A question I ask often myself is how on earth did I get to be this old? And the answer is always the same- one second at a time. I am sometimes asked the same question about KaBoom. How on earth have we stayed together for 13 years? The simple answer, of course, is one meeting at a time. But as with age, the simple answer doesn’t tell the whole story. After much reflection I have come up with reasons both general and personal that have contributed to the success of KaBoom. I am listing these suggestions in the hope that they may help someone who is looking to create a similar writing group.
Size: Like Goldilocks, we have kept our group neither too large nor too small. Eight seems to be the upper limit to allow time for full discussions of each other’s work. We like the intimacy of a smaller group, but try not to fall below four in order to ensure a variety of opinion and style.
Membership: New members should be agreed upon by all members. It’s best to say no if there are doubts about someone before they meet with the group. All shoes do not fit all feet and all writers do not play well in group settings. If a problem arises with someone after they have joined, the others should approach that person as a group, explain their concerns, and try to reach a solution.
Place: A neutral meeting space has been important to us. It should be a convenient location with plenty of parking and a tolerance for raucous discussion. We usually don’t meet at a member’s house so no one has to clean up or feel obliged to provide sustenance and so all can simply enjoy being together.
Time: Pick a regular meeting time, recognizing that at various points in life, members may have more demands on their time and that these demands will fluctuate. Don’t sit there with a stop watch waiting for late offenders. Simply begin your discussion and let the late ones catch up when they can. Over time it always seems to even out.
Be tolerant. We are all struggling and sometimes the things that irritate us most about others are the things that secretly irritate us about ourselves. Kindness is an important component of our group dynamics and seems to be the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine of honest criticism go down.
Be honest. If we don’t tell each other the truth about our work, believe me, someone outside will. Honesty fosters trust and although we don’t always agree with each other, an honest discussion enhances our work and helps us see it as other see it.
Be committed. You won’t always feel like going to a meeting, reading another manuscript, or discussing someone else’s writers block, but those times pass, and then it will be good again. If something isn’t working for you in the group, speak up before quitting. Anyone can quit, but not everyone can find a group of like minded people with which to share a creative life.
Have fun! This may be my most important suggestion. Laugh, tell jokes, and share life with one another. Don’t take yourselves too seriously even as you struggle to produce serious work. And maybe 13 years from now you will look at your writing group and marvel at the way time passes, one second at a time!