Have You Ever Started Your Own Writing Group?

I’ve belonged to writing groups over the years, both online and in person. This year, I’m toying with the idea of starting a small group at the mobile home park where I moved last fall. It’s been hard joining things for the last couple of years for several reasons. Starting mid-2018, I was home-free and traveling in my motor home across the states. I never stayed in one place very long but I did stay in touch online with several writing groups.

Then I started re-assessing my nomad ways in March 2020 when we didn’t know what, across the country, would be open or available for RV parking. I was still living in my RV but I found a place I was able to stay for nine months. During 2020, I got on the waiting list for some long-term retirement type RV parks and was able to move to one in a new state a year ago. Now that most everyone here is vaccinated, we’re beginning to go back to the social activities of pre-COVID and I’m getting to know my neighbors and make friends.

On-line writing groups and critique forums can be useful but I was really starting to miss the in-person back and forth that can take place when you get together with others who share your hobby. From what I’ve been able to gather, there are at least four people that live here that would be interested in participating and that’s a good start.

In my ideal group, we would get together about two times a month. We would share a small excerpt on anything we are currently working on and receive feedback. We would also have one topic at each meeting that we would like to explore more and whoever has experience can share. These topics would include things like self-publishing, how to find an editor, designing covers, the best software for writing, and more.

Sometimes, throwing out a writing prompt and letting everyone work on it for fifteen minutes or so and then sharing is fun too. This can get the creative juices flowing when that particular project you’re working on seems stuck.

What I don’t like about writing groups is someone who feels they have to read whole chapters to the group at a time, taking up way too much of the meeting time. Or someone who just wants to share personal stories without letting up, thereby boring all other attendees. It seems there’s always one person like that in groups I’ve attended in the past but I think if the group leader sets the right tone at the beginning, those inconveniences can be avoided.

The scariest thing about in-person groups is sharing very personal writing pieces with people you see everyday or socialize with in other capacities. I feel like I might be editing myself a little bit and watching the TMI around my neighbors. The good thing is that I have plenty of writing pieces that aren’t too personal and still entertaining. That’s a good place to start until I feel more comfortable with the group.

Next task, pick a good name, pick a date to start, and then let the residents know and see what happens. What are your experiences with starting a writing group?

The Memoir — Can’t start/Can’t stop

My experience working on personal stories and some resources for your endeavors

Have you ever tried to write a personal memoir story or chapter? A lot of my essays are of the personal memory style with a little opinion thrown in. But when I get down to writing something of any length, I seem to get really bogged down in the details and the enormous amount of material.

I had a few false starts over the years toying with styles ranging from chronological to subject ordered to writing prompt stream of consciousness to compilations of random essays. I’ve read numerous books on how to write a memoir or just read recommended memoirs. I’ve joined writing groups and taken classes online.

In my personal opinion, some of what I’ve written is good. But then I get stuck. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t tell everything in one book. In fact, one of the highly recommended authors I’ve learned about has written numerous memoirs and each one tackles just one point or person in her life. Who is this author? I don’t remember and can’t find my notes. However, read up on any good memoirist and you will find the same formula. Here’s an article from Book Riot, 100 Must Read Memoirs.

If you’re ready to tackle the tricky task of writing stories based on personal memories, here are a few resources I’ve collected over the years. If you do a search on free online memoir writing, several low priced or free choices will come up at any given time.

Free or less than $50 online courses:

Video Course: Break the Rules and Free Your Story from Anya Achtenberg, The Disobedient Writer — I completed all the exercises from this course in 2018.

Udemy Kick Start Your Memoir Writing Exercises — On sale right now but regular price is $79.99. I try to find deep discounts on Udemy courses. Current price for this one is $12.99 (as of 5-19-2021).

The Memoir Network — Lots of free resources, including several mailing lists with lessons. Just takes an email to register. I just recently joined this network.

Coursera has a course from Wesleyan University called Memoir and Personal Essay: Write About Yourself. The videos and exercises are free but you have to pay if you want peer feedback. Also, this is part of a larger unit that is not free. I completed the exercises in 2020.

