Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Arleen Williams on Writing Groups

The Thirty-Ninth Victim cover shot

As I’ve stated before, writers groups can be havens of refuge for those of us who work alone, they can also be beasts of burden, sources of conflict with no resolution, or they can be creative safe places where everyone connects on some inspired level and the words flow. I’ve experienced all sorts. If you’re in a toxic group, I suggest leaving. If you’re in a good one, cherish it, they are hard to find. If you want to start a group, send me an e-mail and I’ll send you some tips on starting a group. Meanwhile, to continue with my series on writer’s groups from the perspective of some writers I know ….

From another of  my Louisa’s Cafe writing friends, Arleen Williams, author of The Thirty-Ninth Victim and more (see below) –

Arleen  on writing groups;

Like any practice, writing requires energy and discipline. And like a walking partner or a yoga instructor, a writing group offers a form of accountability. There are different types of groups – closed vs. open practices, production vs. critique – and each develops its own set of expectations, but all provide a place to go at a specific time where a table is shared by people with a passion for writing, a place to go whether I’m full of ideas and energy or dragging and in need of an infusion of creativity. The shared table is a place where I put words on the page in the company of others when alone life’s distractions or self-doubt can easily creep in and sabotage any attempt at self-expression.

Timed Writing Practice

One form of writing group puts the Natalie Goldberg timer to use. As in a chess tournament, the timer forces focused production. Another of Goldberg’s rules is no crossing out, the timer is intended to help turn off the internal editor. A rule I’ve failed to master, my notebooks are filled with scribbled corrections. I don’t use pencil because I’m tempted by the eraser. After the timer sounds, we read aloud around the table and I am always astounded by writers who read their scribbled words and they are perfection. Mine are not perfection. Mine require extensive rewriting as I mush and merge and manipulate them into something I might someday choose to share beyond the trust established in writing practice.

Another of Natalie Goldberg’s rules of timed writing practice deals with commenting on a piece after the oral read. The idea is to read around the table without comment. Timed writing practice is not a critique group nor a class. For me, issues arise when comments are made on one read, but not all. The echo of my mother’s words rings in my ears: If you don’t have anything good to say don’t say anything at all. So if nobody comments, am I writing crap? My preference is to stick to the no-comment rule. If there are thoughts to be shared, perhaps later after all have read or perhaps in privacy. In short, timed writing is a technique that helps me pull words, thoughts, images from my brain to the paper without thought of reader or fear of shame. Words on paper until the timer sounds.

head shotBIO;  Arleen Williams has written her life in journals since leaving home at seventeen. Decades later those journals filled the gaps where memory alone failed, fueling her memoir, The Thirty-Ninth Victim (2008), the story of her family’s journey before and after her sister was murdered by the worst serial killer in American history. Arleen’s short works appear in Crosscurrents (2009, 2010 and 2011), In Our Prime (2010), Sunday Ink: Works by the Uptown Writers (2010), The Seattle Times (March 4, 2011), and at www.arleenwilliams.com. Arleen holds a M.Ed. from the University of Washington and a teaching position at South Seattle Community College. She lives and writes in West Seattle.

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4 comments on “Arleen Williams on Writing Groups

  1. pam
    April 11, 2013

    Arleen, you brought back for me the surprising feeling of community I gained when I first attended a timed writing session. There I sat with writers of various backgrounds and levels and yet because there had been no critique, we were all swimming in the same pool, all accepted as writers practicing. Thanks. Mindy, thanks for this project. Great idea.

  2. Arleen Williams
    April 11, 2013

    Thank you, Jack. Thanks to Mindy for the opportunity and encouragement.

  3. Jack Remick
    April 11, 2013

    This is a very succinct piece of writing. Well done with an enviable economy and a distillation of what writing groups are all about. Thanks to Arleen, thanks to Mindy for pursuing the process. This is wonderful: “The shared table is a place where I put words on the page in the company of others when alone life’s distractions or self-doubt can easily creep in and sabotage any attempt at self-expression.” Art at some point involves a collaboration.

    • Mindy
      April 11, 2013

      Thanks for your feedback, Jack, as always. I’m in Oregon, see you when I return.

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