Creative Writing Group posts

Revamping the CWG

Like this, but with more talking!
(Picture via Pexels)

I’ve been running my Creative Writing Group for 8 years now, here in the lovely Brisbane. It’s going great: I get a good turnout every month, and we have lively discussions about different aspects of writing, we learn things, and we have fun with exercises.

For the last few years, we’ve been meeting in a room in one of Brisbane’s big, friendly libraries. When it came to setting up the meetings for this year, I dropped the ball and sent the booking form in to our usual venue later than usual. As a result, we missed the initial round of allocations and lost our usual slot. It was my own fault, which I freely tell anyone who starts getting angry at the library for not being able to accommodate us.

I talked with the lovely people at the library to see if we could work out a different time slot to meet in, but the best they had available was Thursday evenings. That’s tricky for a lot of the group, and not great for me, so I started to think about alternatives.

Just across the river from where we usually meet is the State Library of Queensland. They have a heap of space and rooms, and I was hopeful that we could find a new home there. Sadly, it was not to be: their free meeting rooms can only be booked three months in advance, which means I can’t get a regular time slot, and the rest of their rooms are paid for. I’m dedicated to keeping the group free, so having to shell out a hefty fee for a meeting room isn’t an option.

That left me looking for other options. Rather than being stressed or upset about it, I’ve felt really positive about the process. Truth be told, I’m relishing the chance to make a change: we’ve been meeting at the same place at roughly the same time for years, and while consistency is easy and comfortable, it was also starting to get a little stale. It felt like time to shake things up.

Through the process of considering different venues and trying to find something that would suit us (that was also free and available at the right sort of time for us), I realised that meeting rooms were really turning me off. While they’re handy, in that they give us a comfortable, private room to talk about whatever we want (and the group is notorious for wandering into touchy subjects, which I encourage because artists should talk about the tricky stuff), the nature of many of these meeting rooms is that they’re enclosed and insular.

Brisbane is a gorgeous city. There are many beautiful places to visit, and it seems like such a shame to talk about art while shut away in a room. So, I decided to try something different this year, to shake the group up and see what works: moving the meeting to a weekend daytime time slot (rather than our previous Friday evenings), and picking a different venue each month.

Finding someplace that a dozen people can sit and chat for a couple of hours is a challenge, especially when the needs for suitable shade and public transport access are added in. I have a few ideas for venues, most of them outdoors (or close to outdoors).

I don’t have to do this entirely on my own, which is a great thing. I did a survey of my usual attendees, to make sure I’m going for suitable times and locations (there’s no point me setting up the meetings if no-one is able to come!). And I’ve had a heap of offers of help, which I’m incredibly grateful for.

I’m looking forward to finding us suitable meeting places and seeing how they impact our discussions. It means I’ll have to do some scouting, which is tricky because I’m trying to keep it as central as possible so everyone can get to it, but that’s a long trip for me and parking is a pain near the centre of the city. (There are some gorgeous locations out near the coast where I live, but they’re too far for most people to travel to.) The time and energy to scout are going to be tricky to find, but I’ll work that out.

Uncertainty can be really tricky for me to handle – I have a tendency to get stressed about it – but I’m learning how to handle it (it’s a process). In this case, I’m comforting myself with the knowledge that it’s temporary. I’ve got a bad-weather/emergency backup venue in mind, in case of rain or more intense heat. If the whole roving experiment doesn’t work out, I can always find a meeting room to book that won’t charge us anything (I know of an option or two). And it’s only for this year; next year, we can always book in to the library again and return to our previous pattern.

So, I’m doing a bit of an experiment, but I’m looking forward to it. Here’s hoping that our roving meetings inspire us and our writing! I’m getting a lot of requests to hold a meeting in a cemetery, so what’s the worst that could happen, right?

Our first foray is this weekend, out to a familiar venue because it’s where we held last year’s KoP and TGIO for NaNoWriMo. I have a sneaky plan in mind.

Wish me luck!

