The Muse Works a Crowd

Starting this week, every Tuesday at Noon you’ll find me at The Ink Spot writing with the Brown Bag Writing Group. I’m glad to be back; I’ve missed the time and the place and writing with my co-facilitator, Rob Williams and the writers who gather around the Fish Tables with their notebooks and pens, their laptops and enthusiasm.

Celebrating a Brown Bag Birthday at The Ink Spot

I’m a fool for writing practice groups. I’ve been leading them for nearly two decades. Brown Bag, the original, started in 1993 at The Writing Center in San Diego and Thursday Writers, which I now co-facilitate with Steve Montgomery, a couple of years later. For those of us who are regular practitioners, there’s something in addition to the writing that makes these groups special: A collective energy occurs when we come together with writing as our purpose—a creative force to be reckoned with. Some call it magic. I say the Muse likes to work crowds.

Here’s how my writing practice groups work:

Writers gather, the “rules” are read, a prompt is given and a time limit set. For the next 12 or 15 or 18 minutes, the only sound that’s heard is the scratching of pen on page, the faint tap tap tap of fingers on keyboard. Then, after each writing session, writers are invited to read their work aloud, without preamble and not for feedback, (no critique is given), but to hear their voice and to honor their words.

Somehow, astonishingly, from the few words of the prompt and in those scant minutes, stories and poems and essays and scenes from novels get written right then and there—at least rough drafts. Memories appear that might take the form of a memoir or may be just a meander through time. Characters appear, disappear and reappear, sometimes migrating from one story to another, sometimes bringing a pal or a new lover.

Writing in a writing practice group is different than doing exercises in a workshop or classroom where the writer is given instruction to accomplish a specific task, and writing in group is different than a solitary writing practice where we set our own pace and work in our own circle of energy. The palpable energy of the group and the focus of timed writings ignites spontaneity and with it, the possibility that anything can happen. And it does! Surprises are a regular occurrence at these sessions where language and imagination meet on the page. “I don’t know where that came from,” is the frequently heard comment by one amazed writer or another.

Tammy Delatorre reads at a writing session

8 reasons to be a part of a writing practice group:

  1. To have a regular time and place to show up with a commitment to get words on the page
  2. To experience the creative energy of the group and allow it to influence your writing
  3. To have a safe place to write what you want and to take risks
  4. To start something new or to continue a work-in-progress
  5. To read your work aloud with no concern for judgment or criticism
  6. To learn from other writers and spark one another’s creativity
  7. To bear witness to each other’s work
  8. To share camaraderie and create community

What’s your experience of writing in group?

6 thoughts on “The Muse Works a Crowd

  1. I’m in a weekly writing group that critiques each others work, but if we don’t have work to read we write. Our leader gives us a prompt and off we go, usually for 45 minutes. I’ve gotten great rough drafts of chapters for my novel this way, and actually got the idea for the novel through one of these sessions!

    • Thanks for your comment, Charlotte. Wow! I can’t imagine a free-write session for 45 minutes; my hand gets cramped after about 20. Sometimes I reset my timer and go for another 20. This kind of writing opens the gates for so much material, doesn’t it! Congratulations on all your great work. Judy

  2. Thanks for your comment, Midge. I don’t know exactly what that mojo is, that magic that happens when we do these things together. For me, it happens with a yoga practice, too. “Alone together” is a term I heard once at an Ira Progoff Intensive Journal Workshop. Whatever it is, I love it.

  3. We introverts don’t do groups well unless that group is a bowl of chocolates. Never. Not ever. However when I get my writer hormones oiled with the writer evangelism of “Days,” the inner candle lights, the motor hums, and the words fly.

  4. Fantastic post, Judy. I love the rules being all about honoring the words with no explanation or critique. Just like meditating in a group, the energy is even stronger when writing in a group — truly magical. Thanks for a great post!

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