Fostering Great Group Dynamics

Note from Brooke: Today’s post is from Rose Wachowski, group leader of Novel Review, a small critique group of novelists here on Inked Voices. Thank you, Rose!

***

We’ve all been there. You join a new group, excited, motivated. This will be the one. The people who will toil with you to improve your writing. You introduce yourself and wait. Hours. Days. A week. Nothing but crickets. Finally, a small chirp. “Oh hi. Haven’t been online in a while. Welcome.”

Not the overwhelming embrace you were looking for, but it doesn’t matter. You’re here to write. You want to be a good group member, so you read other submissions first and dig deep for meaningful comments. You spend hours and submit the critiques. Were they too harsh? Not harsh enough? Or worse yet, somehow, wrong?

Now, you take your turn. You’ve spell-checked your submission, grammar checked it, printed it out and read it to your dog. You’re proud of it. Almost tentatively, you press “Post.”

You check hourly, then daily. The critique period nears the end. Your first critique comes in and your precious baby is a colored mess of comments. That’s okay. That’s why you’re here. You dive in. Every comment is negative. No indication the reader liked any part of what you wrote.

Bing. Email informs you another critique is ready. You brace yourself. This person has left a single comment in the General Description. “Good, I guess. Not really a genre I enjoy. There’s a few places where the pacing got slow and you need to amp up your tension.”

You head for the Review section to follow up. “A few places? Any hints?” For days, your questions go unanswered. Then, “I don’t remember. Things are a bit busy now. I’ll try to be more specific next time.”

Next time? There won’t be a next time.

# # # # #

Let’s try again…

The Idea

As a new member, you check out the group expectations before requesting an invite. You consider the demands of your life and the size of the group. This is important to you, so you’ll make the time to complete critiques and stay active in discussions. You request an invite.

Strong Opening

You join the new group. Within the first day, the group leader has welcomed you. They introduce themselves and give you a quick blurb about their work in progress. You are pointed to the Files area where you find Critique Guidelines, a list of Writing Reference books, and a Synopsis from every member. Within the first few days, every member has taken time to welcome you.

Show, Don’t Tell

You were searching for an active group, so you’re going to show this by participating. Inked Voices provides mechanisms for group discussions and individual messages. Your new group uses these tools regularly. Instead of Facebook, Texting, or a game of Candy Crush, you read the blog and poke around in the forums. A group member has taken advantage of one of the free lectures and they share what they’ve learned.

Dialogue

Since discussions are common in this group, you find it easier to post one yourself. You ran across a great tip on how to keep motivated during the busy summer months, so you post a summary and a link to the article. The rest of the group jumps in to share what keeps them motivated. On their way to work, one member passed a souped-up pickup that reminded them of your story. They made your day by taking a moment to mention it, so you respond, expressing your gratitude. Another member revamped one of their characters, another asked a craft question, and another won a contest. These Discussion threads don’t come every day, but when they pop up, every member takes a moment to respond. This only takes a few minutes out of your day. Instead of detracting from your writing, it keeps you interested.

Plot Twist

A member has a plot hole and can’t figure out what to do. The group gets creative and decides to meet in a Chat room for an hour. The discussion allows for immediate feedback and by the end of the hour, the member is full of ideas and can’t wait to dive back into their writing.

Pacing

In the beginning, the excitement keeps you on schedule with your posting and critiquing. But a few months in, your job gets crazy (or it’s the holidays, or a relative gets sick, or you have a baby). You haven’t been on the website for a couple weeks. You may not even realize it’s that long until you get a message from a group member asking if you’re okay. You respond, then take a minute to explain your situation in the discussion area. You won’t be able to get to a critique before it expires. Can it be extended? The group leader extends it for a week. The group tells you not to worry. Next time, you’ll let them know ahead of time. You deal with your crisis without feeling like you’re letting the group down. When it’s over, you consider taking a breather and letting the group slide, but you’re a writer, so you recommit.

# # # # #

Group dynamics come from conversations beyond critiques. These dialogs allow the members to relate outside of the submission arena and in the process, enhance each other’s craft. When a writer shares what they’ve written, they share a piece of their soul. Feeling connected makes it that much easier.

What has worked well within your group? Take a moment to share below!

About Rose Wachowski

Rose Wachowski is a computer programmer by day and a writer by night.

She has written three novels (paranormal, sci-fi, and fantasy) and is utilizing Inked Voices to turn them into something readable. She enjoys the whole process: improving her craft, writing new material, working with other writers, and revising completed works.

