Crescendo Magazine Issue 1

Writers Circle

What Is a Writers Circle?

By Katherine Payne

A writers circle has many similarities to a workshop group. Perhaps I’m putting too fine point on it, but for me, the name is significant. A “workshop” calls up images of an apprenticeship model where a master of a particular craft demonstrates and works with students as they develop proficiency and then mastery within that particular craft. For writing this is an important model and the backbone of the majority of creative writing programs. I in no way want to denigrate that model as I have benefited from it immensely and know many others who have as well. But a “writers circle” calls up slightly different connotations. “Circle” is a flexible term that can refer to any group of people who associate with each other. It is freed from the apprenticeship model, as a circle implies equality and a bond shared among members. A geometry that can be turned in any direction. It also has feminist undertones, such as a “sewing circle” that might provide a space for consciousness raising among a group of women. Over time, I have come to better understand and appreciate the necessity of community writers circles. They offer a place to be known as a writer—which, especially for a burgeoning writer, can be important. They offer a space that allows for conversation, education and learning, creativity, skill building, and supportive relationships. They build community and serve as a space to have dialogue about the creative process and whatever else people are writing about or are interested in. In my group we like to utilize the term "writers circle" without a possessive apostrophe (writer's circle or writers' circle) to imply a strong sense of plurality and sharing.


7 Reasons Why You Should Join or Start Your Own Writers Circle / a sly manifesto

By Katherine Payne

Word cloud of what group members said about Writer's Circle1.  Why not?

2.  Everything's better with friends

Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING. But. Writing and trying to get published can often feel like an isolating, lonely journey. You find yourself wondering: Who am I as a writer? Who am I writing for--will anyone besides me (and obligated friends/family) ever read it? Is my work any good? And of course, what actually IS this word-based monstrous thing I've decided to devote time and energy to?

3.  Make friends you don't have yet

A writers circle satisfies many of the problems associated with writing and trying to get published. Readers (who are not your adoring and obligated friends/family) will give you their honest take on your writing and sit with you empathetically in the writing moments of despair and triumph. Laugh with you. Cry with you. Your group members can talk the talk and walk the walk because they are also writers who have some sense of what you're going through.

While in school we often study writers as independent individuals, in reality, most writers have communities around them supporting them and their practice. Work like the best. Have peers read and give honest feedback on your work. Communities are held together by individuals connecting with individuals. As we find commonalities in our desire to write, improve our work, and share our work, we find ways to connect as people--embrace our differences and talk about what is going on in our communities. So relax, have fun, make friends. And who knows--your next lifelong friend and colleague might be sitting at the cafe table with you or chatting with you over video conference in your next writers circle meeting.

4.  Write stuff you haven't written yet

I've been there--you have this wildly brilliant idea for a book, a poem, a story, a memoir, a collection, a play, a screenplay, a . . . something. But it sits in your head or on your computer instead of being written or having a life of its own in print. A writers circle supports your best (and worst) creative endeavors until they are realized in the concrete real life way you want them to be. Deadlines and Dead Lines. We've all had them. They give us a finite goal to work towards, a way to measure our progress and a way to hold ourselves accountable to others and ourselves. Writers circles have built in community that supports your having a draft (even if it's a horrible first draft) "complete" in order to share it with the group. That alone is a huge step forward for many of us. Maybe you're lost mid-project and don't know where to go next. Or maybe you think what you wrote is okay, but have no idea how others will read and interpret it. A writers circle can speak to a lot of that confusion and allow you to hear others (not just yourself) brainstorm solutions to some of the thorniest writing issues. Writers circles support you in your relationship with your work--wherever you are in the process or however you feel about it now.

Also worth noting--in a writers circle you are letting yourself be open to the unknown. The unknown idea. The unknown problem. The unknown solution. The unknown within your group meeting. And the unknown within your own work. No joke--this is scary. But it is also exciting and part of what makes us want to be writers in the first place. The joy of encountering the unknown even within the most mundane and familiar. Inhale. Exhale. Breath into the unknown is how we live and how we put words on the page.

5.  Let go. Let grow.

Sharing your writing with others is a radical exercise in letting go. Entrusting your readers to lend earnest attention to your words. Being open to whatever they might say about it. It's uncomfortable. So why do we do it? Well most of us are not naturally good at revising our own work. It takes hearing the responses of readers over and over before we begin to anticipate what readers want or expect from us, and then, how we as writers can ultimately shape readers' desires and expectations.

For real. It's painful sometimes to hear others' honest feedback--whether it be positive or negative. But trust that no matter what happens, you are learning. Your work is growing because it is now alive in the minds of others in your writers circle. You will see your work in new ways because you will glimpse it through the eyes of these readers. People's reactions and thoughts in the group meeting are a microcosm of how a cross section of readers might react to your work if they were to see it in print or live--giving you valuable insight about what you're doing, who it matters to, and ways it succeeds or could succeed. The truth is we're never as good or as bad at writing as we think we are because our relationship to writing and to our work changes daily. Learn and embrace your own process. It takes time to figure out what works for you and what doesn't. Hearing from others about their process might give you ideas about yours. Trust yourself to fail. Trust yourself to succeed. Writing is a skill. Reading, listening, thinking, and talking are also skills that are synergistic to writing. Each of these will improve as you participate in your writers circle. Find out what happens to you and your work as you let go and let grow. Also remember that if nothing else happens, you have shared your work and it has grown and it has come back to you in a new way. That is a victory. If hearing other people's feedback does nothing else other than help you hear your own voice, then you have succeeded. You are always the most important reader of your own work.

6.  Publish stuff you haven't published yet

Remember the last time your work was published--how excited you felt when you found out? Replicate that. Or maybe publication hasn't happened for you yet but you're curious about what it feels like. Embrace that curiosity. People write for many reasons. One of them is to see their work live beyond them and their lifespan. Things that get published get preserved. Your published writing may affect people you may never meet, go to places you may never go, live longer than you will live.

Let's be honest, publication looks and feels different to different people. For some it's a bestseller. For others, an indie press. For yet others it's self-publishing. For some a literary magazine like Crescendo (we're partial to this one). For some a blog or other online content. For some a a play or movie. For some, a journal or a personal set of writings. One of the things you will learn in your writers circle is that there are many different types of writers, many different goals for publication, and many different routes to get there. Yours will be yours. Find out what it might be and go!

7.  Take pride in the fact that you're doing something for you and your communities

When you participate in a writers circle you are saying to yourself, your communities, family, and friends: I prioritize this aspect of myself and my work. What stems from my mind, my heart, and my latent creativity is alive in me and in others. My words matter.

In this unfolding writers circle moment, you are participating in a community of like-minded individuals. This community also happens to be free from (sometimes helpful sometimes not) overly determined and meticulously structured formal education spaces, free from (sometimes helpful sometimes not) expensive or exclusive writing and publishing venues meant to package you and your work as a product. And free from (sometimes helpful sometimes not) anything else you could be doing on a given weeknight. Revel in this space.

Ideally you and your group members meet each other in person at a cafe, bookstore, or other space where you are supporting a local business. But if not, that's also cool. One of the features of a writers circle is that it is adaptable to the needs of its members. Writers circles often surprise us. We end up finding things we didn't expect--new ideas, new points of view, new questions that challenge us to be better, new friends/acquaintances. Unexpected gifts along the way of our journey through writing.