Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Collaborative Writer: My new website, under development

My entire career, I have focused on teaching the benefits of writing collaboratively. For one thing, it breaks us out of the mold of thinking that we must write alone; this is an image of the writer forced on us by myths told about writers, and it's one that contradicts the reality of how writers actually work. Writers throughout history have written collaboratively, usually in small groups, some of which have later become famous. These include the Inklings of Oxford, which counted among its members two famous children's and fantasy writers, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien; the Bloomsbury group, comprised of writers Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey; painters Duncan Grant and Virginia's sister, Vanessa Bell, married to the critic Clive Bell, who was also a member. On the continent, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and other expatriate American writers flocked to Gertrude Stein's Paris salon to discuss politics, writing, and their various love affairs.

Lest you think that only fiction writers and artists seek out each other's company for inspiration, Rene Descartes regularly joined his fellow mathematicians and scientists for philosophical discussions in which he did something important for his writing process: he brainstormed ideas with like-minded thinkers of his era. What the collaborative writing group has in common is that they approach their own individual writing tasks in one of a few ways, any one of which is highly productive for the individual as well as the group. One way is to create a group dedicated to following rules of membership, with a specific agenda, like the Inklings did. Each member was expected to bring a piece of writing to the group, and read from it. This way the members could discuss the piece, critique it, and learn from the others' writing. The second way a collaborative group operates, generally, is that they inspire discussion and thought, not necessarily by focusing on the person's writing, but simply by discussing whatever is current. Inspiration for the writing is fed through a kind of 'cross-pollination,' where, for example with the Bloomsbury group, or Gertrude Stein's salon, many different types of people fed each other's creativity and inspiration through discussion.

The key to success in the collaborative writing experience is that each writer eventually found a partner to work with. For some, this person became their "muse," as happened with Anais Nin and Henry Miller, who fought and parted repeatedly, as did Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway had a productive relationship, albeit a competitive one, but it can easily be argued that Hemingway's relationships were always competitive if the subject was writing. J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were friends and a constant source of inspiration, competition, and irritation to one another. However, in each case, the relationship was strengthened through their ongoing reliance on the other to provide fodder for thought, the prodding that another person can bring, the sense of healthy, or even occasionally excessive competitiveness, and the knowledge that, no matter what, someone cares about your writing.

It is in this spirit that I am developing an online resource for writers, with the hopes of helping writers find a like-minded partner with whom to work, share, and inspire one another. Unlike critique groups, your partner is intended to provide you with support, interest, and sharing of your goals and hopes for your writing. Critique groups can be unnecessarily harsh and non-supportive. Instead, the goal here is to find someone to work with--ideally, a friend who is also a writer. This idea is under development, and since it's only just begun, it is in the early tinkering stages.

More about as the concept gels. The domain name is paid for, and the initial designs for the site are being created; concepts are fomenting in my brain. I am looking for online resources to link to and advertise with. If you come across this post, and you're at all interested in knowing more about this idea, please let me know at My hope, ultimately, is to create a website that helps writers find one another for support, inspiration, and friendship. If you're currently writing alone in your proverbial garret, or you're in a snarky critique group that isn't giving you the support you'd hoped for, is being created as a place to go on the net where you can connect with a writing partner.

In real life, I work with a writing partner. We throw ideas back and forth, we brainstorm, we talk about different methods of approach to a writing problem; I read him my stuff, he reads me his stuff... it's not a critique session, and that's the point. We're not in competition and we're not looking for a quick fix like many critique groups are, when they're focused on what's wrong with your writing. Instead, we inspire each other and give each other ideas. I would like all writers, from beginning to multiply-published, to have access to that kind of interaction. Writer's groups, whether you are a seasoned professional or are brand new, are often difficult to get to on your schedule, and you might find yourself intimidated or annoyed for a lot of reasons. If you aren't writing as fast as others, you end up reading more than writing; sometimes, people in your group are distracting or irritating. Many people are just simply uncomfortable in a group. That's not what you're looking for, is it? You're looking for that one person, maybe two, with whom you can have an inspiring discussion about your writing, and you can help them with theirs in turn. That's the experience is going to aim for.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Jane Austen fans: Take this quiz

In the midst of being serious and writing exclusively about serious subjects, I have come across this charming website, and I thought, well, there have to be Jane Austen enthusiasts who would like to see this:

Please don't take this too seriously, of course, and have fun with it!

My Shelfari Bookshelf

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog

How have you overcome writer's block?