Special thanks to her Novel Review group for all their input on not only her writing, but also this post.

 

Interview: Debut Author Melissa Stoller on her new chapter book and writing process

Brooke: I’m so pleased to have member Melissa Stoller on the blog today to celebrate the release of her debut chapter book The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island, and talk about her process.

Melissa: First, thanks so much for interviewing me, Brooke! I’m so happy to be part of the Inked Voices community and I’ve really enjoyed participating in workshops with you!

B: Where did you get the idea for the book? 

M: I’ve been thinking about writing this book for years! The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island is actually based on the story of how my grandparents, Jessie and Jack, met on the Coney Island trolley. My grandmother Jessie was a natural storyteller, and I always asked her to tell me stories about when she was a little girl. This was my favorite story. I live in New York City and enjoy visiting Coney Island. In fact, in 2001, I wrote an article about planning a day at Coney Island and included my grandparents’ story. Also, I have a huge snow globe collection. This idea has been marinating and simmering for a while and it finally came together in this time-travel chapter book adventure series.

 B: When did you start working on it? How did the project evolve over time?

M: I finally started writing this story into book form about two years ago. At first, I thought it might work as a picture book. But as I wrote, and the story and characters developed, I realized it was better suited as a chapter book. I really enjoyed having more freedom of word count and more ability to draw out the story over ten chapters, which the chapter book format allowed. I also included an author’s note describing my inspiration for the book, as well as a Family Book Club Guide at the end that includes questions for discussion, and related enrichment materials: a snow globe project, apple crisp recipe, family connection projects, and links for extended research. I think parents and educators will appreciate the opportunity to continue the discussion and creativity with their young readers through this Guide.

B: What are your plans for the series?

M: I’m so excited about this book series! My next book is The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – The Liberty Bell Train Ride. Twins Emma and Simon shake another snow globe from their grandmother’s collection, and are transported to Philadelphia in 1915. They witness the Liberty Bell making its last trans-continental train ride to San Francisco. And they realize that their Great-Great-Aunt Lucy was one of the schoolchildren who signed a petition bringing the Liberty Bell to California. When trouble brews, the twins and Aunt Lucy must help the Liberty Bell get back on track! All the books will include the twins connecting with an ancestor and of course they’ll have lots of adventures together. I’m so thankful that I have several more books in the series planned with Clear Fork Publishing, with the very talented Callie Metler-Smith illustrating.

B: Tell us about your path to publication.

M: I included the world-famous Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster in Book One – Return to Coney Island (it’s also featured on the cover!). And I feel like my path to publication has been a bit of a roller coaster ride itself, with lots of ups and downs, and twists and turns. I’m a lawyer, and also worked as a legal research and writing instructor, a legal career counselor, and an early childhood educator. I tried to write pictures books around twenty years ago when my oldest daughter was born. When I received MANY rejections, I put that aside and instead I wrote parenting articles and co-authored a book called The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading.

But I had joined SCBWI years ago and always kept current with my membership and with industry news. The creative writing bug kept nagging at me and so a few years ago, I started to become very active again, attending more conferences, signing up for writing classes and writing challenges, joining critique groups, and reading and practicing everything I could about children’s book writing. I feel like I’m finally stepping off the roller coaster onto solid ground!

B: What have you learned about your writing process over the course of the project?

M: Over the course of this project, I’ve learned to keep going and keep writing! With the longer format of a chapter book, I developed an outline that I followed to make sure the story arc remained tight and flowed well. That’s not to say that I wasn’t flexible . . . I was. I added in story points and deleted ideas that weren’t working throughout the process. And I had to delete certain scenes that I liked that just didn’t fit (but maybe they will reappear in some form in a later book!). Also, I was careful about researching period and location information from the 1920s. Finally, with the longer chapter book, I tried to make sure all the characters acted consistently throughout the story and had distinct personalities that I could build up even further as the series developed. My mind is constantly buzzing with snippets of dialogue or adventures the characters may face as they move through the series. It’s been as exciting as an amusement park ride so far!

B: You’ve had a good deal of workshop experience. What advice do you have for people to get the most out of a workshop? 

M: I love workshopping ideas and drafts, especially with Inked Voices! I have participated in three Inked Voices picture book workshops, and I get so much from them each time. I’m thrilled to say that my debut picture book, Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, will debut with Clear Fork in 2018! I’m so excited to share this story about art, magic, and creativity! And as you know, Brooke, this was a story I workshopped with Inked Voices (although it had a different title then). I’m really looking forward to joining your new workshops this fall with some brand new picture book stories.

