This post will share a few of my ideas for getting the most out of writing communities and suggest some activities which may be useful in this sort of writing setting.
If you are part of a creative writing society or club, it is always fun to try producing something collaboratively. A fun warm-up exercise is to start with everyone writing a sentence. Everyone then passes their paper onto the next person who writes the second sentence, and then folds the paper over so that the third person can only see the second sentence and has to write the next one without knowledge of the opening one. Pass the paper around a few times and you will undoubtedly develop an amusing, multi-genre piece full of unexpected plot twists. This exercise is not meant to produce great writing, but it is there to foster a supportive community of writers and help them to get to know each other by gaining a sense of each other’s writing styles and motifs. Another way of structuring this activity is to have writers speak one word or one sentence at a time and get the next person to add to this. Speaking aloud encourages spontaneity. The invaluable editing process comes later, but for new writers, the key is to unlock their imagination by getting them to come up with creative ideas on the spot. I’m sure you’ll be amazed by what people are able to invent without any preparatory time.
Another activity for creative writing groups is performance and feedback. I recommend having regular sessions of this nature. Textual forms such as drama and verse were designed for performance and therefore writers should be encouraged to speak their words aloud. This enables creatives to focus on sound and rhythm which is particularly important for verse, but also useful for fiction and nonfiction writers too, who will be able to gain a sense of whether their writing flows when they read it out loud. Once works have been received through reading or listening, get the group to respond to each other’s works. Responses can include a discussion of the themes and meanings contained within the work, comments about what was successful and what they enjoyed, and suggestions for improvement. If you are chairing the session, make sure that comments are constructive and that they are phrased in such a way as to create an atmosphere of trust, encouragement and motivation. Writers should feel as if they can edit their work productively after one of these sessions, not that they should give up writing because no one enjoyed their work. Sensitivity is key. Some works may require trigger warnings, some writers may not be happy to read their own work aloud; make sure you accommodate for everyone’s needs and requirements.
Finally, let’s talk about the power of discussion. Writing itself is a largely solitary activity, but writers come together to share ideas. For this reason, writing groups should actually be focused more around discussion and exchange rather than physical writing. Artists of many different kinds have always grouped together to share thoughts and inspire each other. For example, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein arose out of the telling and writing of ghost stories at Byron’s mansion in Lake Geneva where Mary and Percy Shelley stayed in 1816. Think also of the Bloomsbury group which met at Virginia Woolf’s residence and included writers such as E.M. Forster; the intellectual discussion that took place there helped develop some of the key monuments of literary modernism. Finally, consider Gertrude Stein’s house in Paris during the 1920s which was a meeting place for writers, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, as well as notable artists, such as Picasso and Matisse. These are just a few of many examples of famous artistic collaborations and communities, and they serve to demonstrate that these nurturing environments can stretch artists in even more ways than they would be able to challenge themselves. The processes of inspiration and conversation enable them to produce even more experimental, ground-breaking and memorable works. Remember that when you are attending or leading a creative writing group, you have a responsibility to stimulate intellectual discussion, open writers up to other forms and styles with which they can experiment, and allow for conversation with other art forms which can also inspire interdisciplinary artworks too.
I hope that this provides some inspiration for chairs and members of creative writing societies.
Best of luck writing!
Amber Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief