Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writers' Collectives, Are they worth it?

Posted by Eileen Astels Watson

I have heard plenty about writers' groups and critique partners through the years, so when I was presented with the idea of getting involved in a local Writers' Collective run as a program through our library, I squinted, wondering why the weird name.

Turns out it's called a Collective for a very good reason. It's basically like working with a critique group only in person, but none of you have each others email address, phone number, or even full name, so you keep the "stranger" aspect intact. The Collective takes the personal aspect out of the whole process. With the exception of meeting in a designated room to discuss your submitted work once a month, you don't interact. For me, turns out that "strangers" who are also writers, prove to be the best no-nonsense, here's-how-it-is, critiquers. As a result, I'm all for Collectives now.

If your library doesn't have such a program, and you're in desperate need of a slap upside the head regarding your writing, beg, plead, and/or petition to your library's events planner to start working on such an opportunity for writers in your area.

Here's the just of how our events planner runs this program.

Each collective has a minimum of five, and a maximum of eight participants. Rooms in each of the library branches are booked from 6:30 pm to closing on the fourth Monday of each month for a "neutral" meeting place. The events planner is the staff liaison between the Collective members, so not getting chummy with one another is totally doable. You have no interaction other than at those set meetings.

The week before your scheduled meeting you send in to the events planner your five page double-spaced submission, with each paragraph numbered (turns out that although this is a pain to do, it works wonderfully in the round robin critique time), or a maximum of 2 poems, with just your first name and last name's initial on the top of each page and in the document name. The staff liaison then sends the submissions out to each member of your Collective to look over, critique, and bring with them to the monthly meeting.

I've got to say, that the single most blessing of this type of Collective is the DISTANCE we have from one another. That may change over time, as we become familiar with one another in those concentrated meetings, but I hope that's a long time coming. No one in my group was mean spirited, or belligerent, but they were HONEST and FORTHRIGHT with their assessments and told it like it was. They shared openly what bugged them about each others piece of writing. They threw in some niceties of course, too, but I glossed over them, and just clung to the eye-openers they passed along. Talk about seeing through unbiased eyes. There is no greater way to learn if you're serious about honing the craft than through the eyes of strangers who are also writers.

What about you, have you ever been involved in a Writers' Collective? If so, what did, or do you find the most beneficial? How does yours run?

Surrendering to Him,



Tamika: said...

Thanks for the post Eileen. This is news for me, I have never heard of a Writer's Collective.

The prospect of a pair of unbiased eyes sounds like a plus for me.

Terri Tiffany said...

Wow! This whole concept is so different yet filled with some awesome possibilities! I know writers will tend to be more honest in their critiques if they don't know the person and for that this would be awesome:) If someone is looking for more personal contact, then this sure wouldn't be it. Glad you liked it!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Tamika, I don't know if it's a new concept or not, but it was new to me, and turned out to be an amazing help.

Terri, I honestly think this type of Collective is great for those who already have critique partners and groups to support you. This just provides the hard-nosed edge to push you that much more. But I definitely need my lovely crit partners too, to soften the blows but still push me forward. I came out of that meeting totally surprised that I didn't want to get to know those ladies anymore just so the dynamics could stay the same. Blunt truth. Do with it as you will.

Robyn Campbell said...

Great post Eileen! I have never heard of this before. Sounds like something Beth and I should start in our area. Thanks for the information. :)

Erica Vetsch said...

Wow, I don't think I've ever heard of this before. When I heard Collective my mind went to Star Trek and the Borg. :)

Resistance is Futile, you will be assimilated into the collective. :D

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Robyn, if you start one, please let me know how it goes for you guys.

Erica, you've been watching to much Star Trek, girl!!! LOL

Susan said...

Eileen, I'm so glad you enjoyed your meeting with the Collective, and found it beneficial. It has helped me develop my craft so much over the last five years. In our group, the anonymity factor is long gone - we have each other's e-mail addresses, and have even met in a couple of homes during the summer months - but the honesty and forthrightness continue to be there, along with a sense of relationship and mutual cheerleading. I hope you continue to find your group a blessing.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

This sounds like an excellent way to interact with other writers. Thanks for sharing!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hey Eileen,

Sounds like a fascinating concept. How did you find out about this? Do they advertise in the local paper or something like that?

It must take a lot of courage to go in and face all these strangers who will potentially feed you to the lions. Yikes.

Good for you! I applaud your boldness!


Eileen Astels Watson said...

Hey, Ladies, it's definitely worth trying out.

Susan Mason: Sue (above commenter) is a librarian and she tipped me onto this opportunity. They only open up for new members twice a year. If you're interested, I'd call your local library and ask if they have such a thing happening in your branches, and ask to get put on the waiting list if need be. A great opportunity!

Karen Lange said...

I hadn't heard of this before; thanks for sharing the info. This idea is interesting and I'll have to check into it locally. Thanks again!

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moses said...

I haven't been through before but I will share a bit of my experience.

I love to write but never had the opportunity to learn about writing until I took a Communication school 2007 with UofN(YWAM) in Ghana.

At the writing week, I learn't how to put my thoughts together in writing, how to involve my reader and also the rules of writing.

At the end of the teaching week, each student was to write a 500 words story of something you experinece with honesty.
It was a big challenge because marks would be awarded and you must to present it in public. I wrote a story which I posted in my blog. Here is the link -

I really enjoyed this 3 months course.
since then, I have Known how to put my thought together in writing.
I would be glad to read your comment.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Moses, sounds like an awesome course, though a busy one. I'll check your story out soon.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

This is a new concept to me, Eileen. Thanks for the information. I'll have to check my library and see if they have a group.

Susan :)

Carla Gade said...

I've never heard of this before, Eileen. Thank you for telling us about it.