Writing Group Structures, Strategies, and Success Stories: An LCP Roundtable Interview
Writing has a longtime reputation as a solo task, but here at Loud Coffee Press, we’re of the opinion that writers thrive in the support of writing communities. We reached out to some of the accomplished writers within the our own community to ask them about their involvement in writing groups. Here’s what B. K. Clark, Fausta Joly, and David Lastinger had to say about the form, function, and process of their own writing groups.
1. How did you form your writing group?
Clark: A writing friend and I were asked if we'd be interested in starting one by my local coffee shop. They wanted to find more ways of supporting the local community while supplying a desirable place to meet. The coffee shop advertised it and brought in more interested people and we grew from there.
Joly: I started performing my poetry in August 2018 and with that, was struck through the heart by all the overwhelming kindness, generosity, talent and community in the local London Spokenword scene. Shortly after, we met the owner of a new wine bar in South London and discussed hosting a poetry evening. It was still early for me to be thinking I could get a good open mic crowd in so I decided to set up a poetry workshop. Sip + Rhyme was born. The aim as in all our Joly Licks events is to spread the idea that "Creativity Is A Guarantee Of Sanity.”
Lastinger: I am part of a group called Shut up and Write through Meetup. We meet in person once a week in Phoenix. Although I did not create the group, I am one of its founding members.
2. Does your group meet virtually or face-to-face?*
Clark: We meet face-to-face and often have to be shushed because apparently quiet writers get loud when they're together.
Joly: Before the lockdown, (in the UK it hit right at the end of March) from 2019 we were meeting in person at various venues across town including a theatre, club, wine bar, and cafe. Since the lockdown, we have been able to move everything online with our festival #thelockjaw.
Lastinger: We meet face to face.
"I think the ideal number depends on where you meet and the purpose of the group."- Clark
3. How many writers are in your group, and do you feel there’s an ideal number for a writing group?
Clark: There are anywhere between 7-13 people in our group. The numbers fluctuate week to week, but there is always that core group of us that have been there from the beginning. I think the ideal number depends on where you meet and the purpose of the group. If you want more of a fellowship atmosphere, greater numbers can inhibit getting quality time. But if your purpose is more support based, then larger numbers mean more varied experience that can be very helpful.
Joly: Attendance varies, we have some incredibly loyal repeat Sip + Rhymers who have been coming since the beginning. Usually our numbers are from 8-15. Eight to 12 is ideal for everyone to be able to share their work after each exercise. I want to make it so I can access as many people as possible - see how the dynamic changes and how we can reach a larger group of poet folk. That being said, the intimacy and the depth of what people share is suited to a smaller group.
Lastinger: We have about 25 total members with usually 10 or so at the weekly meetings.
"It's also beautiful when we do collective writing exercises, leaving an imprint of your voice on each other's work can be really valuable." - Joly
4. Do all of your members write in the same genre or type of writing? How well does this work out?
Clark: We do not all write in the same genre or even type of writing. We have writers who work on anything from screenwriting, to horror, to fantasy, romance and science fiction. With the way we structure our meetings, this works out well for everyone because most of the discussion is based more on the process of writing rather than the genre.
Joly: We encourage all writing styles! Even different languages with no need to translate. I think because we share after each exercise, you start to learn about the writer from their work, giving a really nice insight; and it could even inspire your own writing. It's also beautiful when we do collective writing exercises, leaving an imprint of your voice on each other's work can be really valuable.
Lastinger: We do not all work in the same genre. Some of us are screenwriters, poets, etc. This works for us as we get many different takes and opinions from all sides.
5. How are your meetings structured?
Clark: We always start with fellowship and catching up with everyone's week. Then we switch to discussions of any struggles, victories or accomplishments any of us have had. From there we focus on a set time for actual writing. We found that writing in a group helps us focus and get a lot of productive writing done. The end of the meeting is open to any and all conversation on any topic because we found we really, REALLY love to talk, often closing the place down with more fellowship outside.
