Thursday, November 16, 2006

Band of Comrades

For the past five years I have belonged to a writers' group that meets weekly. It evolved from a group that met once a week to study The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. After four months of working through The Artist's Way chapter by chapter, we grew to know and trust one another. When the course ended, several of us wanted to continue our weekly meetings, and so we did--same day, same time, same location.

We started with a core of six people from The Artist's Way group. Over the years three new members joined, two original members dropped out, and a third original member went on extended hiatus. Now we have a nucleus of six who meet every Monday evening at a local bookstore, except for the night before Mardi Gras (Lundi Gras) and for when the meeting night falls on a major holiday.

We're not a critique group; we're a creative inspiration group. Two-thirds of us have published books, either fiction or nonfiction; two of us are full-time novelists; all of us write as a part of our jobs.

Over time, our meetings have taken on a pattern. One of us volunteers to be the meeting moderator. We start with a round-robin, each reporting in turn on what we've done during the past week that's writing-related and what books we've read. We also mention other activities we think will interest the others--anything is grist for the mill. After the round-table reports, we spend the rest of the meeting discussing one or more topics. Sometimes we plan ahead what topics we'll cover; sometimes we go with the flow and talk about whatever comes up. Our discussions are always interesting and usually productive.

Our topics have included such things as tapping into readers' fantasies; why some books become bestsellers despite so-so writing and humdrum plots; what makes a book boring; what makes a book exciting; plot twists; secrets of story composition; brainstorming concepts for novels; whether familiarity breeds success.

We not only help each other with specific artistic and creative issues, but also have become friends. We don't want the group to become psychotherapy, so we focus on writing and avoid talking too much about our personal lives and personal problems. Inevitably, however, we have learned about one another's lives, families and jobs. Each of us sympathizes with the others' successes and failures, and each gives moral support when another is going through a tough time.

In our discussion about the fantasies that drive the stories that readers like most, we agreed that one of the most common is the "band of brothers"--a major part of the stories in Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, The Dirty Dozen and every "buddy" movie, including women-oriented stories such as Sex in the City--which led us to change the name of that particular fantasy from "band of brothers" to "band of comrades" in the interest of gender neutrality.

After that discussion, the light bulb went off over my head. I realized that our weekly meetings had formed us into a Band of Comrades. To Candice, Charles, Emily, Laura and Steve: Comrades, I salute you!

I have listed the blogs and/or websites of three members of the group in the "Links" section to the right--Razored Zen (Charles), C.S. Harris (Candice), and Laura Joh Rowland. (Steve and Emily don't have blogs or websites...yet.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the plug, Oh Sphinxy one. We do have a pretty good group, and I know I look forward to our Monday night get-togethers.

cs harris said...

Quite a light bulb moment, Oh Inscrutable One. A Band of Brothers we are indeed, as I guess Katrina showed us all. I know I would not be the writer I am today, or the reader, without the insight I've gained from our discussions. Even if my name has become shorthand for putting down a book half read...