I love having new people read and comment on my picture book drafts, and the Inked Voices community has been so supportive and generous with ideas and insights into my work. I also love providing feedback because I feel that I learn so much through reading and commenting on other people’s work. Also, the agent or editor advice in the final webinar session is so helpful in putting it all together! To get the most from the workshop, it’s so important to be open to constructive criticism and critiques and to be willing to spend time being helpful to the other participants.

When I give critiques, I use the “sandwich” method – I first share several positive comments about the draft, then I include several specific areas that I feel could use improvement, and then I end with more positive overall comments. I learned this as a legal research and writing fellow in law school and used it as a legal writing instructor in two law schools. I think it’s really an effective critique method. 

M: What is your revision process? 

Usually, I get an idea about a title or a story line pops into my head. I jot it down right away so it I don’t forget it! Then I think about it for some time. After that brainstorming period, I write a first draft and then put it away for a little while. I do edit that first draft as I go along, but I mostly try to just get my ideas down on paper. Then, I go back and really start the revision process. I don’t number my drafts because there would be too many! I first revise big picture issues like story logic, character and plot, the story arc, making sure the story has enough emotional resonance and layers, showing not telling, leaving room for the illustrator, and more. I’m also wordsmithing as I go along. But I do also revise separately for small picture issues like word choice, grammar, and syntax. After all that, I send my draft to my critique group and to any workshops or critique professionals. Whew…that all takes so much time and effort, but I think it’s in the revision process that the magic of writing occurs.

B: Thanks for being here, Melissa! I loved hearing about the inspiration for the book. And I’m looking forward to buying a copy from you! 🙂 Congratulations! Check out Return to Coney Island here.

M: Thanks so much, Brooke! See you in our workshop group this fall!

 

About Melissa Stoller

Melissa Stoller is the author of the debut chapter book The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island(Clear Fork Publishing, July 2017); the debut picture book Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush (Clear Fork, March, 2018); and The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork, April 2018).

Melissa is a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, an Assistant for Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy, and a volunteer with SCBWI-MetroNY. Melissa writes parenting articles, and has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. Find Melissa online at www.MelissaStoller.com, MelissaBergerStoller (Facebook), @MelissaStoller (Twitter), and Melissa_Stoller (Instagram).

Brooke McIntyre
Brooke McIntyre is the founder of Inked Voices, helping writers write more and write better through its platform for online writing groups and its app Ink On. She’s passionate about using technology to facilitate peer learning, about connecting with people on a human-level on the web, and, of course, about writing. Brooke received her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and her MBA from the University of Michigan. She lives with her husband, two kiddos and their muppet of a dog in Brooklyn.

High Flying Writing (Without a Net)

I enjoy when pithy sayings impart big knowledge. I like when they get me to think. Most quotes and aphorisms meander in and out of my consciousness. But one quote sticks with me:

“Leap, and the net will appear.”

It’s generally attributed to John Burroughs, but I’ve seen it referenced as a Zen proverb and cited by many writing and spirituality authors. In my moments of writing (and living) clarity, I readily embrace it. Take risks. Breathe through your comfort zone. Try the new. Don’t be afraid of failure. What a lovely, creativity-percolating state of mind!

Unfortunately, I tend to forget it at times of stress or self-doubt. I lose my faith in the universe. I roll up into a tight ball of safety and “the known.” Not only do I not leap, I back away from the edge altogether. When I do this, my writing suffers. I would also assert my living suffers.

If we stay cloistered in a narrow comfort zone constructed of limiting beliefs about our talent and creativity, we never give ourselves the opportunity to grow. We do not explore the invigorating, fertile garden of creativity. We stagnate.

By its nature, creativity is about taking risks. It’s about exploring new ideas, new connections, new perspectives. If we hide in our shell of familiarity, we cannot be creative. And if we aren’t creative, we aren’t writing. We write to express truths. We write to explore the world around us. We write to discover. The way to write with “genuine-ness” is to be a part of the world, not to wall ourselves up from it.

Like most nuggets of profound advice, “leap, and the net will appear” is simple but not easy. Our vestigial lizard brain continually warns us about dangers. It keeps us from putting our hands in the fire or eating that odd-looking berry. It serves us well, thank you very much, by keeping us alive. But writing and creativity–even living a full, rewarding life–is much more than simply staying alive. If that were the case, we’d all be automatons or ants. We are not. We are creative, imaginative, vital beings capable of recognizing fire not only as something to be feared but also as a means to warmth, bread, and shadow puppets. We eat and enjoy blackberries, strawberries, and gooseberries because someone leaped.