The following are books I’ve purchased over the last several years to kickstart the essays and work on writing prompts. These are not necessarily the best books on the subject and I haven’t actually read any of them all the way through but there are some good ideas and some writing prompt exercises to get you started.

Old Friend From Far Away — The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg

The Situation and the Story — The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick

Writing Life Stories — How to Make Memories into Memoirs by Bill Roorbach

Forums and Groups

I have looked into joining a few times over the years but for the most part, it seems like it’s more work and time than I want to put in to this when I’d rather be working on my own writing. For several of the groups, you can get peer feedback but you have to earn points in order to do so, which requires leaving your own feedback numerous times before you can submit your own work.

Some online forums include:

My Writer’s Circle

Writing Forums

Scribophile

The only one I paid for was actually quite professional and I enjoyed the interaction with the group members but at the time, I didn’t really have a focus and wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend my time on the fiction or the non-fiction so I bowed out until I could be more proactive in the group.

Inked Voices — free for 14 days, then $85 a year.

Here are free Online Resources, including blog posts on writing, that I’ve bookmarked over the years:

Association of Writers and Writing Programs

LitReacter — a really good site; just takes an email to join. I’ve read some very helpful blog posts here.

Storyfix

David Gaughran puts out a lot of free materials, including resources on self-publishing— email to register

Writer’s Digest

May all your writing be fruitful.

How Many States Have You Visited?

Sightseeing In Twelve States – Reviews & Photos

I’m currently working on a new photo and descriptive text book subtitled 33 Cities Across the USA in an RV.

I’ve always been a traveler, starting with the Air Force life until I was in high school, then following graduation, I set out on my own. Although I moved a lot, it was mostly between two states, Oregon and California. I took a few trips to Mexico and Florida during that time. Then, I retired, sold my house and set out in my motor home and really let loose.

All along, I’d been planning to write reviews of the places I stayed and how amenable they were to travelers with pets. That blog is called Animals Aboard and has about 68 reviews of RV Parks, state parks, and even a little boon docking (camping without hookups). When I realized that I’d seen a number of sites and taken dozens of photos that weren’t RV park related, I began my sightseeing blog.

This new book will be an update of the sightseeing blog, full of descriptions, reviews, and photos of places you can see while on the road, with or without a recreational vehicle. In fact, some of the places were more easily accessible for me after I got a small tow car and I include information in the descriptions about parking availability, no matter how you are traveling.

My plans last year had been to add six new states, the mountain states, but, of course, that didn’t work out. Not in the original plans was settling down but that’s exactly what I did, acquiring a full time RV lot in New Mexico. I still have plans to add reviews and photos to both blogs though. Fingers crossed, I will be able to do my mountain states this year. Toying with the idea of heading to Florida next year. But as we all know, things can change. That’s what makes life interesting.

Look for Sightseeing In Twelve States on Amazon Kindle this spring.

Writing Courses

https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-jtosb

Have you ever signed up for a writing class, either online or in person? I’ve taken a few over the last couple years since I retired and decided to devote more time to my writing projects. I have either not paid anything or paid under $40, although you can find classes online that go upwards of $400 or $500 per session. I’m not there yet as far as wanting to spend that kind of money but sometimes I’m tempted. 

I’m tempted because I would love to have some professional feedback on what I’m producing. I sometimes feel like I’m writing in a bubble, especially now with only essential businesses open. I joined a writing group last summer while I was in OKC that met once a month. I only attended one meeting. I felt inspired but wasn’t really sure I was getting the kind of feedback I really needed for my personal projects. The workshop consisted of writing from prompts and then going around the room and reading them out loud.

One of the most beneficial freebies I took and actually produced a sizable amount of content was a free online class called The Disobedient Writer. I’m not sure if the whole course is still available for free online. Here’s the link: https://thedisobedientwriter.com.

