Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Everyone Should Have a Baby Brother

It's the strangest thing.  It turns out that my baby brother--the one with big, round cheeks and giant dark eyes--grew up tall and thin.  With a cool hat and a penchant for making funny poses in pictures.

And he got married.  To a girl with an awesome sweater that I covet.  (That's the girl and the sweater there on the left.  Both adorable.  Not blurry in real life.)

And together, they had a baby.  A delicious baby.  A girl baby who wears lots of adorable pink clothes.  And shoes.  And swimsuits.  Delicious.

And the three of them came to see us this week!  And we are having a great time.  We are going important places and seeing important things.

When we are not going important places and seeing important things, we are very busy being funny.  Boy, are we funny!  We drove around the neighborhood with an inflatable shark sticking out of the top of our car.  When we drove by pedestrians, we shook the shark in a menacing manner and growled our best shark growls.   
If you don't have a baby brother like mine, you should beg your mama to have one for you.  You won't regret it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

So You Wanna Start a Writing Group?

I started a writing group in 2002 with absolutely no idea what I was doing.  I did some things right and I did some things wrong; but overall, it continues to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.  It's part creative outlet, part social gathering, and part group therapy.  Plus, there's always a snack!  

If you'd like to start a writing group of your own, I've prepared a list of things I've learned along the way that I hope will help: 

1. Invite writers and non-writers alike, 
and aim for diversity.  
When I first started the group, I took flyers around my neighborhood to people I thought might be interested.  Over time, I became amazed at the people who joined us--many of whom would never identify themselves as writers.  My advice is to start in your own circle of friends and acquaintances and then allow the group to grow as some people leave and others (sometimes friends of friends of friends) join.  

The most enriching experience is when you have a diverse group of ages, experiences and backgrounds.  

2. Decide on a place, date, and time.  
I have always hosted at my house--originally I insisted on it because it made it easier for me when I was working full-time outside my home, but I came to appreciate that as a group we had a comfortable, familiar, semi-private place to meet.  It doesn't necessarily have to be your house.  It's the comfortable, familiar, semi-private part that's most important.

Pick a date that's easy to remember for everyone, like the first Wednesday of every month, and get it on the calendar.  Expect that some months will be feast and some famine in numbers.  It's okay; everybody has lives.

We meet for two hours, from 7:00 until 9:00 p.m..  I think it's a perfect amount of time. 

3. Don't take anything personally.  
Going along with the first point, you will find that a writing group will suit some people like a favorite pair of jeans, and to others it will feel like a trip to the dentist without novocaine.  And you might not be able to predict how anybody will react.  Don't take it personally, even if your best friend was originally keen on the idea and then did a 180 after one meeting.  It's OK; it's not about you.  For a million different reasons, it just isn't going to work for some people.  Be welcoming as people come and gracious and understanding as people go.

4. Use a textbook.  Or don't.  (But do.)  
I had absolutely no credentials for leading a writing group when I started one, so I relied completely on my then-and-ever favorite writing book, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  I ask everyone to locate a copy and bring it.  It is wonderfully accessible to anyone at any interest or skill level.  I've yet to find a book on writing that I like as much. 

Plus, I love the method she teaches in the book--timed writing practice.  It's simple and effective.  

I also like using the book as part of the structure of our meetings.  We read together from the book, then we write, then we read aloud what we wrote.  Then we do it again.  And again.

Of course, you may have your own ideas about how to structure your meetings.  By all means, go for it.  

5. Simple supplies.  
Aside from the book, a simple spiral notebook and a fast-writing pen are the only other supplies a writer needs to get started.  (What other hobby is so inexpensive?)  As the group leader, you'll also want a timer. 

6. Have a pledge.
One time, after about a year, I had the group write a pledge of allegiance to our group for a writing exercise.  When everyone read their version, I realized that my silly exercise tapped into something important for us.  I took everybody's pledge and wove them together and gave everyone a copy at our next meeting.  We decided to use it at the beginning of every meeting, repeating it together with our pens over our hearts.  

Feel free to use ours, or have your group write one of their own. 

The Would-Be Writers Pledge
I pledge allegiance to my first thoughts, no matter how bizarre, frightening, or unusual they seem.  I exercise my right to spell badly, use poor grammar, and ramble on if I feel so inclined.  I reserve the right to pass.  I will have fun and not think too much.  I will be true to myself.  I will listen well and deeply and compliment rather than criticize.  I pledge to hold sacred any information or insight into another writer’s mind, heart, and experience.  I will enjoy the treats with abandon as well as the writing.  When I go home, I pledge to keep writing.
7. Maintain control and lose control.  
Be in charge, but don't be a control freak.  Have a tentative outline for each meeting and be willing to go with the flow.  

Perhaps one of your group members, Sharon, tends to go off on a tangent and before too long, she's spent eight minutes talking about the annoying traffic lights she hits every Wednesday on Main Street.  Well, sometimes that's OK, because the group is engaged in the story and enjoying themselves.  After all, Sharon is a great storyteller and this story, though not part of your outline, is part of the flow of the meeting.  Go with it.

But other times it's not OK because it's not part of the flow and the rest of the group is getting frustrated and anxious to move on.  That's when you have to take charge and redirect.  But do it kindly.  Sharon has feelings too.

8. Read some, write some, share some.  
The chapters in the book we use are beautifully brief.  We read a chapter together, taking turns reading each paragraph.  Then we discuss it for a few minutes.  Then, we do a short timed writing exercise (usually based on the chapter somehow), and then we read to each other what we have just written.  With a group of about 10 people, there's usually enough time to do three rounds of this.

Be aware that in the beginning (or when a new person joins), reading aloud something you have just written as fast as you can sounds more difficult and revealing than standing on the coffee table in the middle of the group stark naked.  Acknowledge the vulnerability because it's real.  Gently encourage people to share, but don't push.  Everyone has the right to pass.

