got along great with everyone, but left. Why? She wrote fantasy and it is a mystery/thriller group. The majority of members don't read fantasies. As she said: "I have to explain the genre conventions all the time."

Nancy P said...

Kelly, I love your paraphrase and will probably steal it.

I also love to hear about your unique upbringing. Makes me wish I'd given that to my boy. Maybe you'll write a memoir some day?

Nancy P said...

Conda, yeah, and it can be demoralizing to hear your group members constantly begin their critiques with, "I don't actually like mysteries (fantasy, sci fi, romance, westersn), but. . ." lol. I put that under the groups that make you go ARRGH. I think it can also be deadly for writers of any genre to get into a group that considers itself literary, 'cause there's that constant undercurrent of condescension (sp?).

Kelly McCullough said...

My childhood. The theory was great, the execution had its...issues. It was weird and sometimes wonderful and sometimes terrible, and I will certainly write about it in depth some day, but it's not going to happen until a number of the principal players have passed from the scene.

Rick Bylina said...

Writer's Groups: Good one makes you want to try harder; bad one makes you feel like a failure. Good one stays on topic; Bad one questions your ability to write. Good one gives you tips; bad one slaps you silly with rules. Good one makes you want to return; bad on makes you afraid to come back.

Ghost: What is the most important thing you learned in high school? How to type. The ability to type well has gotten me more jobs over the years than anything I learned in chemistry.

What do you remember most about h.s.? Walking to it in the morning with my three buds rehashing the lessons of life we learned the day before. The lessons were often too little and too late to prevent minor disasters, but kept us out of mortal danger.

What was your worst experience in h.s.? Dating. Never could get one until I was in college.

What was your best experience in h.s.? Graduating. My high school experience wasn't bad, but I was ready for new adventures rather than rehashing the past four years.

Most embarrassing moment (clothed) in h.s.? Ah, there so many modestly embarrassing, but nothing traumatic, at least that I remember, except perhaps the exploding water fountain incident.

Nancy P said...

Rick, I agree totally with your group points. Also with the value of learning to type in H.S. I so loved it when my son learned in grade school. Son. Grade School. Cool beans, as a blog friend, Nanette, might say.

Nancy P said...

After three cups of morning coffee, I just had a big cup of Starbucks hot chocolate with marshmallows. (At home.)

Ask me if I'm in a good mood. :)

Ta! Must hurry off now.

Rick Bylina said...

"Cool" beans? I've seen a lot of adjectives to describe beans (stinky, hearty, nasty), but never "cool".

NEVER go on a trip or an elevator ride with my in-law women after they've eaten beans.

"The horror; the horror."

Rick Bylina said...

By the way, 78 and sunny at the moment. Way too warm for snow and ice. My indoor tomato plants have flower buds, and I've just put them outside for the next four days. :-)

Nancy P said...

Lol, Rick. Bunch of old farts, are they?

I didn't say that.

Nancy P said...

By the way, some of us hate you.

Grudging :)

Beth said...

It's as warm there as it is here! We have nasty clouds - no rain predicted, but the clouds are a nice change. Enjoy the break, Rick. Wish it stretched across the rest of the country.

I have a friend who says cool beans. :-)

Hot chocolate and marshmallows - someone went to the store! I'm making candy, so my whole house smells like chocolate. Not that that's a bad thing...

Beth said...

I did see the coyote picture, Nancy! No question who's the boss in that household!

Nancy P said...

I just went out and salted the front walk and steps in preparation for the ice storm we're expecting. All of our recent weather has been better than the forecasts, so my fingers (the ones that aren't doing the salting) are crossed for continued good luck.

Beth said...

Please continue to be careful out there, all of you in bad weather!

Nancy P said...

Thanks, Beth. Speaking for one of us, I will!

This coming storm has given me an idea for a post tomorrow. I think I'll ask everybody to tell about some memorable storm they were in--scary, thrilling, whatever it was. Don't do it now, though. Save it until tomorrow when more people are around.

katiebird said...