I’m currently taking a course from Coursera called Writing A Personal Essay. A portion of this series is free if you don’t submit any assignments. Still beneficial if you go through the videos and the writing exercises on your own.

Writing is a dynamic process, whether you’ve published 20 books or are still working on your first novel. I hope in the near future, we will be able to get together again in groups for feedback and support, but until then, it will all be virtual.

A New Long Term Project

I want to introduce something I began working on this week and that I hope will occupy my time for at least the next six months. This project is a series of personal essays and I will be publishing excerpts here on this blog, hopefully on a regular basis.

I am envisioning the end result to be about one hundred personal essays of about 1200 words each. I do have a title in mind already but I’m going to hold off on publicizing that. I am still working on my cozy mystery novels so will actually have two projects going at the same time. It’s nice to be able to breakaway from memory-dumping and self-actualization to some good old-fashioned light-hearted murder mystery shenanigans.

I won’t be posting any of the really raw stuff here. You’ll have to buy the book to get the real dirt. But I will try to make the bits and pieces I do post here of the highest quality. When one decides to take pieces of a writing project and publish on a blog, it becomes real really fast. You can’t change your mind or continue editing. Well, you can but you know what I mean.

I tried to start a memoir almost two years ago but just couldn’t get through more than a couple chapters. I still had some emotional stuff to work out and I didn’t have a real direction. With the personal essay format, I’m hoping that things will come together with more cohesion than previously. I think this will be more in tune with my ADHD tendencies and my writing style, which is more pantster than planner.

And just for fun, this week I started a free online course at Coursera called Writing a Personal Essay from Wesleyan University. Join me! The first assignment isn’t due until November 30.

Projects

Projects are no excuse for not writing. But there are times in one’s life when the “to-do” list just can’t be ignored. I’ve been quite busy since moving to my new state and my new home this month and though I’ve still been able to get a little writing done, writing is not at the forefront of my expended energy.

When you are writing for pleasure and have no accountability other than self-imposed deadlines, finishing up the chores on the daily list are sometimes an easy out. It takes not just a lot of discipline to sit at a typewriter or laptop all day but it can be mentally exhausting as well.

I remember when I was working on my Master’s Thesis through online courses at National University. I was taking care of a house and animals single-handedly and working full time. There were always things that needed to be done, whether inside or outside. And when those were completed, I was usually too exhausted to do anything as mentally challenging as working on a research paper. I fell into a routine of doing most of my writing on Saturday mornings, whilst still in my pajamas and before the rest of the day got in my way.

I was wondering the other day why I felt so busy all the time considering I retired more than two years ago. The list I came up with gave a clue.

  • walk dog 4x a day
  • feed pets 2x a day
  • cook meals and feed myself 3x a day
  • do dishes 2x a day
  • clean cat box 1x a day
  • make bed 1x a day
  • vacuum kitty litter and anything else that needs vacuuming 1x a day (sometimes 2)
  • laundry sorting or putting away (the w/d does the rest by itself) 2x a week
  • clean bathroom and kitchen sinks, counters, etc. 3x a week
  • go to town for groceries and any other shopping 1x a week

And I’m sure there are a whole host of other things I do on a regular basis.

My latest projects that are interfering with the writing are painting a little she shed casita on my property, supervising a deck building project and then getting ready to stain it. Finally, the little casita will have to have all the carpet ripped out and eventually replaced. Sure I could hire someone but a lot of it is work I can do myself. I really don’t mind hiring someone competent to do the work but I’d like to have someone that can do it quickly and professionally and that seems hard to find out here where I ended up.

I have two writing projects right now that I’m going back and forth on. One of them is not creative but is labor intensive, involving scanning, formatting, and typing. The other is creative but I don’t have enough knowledge of the subject to delve too deeply into it until I’ve spent more time here in my new state.

I don’t have to rely on my writing to earn a living and I really do have all the time in the world. For those of you who have deadlines that aren’t self-imposed, I wish you all the luck in the world and hope your day-to-day doesn’t interfere.