Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Usefulness of Writing Communities

Back in 2008, I met a group of Ottawa writers while at World Fantasy Con in Calgary (my first con!). They were the East Block Irregulars, a critique group of professionally published SF authors. I was invited to join their group on a probationary level, to see if the critiquing fit was good. Before going to my first meeting, I received a sheet of rules and guidelines, including gems such as don’t speak when you receive a critique. You may give a respond after all critiquers have given their review.

That was my first clue that they were serious about their craft. I’d been to writing groups before, but never one that didn’t involve a lot of griping about trying to get published.

I received two stories to critique at our next meeting. And therein laid my next clue that they were a serious writing group. The stories were high calibre. I struggled to find useful critiques, not used to analyzing peer-written stories with the goal of actually providing feedback. 

Then the first meeting came. Once the last person arrived, all chatting stopped and we got down to business. The first round of critiques was quickly followed by the second round. It was honest, professional, and one of the most freaking useful things I’d ever heard in writing.

Once the meeting done, we all went our separate ways. No griping about publishing, about how hard it was to write, about personal difficulties. Oh no. We were there to meet and help perfect our writing, and that was the only reason we met.

Over the years, we have met on a more social level, though it’s always made clear when it’s social and when it’s business. Keeps everyone in line.

This weekend, I was originally supposed to go to the convent for a writing weekend. Several events conspired against my journey there, so I decided to stay in town to join the East Block Irregulars for a writing weekend.  I was promised Jos Louis.

I must admit to some initial worry. I get a lot, and I mean a lot done at the convent. I’d been to another write-off with the EBI before, but it had been only three of us. This time, there would be five of us (at different times).  But regardless, this was my best bet for a writing weekend. Staying at home would lead to unavoidable shadowing of Roomy and her protesting that she’s not that interesting, or to doing random household chores (the last time I stayed home while supposed to be writing, I built lots of Swedish furniture. Just saying.) And, with my writing room being in shambles while awaiting its renos, my little haven didn’t exist.

So I showed up at 7:30 to the writing retreat on the first day, at Derek Kunsken's house (he has a story in the August issue of Asimov's. Check it out!) We had a quick breakfast (no eggs and bacon – takes too long), and then we started writing. Lunch break, supper break, home.

Repeat for two days.

I got a lot done. Not the same type of work I would have gotten done at the convent, but I’d definitely call this a successful and productive weekend. 

And I was surprised to see that my favourite part was a nice supper hosted on the Sunday night. We chatted, laughed and talked about goats. It made me appreciate my group even more. They’re a unique but useful bunch. (My second favourite part was throwing a Jos Louis at Matt Moore. But that’s another story.)

So this lone wolf writer is learning the usefulness of a community of writers. But I’m lucky, too.  I found a community that shares similar professional achievements, paths and aspirations as my own. My fear that a writers' group was just a waste of time was definitely destroyed over these last three years of being a member of EBI.

AND, this year, three of us are on the Aurora Awards ballot (read about it here). Come on, that’s just cool! 

So will I go to the convent again?  Hell’s ya. I immerse in a story at the convent like nowhere else. I can talk to myself, get up and dance, run up a hill to see Giant Jesus and speak to tombstones. Those aren’t things you should do in public. Or anywhere more public than a convent, I suppose.

Now that the convent is becoming secular, I have another 2.5 years while they wind down religious activities before their model changes. After that, prices will probably increase as will the number of loud bird watchers. (You’d think bird watchers would be quiet, but alas…)

I intend to find another similar retreat before the Final Fantasy-esque countdown ends, but in the meantime, it’s nice to know I have another option. One that involves Jos Louis.

Hope you all had an awesome writing weekend, especially for the brave ones amongst you who participated in the Three-Day Novel Writing contest! (A member of my writing group, Hayden Trenholm, won that contest one year. It’s true! See?)