Writing in Groups
For the last couple of months I've been hard at work, plugging away at my novel one day at a time. The entire time, I've been doing what most do: Stay at home, in the room that they've designated as their professional writing space, and knock it out. I wrote a blog post about my own writing space back in July, a room in my home that I am still quite proud of as far as it being a conducive area for ideas to flow and clash, a space where I can write in peace at any time of the day. And for the most part, it's been good.
However, one thing that has admittedly started to poke the very back of my mind was the one aspect of this career focus that I thought I was prepared for: the removal of the social element that I've had, for better or worse, at all the jobs I've held up to now.
Disclosure: Although I can really dive into my work and not want to deal with people from time to time, I am, in my heart of hearts, a bit of a social bug and enjoy the company of others as part of the work experience. Of all the preparations I made when I left my most recent job to take on my writing goals full-time, one part that I hadn't thought would impact me as much as it did was the loss of a built-in professional community that would normally come with most jobs - a community that would usually result in making a couple of new friends that I could hang out with after work over some beers, people to rant or rave about the latest video game, or someone that I could actually become close enough to open up to and talk personal business.
If you're writing full-time, your community is what you make it... and I was so focused on just writing every day that I neglected that aspect of myself. So what does one do when they are working for themselves and are their own business - an employee of one?
In my case, I decided to go back to a networking website that I've had an account with for some time, but had ignored it for years: Meetup.com. Though that site, I found several groups that met on a regular basis around writing in different capacities: some groups were built about critiquing each other's work, while others were focused on the process of writing. The latter is what I wanted to experience, just to see if it would actually work for me - after all, I've been all about my own personal space where I control the sounds, the lighting, and the overall mood that's in the air. Going to a public space to work alongside a group of people that I wouldn't be spending much time chatting with seemed like a personal recipe for not getting much done. Oh, how I was wrong.
The Meetup group I first attended was called "SF Bay Area: Shut Up & Write!", a large collection of meetups that are hosted all around the Bay Area, including a handful of sessions that occurred in downtown Oakland, which was what I was looking for. The particular group I met up with wasn't that large - I was the fourth person to join - and it was hosted in a Starbucks, the guaranteed public area where a strong WiFi connection was present for those moments I would need to pull down some research papers, but more importantly access my Scrivener files. And, of course, have easy access to large cups of English Breakfast tea - not exactly my PG Tips, but it'll do.
The group leader was a friendly woman who introduced me to the rest of the group, as well as outlined the goal of the group: sit down and write for about 3.5 hours, with short breaks if needed (they weren't required). There was time for me to introduce myself as well, along with a bit about my goals as a writer. After that, it was all business. Like I said, I didn't know what to expect in terms of my productivity - as I looked around, the background noise was pretty close to the foreground, with people coming in and out of the Starbucks, their staff cleaning out trash bins and sweeping, the traffic from the busy four-lane avenue just beyond the large floor-to-ceiling windows. Despite the contrasting environment, when compared to my home-office, I found myself very productive. I mean very productive - as in, typing over two thousand words in three hours productive. And the amazing thing is that I've been consistent about that as each day passed where I attended this 3.5 hour session.
Along with my surge in productivity, I found a lot in common with the folks I was writing alongside. The group leader is writing a novel in Chinese; one of the younger guys is working on a near-future science fiction novel; another woman is writing a novella. When our session comes to a close, a couple of minutes is almost always spent just chatting about our successes for that day, or just small talk so everyone can get to know each other better.
I gotta admit, I've been loving the entire experience. One part about it that I find most fascinating is that even the process of just focusing on your own novel, heads down in your laptop, is still a social experience when you are sitting next to and across from others that are involved in the exact same process, and are working towards the same goals as you: publishing your first novel. Knowing that these people are alive - not some intangible username on a forum - and are having the same bursts of successes and struggles as you really makes the entire purpose of such groups that much more compelling to me.
I am sold on this aspect of writing - group writing. I will still find time to write at home, of course - there's always Sunday's and evenings, after all - but for a good portion of my weekday writing sessions, they will be spent with these fine people at a downtown Starbucks, where we'll create and fine-tune our fictional worlds while surrounded by the real world as it plays out in front of us.