“Leap, and the net will appear” means it’s OK to take risks. It’s OK to explore. It’s OK to leave our comfort zone behind because the universe is a supportive, encouraging entity. If we know risk is eliminated from the equation, taking a risk becomes easier. And when we take risks, we grow, explore, and, most importantly, create.

It’s easy to stay locked in our thought shell, writing variations on the same themes and characters we’ve written dozens of times. I know because I do it. I lose sight of leaping–or, more accurately, I lose faith the net will appear. But in my moments of clarity when I run up to the edge and refuse to hesitate, I find my fingers flying over the keyboard or my pen across the paper. I feel light. I feel unstoppable. I feel like I’m writing.

John Caruso
For as long as John can remember, creativity has bubbled through his life. From his days as a young boy recording off-the-cuff "radio plays" on an old Sears portable cassette recorder to starting his own photography business to playing tin whistle in a Pogues/Waterboys cover band to writing two novels in search of a publisher, John has been delighted by all endeavors creative. Even a 20+ year detour into the nine-to-five world of not-for-profit education and outreach couldn't deter him from seeing the beauty in everyday moments and easily-overlooked details. Finding art in the mundane is his daily quest, and one which can produce some extraordinary truths.
Currently, John is teaching creative writing to elementary and high school students, editing a daily newsletter for employees of a major pet food company, and writing his weekly ImPROMPTu posts for the Inked Voices' group of the same name. He's photographing both for art's sake and for commercial ends. He's shooting a second cookbook. And somewhere in the moments in between he's writing a book on "everyday creativity."

Siren Song of The New

I’ve been thinking about the evolution of writing tools over the course of my career. With the dizzying array of programs, apps, and web-sites, writers have unprecedented access to tools, training, and research. Technology has fundamentally changed the way we write. But as anyone who’s read a fairy tail knows, you can’t always trust Leprechauns, Genies, or Rumplestiltskin. Wishes granted aren’t always wishes fulfilled.

I perfectly understand how easy it is to become enamored with shiny new tools and toys while forgetting the grunt work. Whether it’s obsessing over finding the best pen (I’m looking at you Parker Sonnet fountain pen), the best notebook (I love Leuchtturm 1917s!), or the best word processor (hello Scrivener and Ulysses), we are drawn to finding the perfect tool to magically make the act of writing feel more natural.

But as they say when they paraphrase Francis Bacon: Technology is a great servant but a bad master. Don’t let the “magic of the new” rule your writing. Use it wisely. Use it efficiently. But never mistake technology for work.

Back in my typewriter college days I insisted those newfangled computer things were nothing but trouble. I remember Tiffany Corgan losing her entire senior thesis when a thunderstorm knocked out both of recently installed campus computers. Game. Set. Match.

Then a year later, I became acquainted with the office’s old Apple Macintosh at my first job out of school, its glowing monochrome gently ushering me into a new technological future filled with easy corrections and (almost) effortless dot-matrix printing.

Since then, I’ve seen so many iterations of Windows, Macs, and even a few Linuxes. I’ve seen flip phones become proto-smart phones become release after release of iPhones. With every technological stride, with every new piece of hardware, with every software innovation, I bought into the promise of easier writing. However, as is usually the case with tricksters, each next-best-thing makes the elusive pot of gold that much sparkly-er and harder to grab.

While process and mechanics may improve, the simple act of putting one word after another remains constant. This is why technology’s siren song can easily shipwreck us on the rocks. We are seduced into focusing on how the next major release or long-anticipated update will finally be The One to solve our problems. But we are looking at it all wrong. Our problem isn’t how we record our words, but rather how we craft them.

Now before I start hearing words like “Luddite” or “Gutenberg Hater,” I want to say I am not anti-technology. Anything which can free up our mind to spend more effort on stringing words together gets a big thumbs-up from me. But I have to be very conscious to not get swept up in finding the definitive device or app–and the definitive ones after those–at the expense of just sitting down and writing. By all means, make technology your servant. Just don’t let it become your master.

