Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Care and Feeding of the Creative Soul

Years ago, when I was at the beginning of my career, I learned a great deal from my agent. Having been an editor for years before she was a literary agent, she had a lot of advice to share. One of the first things she urged me to do was to join a writers group. She explained that networking in this nutty business is essential. Writers at their best look out for each other. They're supportive. They share information. Sure, there are the other kind of writers--those who are selfish, only looking out for their own interests--but they're fortunately in the minority.

Maria was so sure I would benefit from joining writers groups, she made the initial contacts with local groups on my behalf. She wanted to make sure that the lone wolf didn't bail on her game plan.

Over the years, I've belonged to national and international organizations like the International Thriller Writers (to which I still belong) and the Authors Guild, as well as local chapters of national organizations. But the group I've most enjoyed was a very small one. Five of us used to get together once a month at a restaurant for dinner and shop talk. Sometimes, we'd read each others' works in progress and share honest feedback. Sometimes, we'd talk about what was going on with our publishers. Or we'd talk ideas and research.

One night, we were at Rick's Cafe American (yep, it was designed to look like Rick's in Casablanca), and a server approached our table as one member of the group was explaining an idea she was developing that involved the use of curare. The poor server, not realizing we were discussing a fictional plot, looked like she was on the verge of a stroke!

Though all five of us were published, I don't think that's why the group was so good for energizing me creatively. Even if we'd just been starting out, trying to get that first break, I believe it was our enthusiasm that made the group work. We took what we were doing seriously. We weren't just playing at being writers. We were dedicated. Some of us could even have been described as obsessed. 

The group eventually disbanded. Conflicts arose among three of the members. I used to say D. would run over E. if she saw her crossing the street--but M. would drive up on the sidewalk to run over E. (Just for the record, I really believed she would!)

I haven't seen any of them in years. One passed away over ten years ago. Another stopped writing at all. One is, I believe, now doing what I've been doing--re-releasing her backlist--I don't know if she's doing anything new. One still publishes conventionally. I would love to start another group like we had back then. I always came away from those dinners ready--no, eager--to write. Maria knew what she was doing when she pushed me to leave the solitude of my writing cave and join the social side of it all.

Anybody game for dinner and a good time with a side of inspiration?


  1. For many writers, the notion of offing someone (and the ways to do it) would be a topic that would definitely come up in conversation. "Sure, the murder victim in my next novel will bear a striking resemblance to that cousin I can't stand..."

  2. Dinner sounds wonderful if you weren't so far away. I fear I will miss my group this time as I have to pickup Grandsons. Sigh. I love the interaction and the honest critiques. We are so lucky!

  3. Sounds like fun but even more fun when you have an agent. Dinner in California might be a stretch anyway. :)

  4. Not a writer but I could sit in and make pithy comments. But probley more
    nonsensical if I know me.
    Because I wouldn't know what you were really taking about. But I know two jokes !

    cheers, parsnip

  5. William: Listening to a bunch of writers discuss that (and just about everything else!) can be unsettling for outsiders.

    Mari: I wish you (and William, Shelly, Eve, Gayle, and everyone else) lived close enough to do this. William and I belong to a small group that meets at my church. It's a great group of people, but disorganized--and all we do is read to each other. Like Richard Castle, I'd rather have needles stuck in my eyeballs than read aloud!

    Eve: My agent didn't attend the meetings, except for the national conferences.

    Gayle: Writer or not, I'll bet you'd be fun at any get-together!

  6. I would love to do this. I miss my.old group. It disbanded after one of our ladies died suddenly. She was my original editor. They were so supportive and encouraging. If there is a way to do this, let us all know.

  7. Sounds like fun to me!
    Would you believe I watched Casablanca for the first time on thursday

  8. I've had several critique groups. It's true that like-minded people are hard to find. I can't stand the read-aloud writing groups because my mind wanders too much. I prefer to read pages at home, then get together to discuss them.

    Something always happens though to the groups though. Someone moves off. Someone gets dispirited and quits. Someone has family problems....

    Finally found two people here and we seem to be working well together. I hope our little group's enthusiasm will continue!

  9. Shelly: It was a lot of fun. We usually closed down the restaurants!

    Hilary: You had never seen Casablanca before???

    Cheryl: I hate reading aloud. I always have. I used to turn down author appearances that included reading aloud from my books.


Spammers and scammers will be deleted.