Joly: A theme is chosen for each workshop from Mother's Tongue, Woman's Roar, The Censored, looking at poems from around the world, exclusively female poets and poets that have been penalized and censored for their word. Other topics have included: Naked - where we wrote odes to our genitals; Memories; The Nineties and our Jazz Edition where Sip + Rhymers free wrote to a select jazz playlist and performed live with a top jazz musician! I act as host, presenting three bespoke exercises usually starting off light, and ending with a meatier length of time for our final exercise. I think the aspect that makes us stand out the most from other writing groups is that everyone can share in between each exercise. This usually takes about 2 hours when we're all face to face - offering more time for mingling, breaks, and discussion. Sometimes when we're meeting new poets at various nights, they will do a poem that inspires an exercise so I'll be sure to invite them as our guest poet and have them intro the exercise influenced by what they shared. Most include a featured guest with a Q+A - I think it's important to make the people coming to a workshop know that I recognize there is are myriad of ways you can get inspired and so many awesome perspectives, so I really enjoy giving time and a spotlight to awesome poets.
Lastinger: We gather at about 10:00 am, say our howdies, get coffee, and then “shut up and write” for an hour. After the hour, those that choose to stay behind and chat do. It’s a
great group for easy accountability.
"Old School word of mouth and calling upon friends is definitely still the way." - Joly
6. How frequently do you meet and what do you do in between meetings to prepare?
Clark: We meet once a week on Mondays and there is no need for prep in between, unless we've agreed on a particular agenda for the meeting.
Joly: We meet at least once a month. From September last year, we had exciting commissions which meant we had three events each month before the start of 2020! Now online, with #thelockjaw, I decided to do a workshop every 10 days. Preparation usually starts with the idea for the theme - I ruminate on the exercises, truth be told, focus and finalize within a few days of the event. It tends to be a lot of promoting to prepare. Online posts, flyers, networking - the lot! Old School word of mouth and calling upon friends is definitely still the way. Apart from a handful of people, I've usually met all ticket holders.
Lastinger: We meet once a week. Meeting notes and suggestions for next meeting are sent out on the weekend by our host.
7. Under the current quarantine measures, is your group still continuing? If so, how have you had to creatively alter your structure? How is it going?
Clark: We now have a weekly Zoom meeting. We currently don't use this time to write, but focus it more on fellowship and writing advice/encouragement because we found that this is what most of us need in the isolated circumstance we are in. We've also formed a Facebook group where daily messages like, “I'm stuck on this, how do I proceed?” or “I'm struggling to write,” or even hilarious memes are shared to give each other a good laugh.
Joly: It's going quite brilliantly! We're really lucky to be artists, the poetry game we're seeing is so transferable to shift things online. I'm pleasantly surprised how easy it can be to connect with people, even through a screen. It's been awesome to see how no matter the circumstances, we can still make art! I'm proud that I didn't let this stop the work we do.
Lastinger: We are continuing to meet through Slack. It's okay, but doesn’t have the energy that you get in person.
"You have nothing to lose and you might meet some great folks in the meantime." - Lastinger
8. Do you have any advice for writers looking to form a group during this time?
Clark: My advice is to talk to potential members before forming a group, and to gauge what their needs are. That way you can structure a meeting that will be a good fit for them and make them want to keep coming. I've been part of other groups that fell apart because members' expectations or needs weren't being met.
Joly: Honestly, now couldn't be a better time because everyone is concentrated, in a similar state/predicament and looking for interconnection! Gather your friends + family together, test out ideas, experiment with live sessions on your socials, (they can be deleted straight away if you're not into it) and get out there! (Plus get a taste for it at #thelockjaw of course!)
Lastinger: Do it! You have nothing to lose and you might meet some great folks in the meantime.
9. Anything you’d like to add that we didn’t ask?
Clark: Writing can be a lonely, isolated business, and having other people with like-minded goals not only gives you the encouragement you may need, but helps you stay motivated to keep going.
Joly: I really appreciate the widespread connections that are being made. If it wasn't for Instagram, I wouldn't have met Bonnie @bleeshor - she wouldn't have mentioned you guys in answer to our #thelockjaw question: name a creative you think we should know? and we wouldn't be having this conversation! Strange, wild magical times!
B. K. Clark can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @bkclarkauthor
Fausta Joly can be found on Instagram @fauifesto @jolylicks and Facebook @sipandrhyme and at https://www.jolylicks.com/ . Tickets to the Saturday, May 9th event can be accessed by clicking here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-lockjaw-iv-tickets-104344689776?aff=ebdssbonlinesearch
David Lastinger can be found on Instagram @davidlastinger and Facebook @David Lastinger and at http://dlastinger.wixsite.com/website
Loud Coffee Press wants to give a HUGE thank you to B. K., Fausta, and David for taking the time to participate in this roundtable discussion! Your perspectives are massively valuable! And to all the writers out there- we wish you well during these interesting times.
*in ideal, non-quarantine or lockdown circumstances