 

John Caruso
For as long as John can remember, creativity has bubbled through his life. From his days as a young boy recording off-the-cuff "radio plays" on an old Sears portable cassette recorder to starting his own photography business to playing tin whistle in a Pogues/Waterboys cover band to writing two novels in search of a publisher, John has been delighted by all endeavors creative. Even a 20+ year detour into the nine-to-five world of not-for-profit education and outreach couldn't deter him from seeing the beauty in everyday moments and easily-overlooked details. Finding art in the mundane is his daily quest, and one which can produce some extraordinary truths.
Currently, John is teaching creative writing to elementary and high school students, editing a daily newsletter for employees of a major pet food company, and writing his weekly ImPROMPTu posts for the Inked Voices' group of the same name. He's photographing both for art's sake and for commercial ends. He's shooting a second cookbook. And somewhere in the moments in between he's writing a book on "everyday creativity."

Make Progress on Your Writing by Setting Small Goals

Last week I returned to the University of Michigan (YEAH!) for an alumni event. This was a fabulous, small gathering with many opportunities for one-on-one conversation. When I told people about my work with Inked Voices, I could not believe how many responded that they’re interested in writing a book. A couple had participated in NaNoWriMo or had a draft in process. But others mentioned it as a dream, something to do later, something to do in retirement.

This struck me hard, probably because I’ve been there. I remember that the hurdle to writing seemed large. I felt like I had to be either all-in or not at all. And so I did nothing with a dream I held for 15+ years. It took the birth of my second for me to say, hey, it’s time.

If you’re a person who has said “later”, or “after”, or “when I” to your goal, this note is for you.

Life events are good catalysts. But you don’t need to go and [insert your favorite: have a child, retire, move, get sick] to write. I would argue that a simple mental shift can do the job.

Saying “I’m going to go write my book now,” is a seriously inspiring but terribly overwhelming goal. It’s easy to fail at a goal so large. Would you go from the couch to a marathon directly?

Instead, challenge yourself to a small goal. Microscopic will do nicely.

For example, set aside 30 minutes per week for your writing. Or, write 50 words per day. Setting goals for number of writing days or writing sessions, or pages written works, too. Experiment to see what resonates with you. Your goal should be easy to remember and relatively easy to achieve. The start is not your moment for stretch goals.

Here are some suggestions to play with:

Types of Writing Goals

Pick a small goal and work with it. You don’t even need to tell people you’re working on your book. If the subject comes up, you’re doing some writing. Let the seed grow some roots.

It’s OK to exceed your goal. Those days, give yourself a high five and celebrate.

If you’re not succeeding, tweak the type of goal and how much you do.

Track your progress in a notebook, an Excel spreadsheet, or the notes section of your phone. Inked Voices has an app called Ink On specifically designed for tracking your writing. Note what you accomplished and review the results weekly or monthly.

Get consistent with something small. Then when you feel ready, you can layer on an additional stretch for yourself. Maybe it is another 10 minutes, or another writing session for the week.

Start by establishing your writing process and pretty soon, you’ll see the pages add up. And maybe, it will grow to become a book.

Brooke McIntyre
Brooke McIntyre is the founder of Inked Voices, helping writers write more and write better through its platform for online writing groups and its app Ink On. She’s passionate about using technology to facilitate peer learning, about connecting with people on a human-level on the web, and, of course, about writing. Brooke received her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and her MBA from the University of Michigan. She lives with her husband, two kiddos and their muppet of a dog in Brooklyn.

On Creativity

I participated in a writing workshop a few years back. One of the ice-breaker activities was the assignment: think about creativity. Specifically, we considered these three questions:

  1. In your own words, define creativity.
  2. Where does it come from?
  3. How does it work?

I found this exercise deceptive in it’s simplicity. At first, I figured it would be just some quick answers: a few ham-handed words and done. But the more I mulled over these three questions, the more expansive my answers became. Thoughts percolated as I wrote. They came faster than my sluggish hands could record them. I was in the moment. I was in “the flow.” When I came back to my sense, here’s what I had:

1. In your own words, define creativity

Creativity is the ability to access the inaccessible portions of our consciousness and our subconscious…which together form the huge sandbox in which creativity plays. Creativity synthesizes seemingly unrelated concepts/constructs/ideas into new and cohesive creations which are greater than the sum of their parts.

2. Where does it come from?

Creativity originates in the elusive center of sentience. It comes from one’s awareness of the world (existence) and one’s place within it (individuality). Once this awareness is manifest, creativity is born of the fundamental drive to fashion meaning and order out of the myriad dissociative moments and events that make up the everyday world. As creativity exposes meaning, it flows from the desire to not only shape the world, but also to change it in a unique and meaningful way. It is no wonder that when humans construct myths and religions, one of the most important and fundamental activities of any deity is that of creation.