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CWG: ‘Strong’ Characters

There’s a lot of advice around about how strong characters are better and should be in your story. There’s a lot of advice available about how to make your characters strong. But what does that mean? What is a ‘strong’ character and why are they good?

The truth is that there are many different answers to those questions, and it depends a lot on what you’re writing and what you’re trying to achieve.

The Creative Writing Group took on this topic and explored the different aspects of how and why we might use ‘strong’ characters, and what the push for ‘strong female characters’ means.

Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.

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CWG: Dialogue

In March, the Creative Writing Group talked about making our characters talk!

Sadly, the recording hit a slight technical issue and we lost the first part of the discussion. This was mostly the discussion of the more technical aspects of presenting dialogue: punctuation, paragraphing, conventions, etc.

I’ll be writing up my notes soon (links will be forthcoming). In the meantime, here’s the rest of the discussion. Enjoy!

Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.

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CWG: Writing Action Scenes

I’m so far behind! This is me, catching up on posting these fun and frolicsome discussions.

This one is from back in February, when we were discussing what makes a good action scene, how text differs to screen, and how to make the most of the tools at our disposal.

Enjoy!

Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.

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CWG: Points of View and Distinctive Voices

Everyone speak up! (Picture: Shure microphone via Wikipedia)

Everyone speak up!
(Picture: Shure microphone via Wikipedia)

In January’s Creative Writing Group meeting, we discussed using different Points of View (PoV) in our writing, and how to make our narrative voices distinct. This is particularly useful when writing pieces with multiple PoVs.

Listen to the meeting’s discussion here:

Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.

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CWG: NaNoWriMo tips and tricks

NaNoWriMo: writers unite!

NaNoWriMo: writers unite!

This is a recording of my Creative Writing Group discussion from October 2015. It was during the run-up to NaNoWriMo, so we discussed some tips and tricks for how to survive the month of novelling madness, and how to win.

One to bookmark for future NaNoWriMo adventures!

Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.

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CWG: Tropes vs Stereotypes

To pigeon-hole or to fight the box? (Picture via Wikipedia)

To pigeon-hole or to fight the box?
(Picture via Wikipedia)

As mentioned recently, I’ve been recording my Creative Writing Group discussions with a view of getting them online and available for people to enjoy. So here’s the first one!

This one was recorded back in September 2015, in which we discussed tropes, stereotypes, and how and when we should use them in our writing. Here it is for your delectation:

Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.

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Creative Writing Group discussion recordings

Everyone speak up! (Picture: Shure microphone via Wikipedia)

Everyone speak up!
(Picture: Shure microphone via Wikipedia)

Sometimes, people can’t make it to the CWG when we’re discussing topics they are interested in. I get requests for notes for these sessions, or have catch-up discussions with people if they particularly want the info and are willing to come meet up with me another time. It’s never as good as being there, though!

In the interests of making things easy for people, and also for fun, I decided to try recording one of our meetings and see how it came out. I let everyone know at the beginning of the meeting that it was being recorded and destined to be put on the internet (so, object now or forever be heard online). I also asked people not to talk over each other, as can often happen in our slightly-chaotic meetings.

I’m a n00b when it comes to digital audio things, so it was a bit of an experiment. As it happens, it all worked pretty well. The people at the meetings I’ve recorded (3 so far!) were more decorous than usual, and the discussions went fairly smoothly. It was recorded using my laptop’s built-in mic and Quicktime, and picked everyone in the group fairly well, except a couple of the quieter, deeper voices. I think you can make everyone out, though.

Since then, I’ve figured out how to compress the files (the original recording was about 1.8GB) and convert them into a more friendly format. I haven’t edited them, as we don’t tend to get downtime in our meetings and they’ll make more sense if everything is there, so the recordings are around 1.5-1.75 hours long each.

Right now, I have 3 recordings sorted out. I’ll be posting them up soon and linking them up with the CWG meeting schedule, for easy reference. We were unfortunately unable to record December’s meeting due to some technical hitches (now fixed!), but I’ll be aiming to continue the pattern going forward.

