Night before last, an eclectic group gathered in the basement of Artworks cultural center in Big Rapids. There was Chris, a dental hygienist; Théa, a former social worker; Sally, a retired educator; Susan, an artist who's, well, hard to sum up in a few words; and me. All brought together by our interest in writing—and in improving our writing.
Let's listen in on snippets of the evening's discussion:
That one suggestion you gave me last time has added two-thousand words to my document!
This did read much better for me, and now I have a clearer idea of the story. I'm more pulled in to what's happening.
There is a difference between a run-on sentence and a long sentence that moves the story along. I've read 93-word sentences that are absolutely amazing. If you were to break one of those up, it wouldn't work.
I loved the images in your chapter. You create a lot of suspense.
Ohhh, so I need to open the chapter with what the hell is going on!
I think you're nailing the struggle I've had all along with the voice I want to use to tell the story.
I didn't feel like I was reading this just for this group; I was reading because I enjoyed it.
In one form or another, the Artworks Second Monday Writers have been carrying on like this for a dozen years. Founded by poet and writer Phillip Sterling, the group originally focused on fiction. Later, under the guidance of writer-photographer-biologist Stephen Ross, and then with writer and all-around lovely person Mikki Garrels at the helm, the group expanded to include writers of both fiction and nonfiction.
The group has waxed and waned over the years, with a full house of eleven members around the time I joined in 2012. Eleven writers, all submitting work for review and offering critiques of everyone else's work, eventually got out of hand. No matter how we tried to keep our comments concise, our meetings ran l-o-o-o-o-o-ong!
Now we're down to a manageable five members. Well, maybe manageable isn't quite the right word—we still get out of hand sometimes. But after working together over the years, we've learned a few things about how to give and take constructive criticism and avoid getting hung up on trivial matters.
Below, I'll share a few tips for writers' groups, in case you're thinking of starting one of your own (or already belong to one and need suggestions for making it work better).
But before that, I want to introduce you to the Second Monday Writers and let them tell you about themselves and their projects.
I’m currently working on a horror/supernatural story. It involves Dhampirs hunting old school demonic beings, set in a dystopian future. I've worked in many different genres, including Sci-Fi, fantasy, non-fiction and poetry.
At the moment, I work as a dental hygienist in Lakeview Michigan.
I consider myself a skilled Hunter/Gatherer and resale shopping a blood sport. My work-in-progress, A Wilderness Guide to Resale Chic, is loaded with tips on how to sniff out treasure and navigate unpredictable resale terrain. Its message: You do not have to be born rich, win the lottery, or max out your credit cards to dress well and surround yourself with beautiful things.
My background as a Licensed Master Social Worker and Cognitive Therapist informs my approach; having grown up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gives me an edge. My adult years in Chicago supply field experience: true tales and insider information.
In addition to being a member of the writers group, I contribute to several Michigan newspapers and have been published in Michigan History magazine and Health and Safety magazine.
I live on the Muskegon River near Big Rapids.
My current writing project is a memoir about visiting Cuba in 1980, during a brief period when the U.S. government allowed some educational travel to that country. The story weaves personal discovery and the effects of growing up white-middle class in the United States during the Cold War and the1960’s, with a de-mystifying of Cuba’s realities at that time.
I also write poetry, essays and non-fiction stories.
A retired early childhood educator and social worker, I also did Trager Bodywork and taught Movement Therapies for many years. In the mid-1980s, I lived and worked in Mexico and Central America with my husband, where I learned to speak and read some Spanish. In December 2016, I returned to Cuba, a trip that serendipitously coincided with the week of national mourning for Fidel Castro.
In addition to writing, my interests are travel and learning about history and culture, reading, drawing and outdoor activities that correlate with the seasons, all balanced with political activism. I delight in caring for and playing with my granddaughter.
Editor's note: Sally is also my neighbor and a member of the Monday morning yoga class and the Wander Women hiking group.
I write paranormal romance/humor, urban fantasy and horror for adults, new adults and young adults.
My current project is a young adult urban fantasy that I'm co-authoring with Christopher Rizzo. I will write a seventeen-year-old shapeshifter wolf who does not accept her role in the wolf pack. Christopher is writing an angel with faery blood who was sent to earth to earn his wings by saving the shifter.