Our son just came over and said he slid all the way down the driveway and the stairs are covered in ice.

We could get anywhere between nothing and over an inch of ice.

I guess it's hard to tell until it's over....

I Can't WAIT to tell storm stories.

Jen said...

KB & Nancy (& whomever else is in the area), I hope y'all have your long johns ready! Be careful and keep safe now.

Nancy P said...

katiebird! Thanks for the ice report. I'll go peek outside, but not step out there.

I knew you'd love the storm stories idea! :) Can't wait to hear yours. Well, yes I can wait, 'cause I'm making everybody else wait.

Maybe no work tomorrow?

Nancy P said...

Thanks, Jen. The ice hasn't reached your area?

Let's see, will it be the white longjohns tonight or the black ones? I think. . .white.

katiebird said...

Hi Jen -- I'm staying warm. I'm already in my Lounging Clothes (winter version is flannel pajamas with a cotton tee-shirt & 2 pairs of socks)

Nancy, I promised FAR that I'd tell the story of the time I saw a house explode. If he shows up, maybe I'll tell that too.

No Work tomorrow? HA! only if the entire town is shut down. We're not allowed to stay home on snow days. Well, we can take leave without pay if we want.

They've called once I think to keep us home.

katiebird said...

Or dress like a checkerboard, Nancy & mix them up!

Beth said...

Well, you just be careful, kb. I was reading reports from all over the midwest and it sounds like a skating rink. Maybe you need to get food poisoning tonight...

katiebird said...

Beth, I'd still have to leave the house to get a note from my doctor. :(

Nancy P said...

House explode! That'll be a good one.

Will they expect you to drive in even if the highways are sheets of ice? Tell them that We Here at Blog Village will not allow it. We'd put our foot down, but we might slip and fall.

katiebird said...

Yep, unless I get a call (Usually around 5am) I've gotta go. Sheets of ice or 10 inches of snow --although if there's THAT much going on, maybe they'll actually shut it down.

I think the problem is the unpredictability of it all. You know that these things usually miss us completely.

Beth said...

Here's hoping it misses you. Otherwise you'll hear our collective feet all the way to Kansas!

Jen said...

The ice hasn't reached your area?

It's real wet around here but the forecast the next few days is rain and temps in the 40s and 50s so I think we're safe. All our purty snow has already melted except one sad little misshapen snowcreature in the yard next door, hehe.

I am also excited to read the house 'splodey story!

Nancy P said...

house 'splodey

makes me laugh
I will feel guilty if it turns out there was anybody in it! (Damn liberal guilt.)

The Kansas City, Ks. Library Systems quake from the thunder of our feet!

katiebird said...

(don't worry, Nancy)

boran2 said...

I go to bloggers' groups every day of the week. I'm even at one now. ;-)

Nancy P said...

lol, b2. Best kind of group, too.

Hey, if I'm not here in the morning, you'll know we've lost service. waaaa.

katiebird said...

!! The library's not going to open until NOON!!

Guess who's sleeping in!

FARfetched said...

Writing groups… sounds interesting. What goes on in one? I may have to prod the local arts council to do something in that direction — they've covered all the other arts, after all, why leave out writing?

H.S. I'll pass, as I should have been in bed 45 minutes ago. For now, I'll just say it was four years of suck punctuated by occasional bursts of joy.

KB, I'm waiting for exploding house stories! I have to figure out which of several storm stories I'll share.

I'm riding the motorcycle tomorrow. We need to take advantage of this freak warm weather while it lasts!

Nancy P said...

That's great, kb!

Far, writing groups can function in all kinds of ways, but in the kind I'm thinking of people show up and read from their work in progress and the other members of the group offer reactions. Here in KC there's a very old group that is also very big, so not many people get to read when they meet. I know of another long time group that is only three people, and they've been meeting once a week for years to read and critique each other's work.

If there's no reading going on, if it's talking about writing and publishing, then it's a lunch group. :) That's what ghost and I had for a long time, but I have belonged to the other kind, too. They can be great at some stages of a writing life. At other times, they don't seem appealing at all.