I should note that the discussions tend to be rambling, adult in content, and involve some swearing. I tend to let the group discuss what interests them, so some tangents are tolerated, while others are curtailed in the hopes of keeping on-topic and getting through everything we’re there to tackle. I try to foster confidence and an easy exchange of ideas, and try not to shut anyone down if I don’t have to. It’s a balancing act, and tricky because a lot of the group love to talk, particularly about writing.

Feedback is welcome on these sessions! Is there anything we missed? How was my facilitation? Did you find it useful?

Future sessions will include further refinement of the process, such as using a proper external mic. Posts coming up soon with the audio attached!

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2015 in retrospect

Sometimes when the tide is rising, you just gotta keep walking (Picture: credit unknown)

Sometimes when the tide is rising, you just gotta keep walking
(Picture: credit unknown)

2015 was, in all, a pretty low year for me. It involved a lot of struggling, fighting with my health, stress with the day job, and trying to get back to a project that wasn’t playing ball.

But is that all that is worth talking about?

Thinking back over what I had hoped to achieve this year, let’s see how the tally really goes.

Life Stuff

I had aimed to mostly stay in my job and keep my head above water. I wound up changing my job, but I’m in the lucky position of still having one, and continuing to be able to support me and my family. While it’s a struggle and a source of stress (though less now than it was in the middle of the year), I am immensely grateful for it.

I didn’t get to all of the house reorganisation that I wanted to, but I have some plans around that, which I’ll be talking about in an upcoming post.

My health continues to suck, much of which is related to the aforementioned work stress. I also wound up having to have a root canal this year (yay!), which sucked up much of my medical needs budget. More saving (and dental work) required. Joy.

Writing

The new-look Apocalypse Blog Book 1

The new-look Apocalypse Blog Book 1

So, with all that going on, how did the writing thing go?

First of all, and most importantly, Starwalker Book 4 is complete. This, of everything, was the biggest achievement of 2015, and I can’t be delighted enough with it.

Book 4 was a rocky ride, took a wrong turn or two, but I got it back on track and to the end I wanted it to have. It is the culmination of 5 years of work, which produced over 400,000 words that I shared with the world. I have a wonderful readership, for whom I am eternally grateful. Even now, months into a hiatus that I hadn’t intended to take this long, they offer me support. I am a lucky writer.

I’ve talked at length on this blog about my struggles and ponderings around Starwalker, so I won’t go over it again. Let’s just say that the hiatus lasted longer than expected and didn’t quite go to plan. That’s okay. Plans must change when they meet reality.

As for other projects, there has been limited movement:

  • Vampire Electric was put on the back burner this year when I decided to dedicate this year’s NaNoWriMo to Starwalker instead.
  • Work has started on the new editions of the Apocalypse Blog ebooks. I’m about a third of the way through.
  • Vampire Victim Support Group got a short boost when I was investigating Inkspired, a serial-friendly publishing forum. It languished a bit in the latter part of the year.
  • Boomflowers is a new project, also on Inkspired, which suffered the same languishing fate.
  • Splinter Soul poked its head up during NaNoWriMo and is starting to take shape in the shadows.
  • I experimented with writing and releasing a comedy erotica story. It isn’t selling great yet, but I’m working towards the next installment and hope to bulk up the numbers once I can call it a series. This was great fun to write and something of a departure for me. Always nice to try something different!
  • Other projects fell by the wayside and remain on my list.

In less fictional realms, I’ve been better with updating this blog and keeping it going. I’ve been expanding the scope by adding author interviews and book reviews, and I hope to do more of the same going forward.

The other big thing I did in 2015 was to get an anthology project in motion (with some friends and colleagues; it wasn’t all me). We’re in the depths of editing at the moment, after stalling over the NaNoWriMo/holiday period.

Writing Events and Community

Look! It's a tiny writing dragon! (Picture by jrrhack)

Look! It’s a tiny writing dragon!
(Picture by jrrhack)

In 2015, I organised and ran the usual events. The Creative Writing Group is still going strong, and recently I have started to record our meetings (these will go up online as soon as I figure out how and where). Attendance continues to be healthy to all of the events, with the usual tides of newcomers joining and others drifting away.