Where I draw my characters from: I grew up in the streets of Bridgeport Connecticut, and that's where I got my education. By ten years old, I took care of my sister and brother and our four-room apartment while my mother worked two jobs. The city was a melting pot of good and evil, and by ten I knew it well, above and below ground, and was cold to its hardships. In my writing world, I weave reality with mythological creatures, fantasy, folklore, legend, and a fair share of humor, because without humor there is no sanity.
What makes me smile: Walking in the woods, rainy days, and listing to the coyote at night. My art—watercolor, acrylics, book-cover and marketing graphics, stained glass. Listening to classic rock and writing.
You can find me and my books here:
Pretty interesting mix of people and projects, wouldn't you say? Before I joined this group, I had never read paranormal fiction, fantasy (at least not since childhood fairy tales) or much Sci-Fi. It's been enlightening—and fun—to be exposed to these genres, which are so different from the kind of writing I've done. I've been inspired to try my hand at fiction (not quite as far-out as some I've read in this group, but definitely a stretch from journalism and memoir!).
In turn, the fiction writers in the group have offered insights on ways to enliven my writing. Things don't always run smoothly—what ever does when you get a roomful of distinct personalities? But we keep learning from one another, and our writing keeps growing as a result.
Now, as promised, a few tips for writers groups:
Thanks to Mikki Garrels for filling me in on the early years of the Artworks Second Monday Writers.
Happy to meet all your co-writers in your group. The diversity of the backgrounds of the writers and their varying topics would certainly lead to lively discussions. Writers groups are so important for not only critiquing your words, but also for the support writers need. Writing is a solitary job. Getting out and meeting others who are going through the same experience is inspiring and re-assuring. Thanks for the writing groups book recommendation. Keep writing!!!
8/16/2017 06:56:51 am
True words, JQ. I have an ongoing fantasy of hosting a get-together of all the writers I know in this area, many of whom have never met. I haven't managed to do it yet, but one of these days . . .
8/16/2017 07:41:06 am
Thank you so much, Nan. What a wonderful look at the group and what each of us bring to the table. I've looked forward to our monthly meetings for years, around nine I think. I've grown as a writer over those years. Like you, reading and reviewing out of my genre was different at first, but it has helped to broaden my scope and improve character development.
8/16/2017 08:33:22 am
I think we've all grown, both as writers and as readers, as a result of this group.
8/16/2017 07:48:00 am
Since I'm in this group, I read with particular interest. I enjoyed your information on the history of our group and appreciated how you represented the diversity of our personalities and writing subjects. It's so true that writers need to connect, share, and support each other. Having a group has helped motivate me to keep writing and stay committed. Your example and friendship have certainly been a huge factor.
8/16/2017 08:34:07 am
Thanks, Sally. You've been a wonderful addition to the group.
8/16/2017 08:04:06 am
Fastinating insights! Thanks for the personal introductions. (what a fun & wonderful group you have there) ,♡
8/16/2017 08:38:54 am
Thanks, Tonya. We're fortunate to have so many talented writers in this area (including you!).
8/20/2017 02:13:59 pm
Newaygo attracts the most interesting people. How fortunate you are to have found each other.
8/22/2017 06:59:46 am
True and true!
8/23/2017 06:55:44 pm
I loved peeking into another world. The world of creative people. It's fun to resd about how you interact with each other and make a regular group structure fit into your creative process.
8/24/2017 07:11:53 am
Thanks, Sandy! It's interesting to get your perspective on the post.
8/25/2017 07:24:24 am
I think this is one of my favorite HeartWood posts––super informative! The group sounds so interesting and dedicated, and it's a manageable size. It's funny, as I was scrolling through the pictures before I read each writer's bio, I thought, Wow, I love her (Thea's) scarf! It was only later that I learned about her resale expertise.
8/27/2017 11:45:07 am
Interesting and dedicated, for sure. And yeah, great scarf! Thea really knows her resale stuff. Can't want for her book to be published!
8/28/2017 05:11:47 pm
Wonderful post, I learned a lot about different genres and your group. Thanks for enlightening me.
8/29/2017 06:00:11 am
I'm so glad you found it interesting, Sue!
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Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.