3. How does it work?

Creativity works by allowing us to see in a way that exists outside of reality. If we think about it, being a creative person means dancing upon that spider web of a line between reality and illusion, between sanity and madness. Taken at its very basic nature, inventing stories is tantamount to imagining a world that doesn’t exist…and then proclaiming it does. In some circles, one might be called “crazy” for saying such a thing. But how do we conjur in such a way? How does creativity allow us dance upon that web? In all its mystery, creativity works by granting us access to the part of our being/essence/mind/spirit (insert your metaphysical construct of choice here) which is normally inaccessible: the part of us that possesses the ability to conceive beyond mundane (read: sentient) perception.

***

So there they are, my snap-shot opinions. Your results may vary. In fact, why not try to see just how varied your results could be? Have a go at working on your own answers to these deceptively simple questions. Once you start unravelling your thoughts, you may be surprised at where they take you.

John Caruso
For as long as John can remember, creativity has bubbled through his life. From his days as a young boy recording off-the-cuff "radio plays" on an old Sears portable cassette recorder to starting his own photography business to playing tin whistle in a Pogues/Waterboys cover band to writing two novels in search of a publisher, John has been delighted by all endeavors creative. Even a 20+ year detour into the nine-to-five world of not-for-profit education and outreach couldn't deter him from seeing the beauty in everyday moments and easily-overlooked details. Finding art in the mundane is his daily quest, and one which can produce some extraordinary truths.
Currently, John is teaching creative writing to elementary and high school students, editing a daily newsletter for employees of a major pet food company, and writing his weekly ImPROMPTu posts for the Inked Voices' group of the same name. He's photographing both for art's sake and for commercial ends. He's shooting a second cookbook. And somewhere in the moments in between he's writing a book on "everyday creativity."

Why your writing group member goes missing and what to do about it

You’ve exchanged critiques. It seemed to go well. Maybe, you’ve had some conversations: about your families, work, writing process, favorite books, publishing. Now, your writing group member or partner is missing.

This is a problem for online and in-person groups. I’ll speak from the online vantage point, but these thoughts can be applied to in-person groups, too.

Online, communication is presence. When a group member stops communicating or participating, it is like they have disappeared. Often, the rest of the group is at a loss: how in the world do they reach this person they met in the vast universe of online?

Groups also worry. After writers have worked together for some time and become colleagues and friends, there can be a sense of loss and anxiety. Sometimes, people become frustrated or angry. Perhaps one writer has given critiques and just posted her work. Then her partner disappears, leaving the work untouched. This strikes at our notion of fairness.

After some time, the other writers may discount the missing writer and apathy can set in. If multiple writers go missing the group can disintegrate around that inactivity. If the group leader is missing, things are worse, because communication breaks down from the top.

You can see how this can set an entire group into a tailspin.

So, what to do?

Above all, approach this with kindness and a gentle heart. The overwhelming majority of writers who ghost out are not doing so to be mean-spirited.

Why people go missing

1. Life happened

The longer I work with writers and writing groups, the more I see the tough stuff people go through. Being sick or taking care of a sick family member takes an emotional and physical toll. Job changes, high pressure deadlines, and heavy loads for students can stress finances, family and time. Members of our community have lost parents, siblings and friends. I know it took me a few months after losing a friend this fall to feel remotely creative.

Life happens in such good ways, too. There are weddings, new babies, new houses, vacations, plans, adventures. We can get swept up in all of the activity.

We all carry so much on our plates, it is no wonder that things fall off when we get busy or overwhelmed. Including our writing.

Your writing partner may not send everyone a message to say that something has happened. He or she may physically be away from communication. Or the person might withdraw into themselves and go quiet.

2. Group Issues

Sometimes it is an issue with the group. Fit, fear and frustration are common reasons that writers disappear.

New group members may have realized the group is not the right fit, and either forgot or haven’t had the chance to excuse themselves. Long-standing members may find that the group no longer fits because of changes in their own goals or situation, or because the culture of the group has changed.

If the writer has not contributed to the group at all, it may be because of fear. Some have told me they think they are not good writers, or that they are not as talented as other writers in the group. Some are worried about receiving overly critical feedback.

Frustration with a member or a particular submission can crop up, too. Not knowing how to address the issue, the person goes quiet.

Check in to see what’s up and show you care

No matter the case, the first step is a friendly reach out. Avoid making assumptions about the writer as person, particularly if you are frustrated or angry that the person has been missing. Avoid assumptions about why the person has been absent, unless you have an idea from previous conversations and want to mention it in a supportive way.