9. Exercise, exercise, exercise.  
It turns out that if you want to be good at anything you have to practice at it.  The same is true of writing, and I like to think of our meetings as concentrated writing practice.

As the host or leader, you'll need to plan some exercises for the group to do.  If an exercise is not specifically suggested in the chapter we read together, I come up with my own.  It's not hard at all, I promise.  Keep things simple and you'll do fine.  You can also look online for simple writing prompts, or snatch ideas from interesting articles, poems, or blogs.  Cover a variety of ideas, from silly to dead serious.  

Or, have one of your group exercises be, "Write a list of writing prompts."  Voila!  You have a bunch of writing prompts!

10. Compliment rather than criticize.  
If you use the book I recommend, the method it teaches and the format I've suggested, your group will produce handfuls of incredibly honest, raw, unfinished pieces of writing.  And they are amazingly beautiful and inspiring.  Except when they're not, because sometimes they're not.  They're not necessarily supposed to be--it's writing practice.   It would be wrong to criticize it.

Instead, find something kind and useful to say.  Practice makes better writers, but I think kindness does too.

11. Have a snack. 
Writers need food.  Have group members rotate bringing a simple snack to share with the group.  

12. End on time.  
Do your best to end on time.  It shows that you have respect for everyone else and their schedules.  If you're constantly going over time, it may begin to discourage some people from coming.  

Alright, that's my best advice.  If you're interested in starting a group and you still have some questions, please feel free to contact me by comment or email and I'll do my best to help you out.  You can do it!  

Update: If you're interested in joining an online writing group, Marta does a marvelous job as host.  Join now!  Click here for past writing prompts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Nature Calls (No, Seriously!)

A week ago we took our first venture to the beach to see the ocean and enjoy a relaxing evening walk.

I wasn't expecting to fall in love.  (Isn't that what they always say--don't look for love and love will find you?)  But I fell hard, right into the soft sand.

The beach was amazing.  And breezy.  And beautiful.  And peaceful.  And quaint.  And clean.  And I suddenly imagined myself sitting there for hours and hours, eating frozen custard and reading gossip magazines and averting my eyes from men in Speedos.  
We walked to the water and let the waves tag our feet, and instead of the familiar painful frozen shock that travels up the ankles and into the neck, the water was comfortably cool.  People had told us that the Atlantic was warmer than the Pacific, but I had to find out for myself that it was true.  

It's true.

When the sky was beginning to darken, we walked back to the car and drove home and talked about how much we true-love-always loved the beach until the garage door opened to swallow our car safely inside.

Then we all used the bathroom and checked our email and started talking about the beach again.  And again.  And again the next day.

It was like we could hear the beach calling to us.  

"Come back," it pleaded.  
"Hurry," it cried.  
"Go and buy a bunch of gear at Costco and return to me," it sang.

We heeded the call.

There's no school tomorrow because it's election day.  (Woot!  Woot!  No school!)  And since we've been dangerously obsessed with the beach since we left, we're all heading back tomorrow, our earliest opportunity.  


We're going to pack a cooler with trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils.  And diet drinks.  

We're going to carry towels and chairs and pails. 

We're going to build castles and declare war on each other. 

We're going to vow to abstain from the boardwalk shop that sells fries by the bucket, right up until the moment we buy two of them. 

And right before we bid farewell, we're going to run in slow motion along the water's edge like David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cubing a Watermelon: The Cornerstone of My Self-Esteem

I learned something important today--there's just no way to make cubing a watermelon funny.  I'm going to write that down in my Big Book of Important Things to Remember, right under my entry entitled "Bouncing Checks: Not Nearly as Fun and Playful as it Sounds."  

Alright, here goes.  If you hate this video, just keep in mind that I gave you the improved version.  

(And don't forget--the camera adds 35 pounds.  Maybe 37.)

If this video was actually a DVD, I would add a special "Bonus Features" section where you could watch a behind-the-scenes interview in which I reveal that after we finished taping this, I proceeded to eat 88% of the watermelon and became painfully bloated.  

I always watch the bonus features on DVDs.  Always.  It never disappoints.

In other news, I'm delighted to announce the winners of the giveaway (drumroll, please):

Keri and Marialuigi!

Congratulations, ladies!  Please email me at tiffany{at}wouldbewritersguild{dot}com and supply me with your address and I will send you a special grab bag of my favorite things.  (Also, please let me know if you're allergic to anything, like peanuts or Amish people.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Welcome, Roll Call, a Giveaway, and an Adventure!

On behalf of everyone here at the Would-Be Writers Guild, I welcome you to our new home and I thank you for coming!  Sure, the walls are a little bare right now, but I hope you appreciate the fact that you can read my blog now without giving yourself a headache. (OK, I guess that could be debated, but bear with me.)

And since I'm paranoid that the few wonderful readers that I have will be lost forever to me, I'd like to take a little roll call to assure me that you've arrived here safe and sound.

But wait, there's more! If you leave me a comment, you're automatically entered to win a giveaway which will arrive in the form of a grab bag filled with some of my favorite delights.  (Don't worry guys, it's not all froo-froo girl stuff; you can enter too.)

In fact, I'm feeling so joyous/paranoid, I'm willing to give away two--that's right, TWO--grab bags!

Think that's all? You're wrong! For my inaugural post, I'm also going to play my favorite blog game, Choose Your Own Adventure Blog Post. Here are your choices:

The Tale of Old Urine


Cubing a Watermelon: A Video Tutorial 
(Now with Better Hair!)

Comments will be considered entries until Saturday midnight.  Thanks for coming, for commenting, and for playing!  
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