Natalie Goldberg, Writer Retreats, Writing, Writing groups

Writer’s Group- The Perks

There are so many perks from belonging to a great writer’s group. For the past two and a half years I’ve been involved in a women’s writers group: Women Who Write (WoWW). It was a case of serendipity that I was invited to this group of interesting, passionate, eclectic group of women writer’s and poets. Lucky for me I was accepted by the group (they decided I was a good fit) and my pen joined their own.

Sometimes the group is eight people strong and other times there are four of us who meet twice a month for three hours a session. We write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, YA books and novels. Some are published (5 times and WoWW is on that books dedication page ) and others not published, yet. And we always pot-luck. I’ve had the most wonderful food at our pot-lucks. Even more fantastic is that our group was free to join.

If you’re not in a writer’s group, find your way to one, as quick as you can. Some very large writer’s club’s have listing of smaller subgroups, coffee shops sometimes have them listed on the bulletin board, or you can find listing in writer’s magazines or your local paper.
The benefits of such a group are numerous. Off the top of my fingers: motivation, support, time to write (you have to carve out some time each month), discipline (you have to bring 1 to 5 pages of what you have written), input and critique (your writing improves if you don’t have thin skin and a thick ego), connection to others, creative energy & synergy (impromptu writings), and friendship. 
And one of the biggest perks? Writing retreats. Once a quarter we spend 8 hours to 7 days together. We’re not rich, but through various connections (remember one has been published 5 times) we have written in Mesilla, New Mexico with Denise Chavez (Loving Pedro Infante, Last of the Menu Girls), at a local  beach house for the weekend, in Santa Ynez for the day (photo below), Catalina Island, Santa Barbara and New Zealand (a member has a relative with a B & B). Not everyone goes every time, some women have small children, others  spouses and/or there are other priorities that weekend. 
Our retreats have been spent in surf, sand, heat, cold, and once during a flood when we were holed up in our hotel rooms. But we still had our retreat. Our wonderful group leader begins the day with a candle lighting ceremony where we each tell each other what we want to accomplish; we put out to the universe what we want for our writing time. An excerpt from The Artist Way by Julia Cameron or Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, is read and then we begin. 
We do a generative writing where we can write from a writing prompt for 5 minutes, then 10, then 20 minutes. It’s amazing what comes out of your pen in those few minutes. It’s invigorating, you prove to yourself that you can do it. Then we read to each other, or not, it’s whatever we feel like doing. 
Another exercise is to find something inside or outside and we sketch the object, write down every word (not sentence) that comes to mind when you see the object, then create a story from it. It can be a painting, insect, vase, your flowers seeds, anything. It doesn’t matter if your sketch looks like the object or not. I usually have to tell the group what I drew first. Again, it’s mind-boggling what you can write when you are immersed in the group. 
Depending on whether it is an 8 hour retreat or two days, we always make time to write on our own, whether it’s revisions, continuing our Work In Progress (WIP), or developing a work. After we write we nap, swim, take a walk, or lay out for a while until the designated time we decide to come together for a picnic or put together a meal. 
We have a closing ceremony too where we say one or two words to describe how we feel. Then the candle is blown out, we hug each other, kiss-kiss, and go on our merry way. And we are indeed merry, full of ideas, proud of ourselves for taking the time to write, to grow, and share. 
In the latter part of 2012 we hope to have our writer’s group meet up in Paris, where two of us will be staying for a couple of months (a dream in the making). You never know what will happen when you join a writing group. I must study up on my French. Bonne nuit, mes amis!
Anne Lamott, Books, El Leonard, Encouragement, Lopopolo Literary, Michele Serros, Natalie Goldberg, Sandra Cisneros, Sol Stein, Stephen King, Wisdom, Writing, writing tips

Bargain hunting for the writer who’s just starting out

“Just write,” is not the only advice a writer needs. In the two years I’ve been writing I think I’ve spent many pretty pennies on writing books, a couple of one day conferences, and a boot camp for writers.

Before I purchase any books I do the ‘look inside,’ preview of writing books listed on and then I review customer reviews. If I can’t find the book I want at the public library or there is so much good stuff in the book that I’d take notes for days, then it becomes a purchase.(I read Writer’s Digest and Writer at the library for four months in a row before I sprung for a subscription to one of them). I found a couple of the books I wanted at Borders and used a 30% discount coupon (Stephen King/Sol Stein) or found them at a used book store (Anne Lamott) or check this out, I found Elmore Leonard’s ’10 rules’ at the 99 cents store. I borrowed Natalie Goldberg’s “Getting Down the Bones.”

One day conferences are generally cheaper than 3 day ones and my rule is I don’t spend more than $75, lunch included. Santa Barbara has an annual Women’s Literary Festival and LA has quite a few similar type venues.I’ve been able to hear from author’s Lisa See, Reyna Grande, and Jennifer 8 Lee, among many others. Lucky for me I live within 45 minutes of LA and Santa Barbara so this expands my ability to attend book readings and presentations of other authors, usually free of charge. Two of my favorite writers, Sandra Cisneros, presented at UCSB and Michele Serros at a local community college.

Now for the expense, but remember it’s worth it. I enrolled in my first boot camp for writer’s in October of 2010. It is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a great smack in the butt if you want and need it. After that 3 day session I kicked my writing into gear and finished the manuscript I’d been working on for a year. Better than that I acquired a literary agent from the contacts I met at the camp. I have another boot camp next month, this time for ‘advanced writers.’ I’m taking my second partially completed MS to that one

Bottom line, it’s been worth it. I think of it as the tolls I pay on the road to becoming a better writer. I take as many free and low cost side highways as possible but I also shell out the bucks for classes that are recommended and I see as critical to moving my writing to the next step. Now if only all of these tolls were tax deductible.