If I do not know a person very well, I might invite them to submit to the group. I’ll also ask how they are doing, and if they have any questions or concerns about the group. If the person has gone missing for a more substantial amount of time, I might ask if anything has gone wrong with the group, or if all is okay in their world.

If I know the person more deeply and their inactivity is unusual, I’ll send a note asking if things are okay.

You can do this reach out whether you are the group leader or a member of the group. Reach out from a position of care and your writing partner is going to feel supported.

If you don’t hear back, you may want to get in touch with the group leader and let him or her know you are concerned. If the group leader doesn’t hear anything either, you may want to seek help outside the group. I know I am happy to check in on people—I worry when members of Inked Voices’ community go missing! I am sure that this would be the case, too, for other writing organizations.

Re-engaging 

When a person responds to your check-in, it’s a great opportunity to bring them back into the fold of the group. How to do this will depend on why they’ve been quiet. Here are some ideas:

  • If the person is not ready to return, perhaps they communicate to the group that they are taking a leave of absence. Respect the person’s confidentiality and let them direct how much to share. If the person prefers, you can share in their stead.
  • If there was a particular concern, discuss it with the individual to help them handle it. If you feel the concern may be felt by others, discuss group-wide on your discussion board or in your next meeting.
  • If there is fear, you can offer to be a safe space in the form of encouragement and constructive feedback with your critiques. Or, you could see if the person would like to do a partner exchange with you before sharing with the whole group.
  • If the person was temporarily over-busy, give them a summary of what’s been happening in the group and invite them to participate.
  • Consider opening a group-wide discussion about the group. Revisit the way the group is organized and its goals. Use this as an opportunity to check in with the whole group.
  • Sometimes it can be helpful to do introductions or re-introductions to help new members feel welcome and bring them up to speed. This is especially true for established groups with close members. It can be awkward to step in!
  • A variation on the intro is a group check in. Ask each member to bring the group up to speed on what they’ve been working on, stumbling blocks, current goals, etc.

Open the lines of communication and situations like this can be an opportunity to make the entire group a stronger community.

Removing a member from your writing group

After a point, if a person is not responsive, you may have to remove them from the group to make room for someone else and/or keep the group to active members. Consider where that boundary falls; what feels reasonable to you and the rest of your group? The culture of your group, particularly expectations of participation, will largely drive this.

It can be helpful to have a written inactivity policy for these situations. I would recommend including a timeframe, what actions the group will take, and why. For example:

“Our goal is to create a close-knit, active community of novelists. Because our group is small, members who do not submit, critique or otherwise contribute to the group for 45 days will be notified. If we do not hear from the member in two weeks, he or she may be removed from the group.”

When I remove a person from a group because I haven’t heard from them, I like to let them know that the reason is to make room, and to contact me if they want to come back. You cannot force participation, nor can a group wait indefinitely hoping the person will come back. But you can leave the door open. 

I hope that some of these thoughts have been helpful. Please feel free to share any of your favorite ideas, too!

Brooke McIntyre
Brooke McIntyre is the founder of Inked Voices, helping writers write more and write better through its platform for online writing groups and its app Ink On. She’s passionate about using technology to facilitate peer learning, about connecting with people on a human-level on the web, and, of course, about writing. Brooke received her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and her MBA from the University of Michigan. She lives with her husband, two kiddos and their muppet of a dog in Brooklyn.

The Word-Nursery

Being a part of the Inked Voices world means being part of a community. The myriad opportunities offered through the website are valuable and engaging. But the most valuable asset is the people. At the core, a writing community- whether online or “in the real world”- is driven by the people who participate. The connections we make, the effort we give, and the trust we establish with other writers all conspire to drive our growth as authors.

As writers, we spend a lot of time alone in our heads. We think. We write. We edit. But for all this alone time, we benefit from sharing our words with others. Enter the critique groups. Critique groups are the nursery for our creative growth, a place where our nascent ideas flourish and where we help others usher their bourgeoning thoughts into creative maturity.

I believe in the power of critiques, both for the critiquer and the critique-ee. When we share our work and let it take those first few tentative steps into the world, we change it. By sharing our evolving work we embark upon an important step. Critiques are an essential tool in allowing our work to flourish. We ask for feedback and opinions. We transform our solitary endeavor into a social one. Through critiques we discover the impact and shortcomings of our budding words. The beauty of a critique group is the wide ranging opinions we receive. And the key word here is “opinions.” One of the missteps of a writer new to critique groups is taking every bit of feedback as law. The feedback is meant as a guide, not a hard edit. We need to read through all the thoughts and suggestions and use what feels right, what makes sense. We expand our repertoire from the inside out.