I am ever grateful for the lack of drama in my writing community.

I spread my monthly events out in 2015, instead of having them on the same weekend, and that is working well. It spreads the cost and effort, which helps everyone out, I think.

The Writers’ Asylum went well and I tried a slightly different format that turned out to work well. Learnings will be carried forward to this year’s, which is mostly written already (I’m so organised! Hey, it happens sometimes.).

We tried some new stuff with the NaNoWriMo events this year, with some mixed results. They all went well on the whole, though, and I’m happy that we’re continuing to head in the right direction. I have awesome people around me, so it’s all worth it.

So, all in all, it wasn’t a terrible year. Things were achieved. Other things weren’t. It’s hard to see the positive when the fatigue is heavy (like it is right now), but laying it all out like this helps.

I have some ideas for 2016 and how to make it better than what has come before. More on that coming soon. In the meantime, hope your reflections and resolutions are going well.

Goodbye, 2015. I don’t think I’ll miss you!

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Event schedule changes

Sometimes when the tide is rising, you just gotta keep walking (Picture: from sunflower on topit.me)

Sometimes when the tide is rising, you just gotta keep walking
(Picture: from sunflower on topit.me)

This month was a bit of scramble. The Creative Writing Group schedule was still waiting to be agreed with my venue, which meant that all of the writing events I run were in flux, because they’re all linked.

Over the past three or four years, I’ve had a big writing weekend once a month: the CWG on the Friday night followed by the Monthly Write-in the next day. It’s a tiring weekend, usually on the heels of a full week at work. But it was easy for people to remember and for us to coordinate, so it worked.

Over the past three or so years, we have also organised weekly or fortnightly drinks meet-ups, which are less writing-focussed and more about getting together to hang out, chat, and connect. But attendance to these dropped off over the last year, until only a few of us would turn up.

The drinkies meet-ups were held after work sometime in the middle of the week, which was again draining for me (anything that extends my working day has an impact on my fatigue). Between one thing and the next, eventually these meet-ups dribbled to a stop.

I have noticed a couple of trends related to these events and their timing:

  1. The writing weekend increasingly wipes me out. The Sunday of that weekend is a write-off (pun intended), as I need to rest in order to be able to go to work the next week.
  2. Some attendees have to choose which event on the writing weekend to go to, either due to home commitments or financial limitations.
  3. People do want drinkies meet-ups but struggle to remember when it’s on.

This all led me to have a serious think about the schedule we had set up for ourselves, and how we might make it easier on ourselves. The solution seems simple: split up the events to spread the energy and monetary load, and get a regular cadence to make it easier for people to remember.

Now, this could be counter-productive, or at least make no difference at all. Spreading the events out could mean fewer opportunities to truly rest; there’s something to be said for getting costly things over and done with in one go. There’s also no guarantee the spread will help with the financial load for our attendees (I’m paid monthly, which is a difference cadence from most others I know, so I’m not in a good position to predict what this will mean for everyone).

But, on the other hand, it could make all the difference in the world. And there’s something about being organised in a clear, concise way that makes me happy (there are those OCD tendencies again).

After some consultation with my lovely co-ML (Municipal Liaison; event organiser for NaNoWriMo, but we don’t restrict ourselves to November), we decided to go with the new plan and see how it pans out.

Now, our monthly event plan looks something like this:

  • First Saturday: Monthly Write-in
  • Following Thursday: Drinkies!
  • Third Friday: Creative Writing Group
  • Following Thursday: Drinkies!

The respective pages have been updated. For those Brisbanites connected with us on our Facebook group, events have been set up for extra help with tracking and reminders.

I think we’re good to go. I’m excited to see how well it works, and I’m looking forward to a more even load. I might have fewer ‘free’ weekends, but I think it’ll work. And it means that I get to see my people more often, which is never a bad thing.

If any of you are in Brisbane, I hope you drop by and say hi!

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