Alternately, giving a critique is a valuable endeavor. When we read someone else’s work with a critical eye, we simultaneously hone our writing skills. By recognizing plot holes, weak characterizations, and clunky writing in other works we are better able to begin seeing them in our own. We get a feel for new writing styles, approaches, and visions. We expand our repertoire from the outside in.

As members of Inked Voices–or any critique group–we have an amazing resource at our disposal: community. But that resource only works if we use it. So by all means, join a group. Join a few. But once you’ve joined, participate. Submit your work for critiques. Read what other writers feel about your words. Learn from them. But just as important, take the time and effort to read and critique other stories. Take advantage of the word-nursery and allow your stories–and others’–to grow, flourish, and mature.

John Caruso
For as long as John can remember, creativity has bubbled through his life. From his days as a young boy recording off-the-cuff "radio plays" on an old Sears portable cassette recorder to starting his own photography business to playing tin whistle in a Pogues/Waterboys cover band to writing two novels in search of a publisher, John has been delighted by all endeavors creative. Even a 20+ year detour into the nine-to-five world of not-for-profit education and outreach couldn't deter him from seeing the beauty in everyday moments and easily-overlooked details. Finding art in the mundane is his daily quest, and one which can produce some extraordinary truths.
Currently, John is teaching creative writing to elementary and high school students, editing a daily newsletter for employees of a major pet food company, and writing his weekly ImPROMPTu posts for the Inked Voices' group of the same name. He's photographing both for art's sake and for commercial ends. He's shooting a second cookbook. And somewhere in the moments in between he's writing a book on "everyday creativity."

Welcome

Welcome to the Inked Voices blog. 😀 This will be a place to talk about process, both as individual writers and as members of writing groups, about craft, and about creativity. The ingredients that go into the bowl to make your work the best it can be.

Here is a little bit about me.

Here I am!

You could say that I drank the kool-aid when it comes to working in groups. I loved my business school classes in Management and Organizations and I –almost always—enjoyed group projects. In my former marketing role, my favorite projects were collaborations with sales or HR or the operations team. When I reflect on why, I think it’s the possibility for a bigger vision and the ability to work together to achieve it. I like being on a team.

A writing group is an interesting application of a team. There are some who truly write collaboratively as co-writers. But more writers work individually on altogether different projects. And in that sense a writing group is a collection of people seeking similar outcomes. Perhaps that outcome is broad, like writing consistently. Or it could be more specific, like mastering the art of writing a thriller. In either case, writers are able to band together with their peers to support, encourage and coach one another towards their shared goal. And along the way, hopefully, make some good friends.

I’ve been so very lucky to work with leaders and members of writing groups since our beta went up in March 2014. We have some truly awesome writing groups, more than 60 at this writing, and I’ve learned from listening to and working with our writers. I’ve learned by making mistakes and from our groups that haven’t panned out, too.

In the second half of 2015, I started to really examine and work on my own writing process. I’m an entrepreneur and a mom of young children and a writer. And in the winter I am a ski coach for people with disabilities, too. And so I am very interested in the practical side of executing on this writing thing – making time, bringing energy, prioritizing, finding creative head space. This blog will address individual process, too.

Thankfully for both you and me, this blog won’t be “all me”. The blog will also feature regular contributions by John Caruso, one of our members who approached me nearly two years ago to ask about starting a group focused on process and prompts. To date, John has created 99 (!!) writing prompts that are wonderful because they do not just help people generate new creative ideas, but they get them thinking about their work in new ways. John has been sharing these with Inked Voices’ members each month in our newsletter, and weekly in his group imPROMPTu. I am delighted that this blog will give him the larger audience that he so richly deserves.

We will share guest posts as well, so long as they fit the scope shared above. Please send me a note if you are interested in contributing. I’m also open to your suggestions of topics you’d like to see.

Thanks for reading and I’m looking forward to this!

Brooke

 

Brooke McIntyre
Brooke McIntyre is the founder of Inked Voices, helping writers write more and write better through its platform for online writing groups and its app Ink On. She’s passionate about using technology to facilitate peer learning, about connecting with people on a human-level on the web, and, of course, about writing. Brooke received her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and her MBA from the University of Michigan. She lives with her husband, two kiddos and their muppet of a dog in Brooklyn.