Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Weekend Writer: A Writers' Dojang

Tandon, Howley, Sherlock DiLorenzo
On Wednesday I wrote about this year's Tassy Walden Award winners. What I didn't mention is that three of this year's honorees, Nancy Tandon, Holly Howley, and Heather Sherlock DiLorenzo, come from the same writers' group. These three writers made up thirteen percent of the Tassy winners over all. However, some of those winners were illustrators. These three women made up twenty percent of the winning writers.

In past years, the group had three other members who placed well. And I believe there are two members who were Tassy winners prior to joining the group. One of them went on to be successfully published. Oh, and another member competed against published writers for a spot with The Great CT Caper and won one.

2015 Tassy Honorees
I've written about writers' groups for The Weekend Writer Project before. As I said then, "there are writers' groups, and there are writers' groups." How to explain so much achievement from this one group? Well, I happened to join it last October and have a little knowledge of what goes down there. You know how I love martial arts analogies? Yeah. I feel one coming on.


These people train. They attend NESCBWI workshops and retreats. They read in their genre. They keep up on what is being published in their field. Referring back to Marlo Garnsworthy's recent blog post, they don't assume that they should "automatically know how to write a publishable story." 

Maintaining the Mind of a Beginner

In a martial arts training hall, people of all ranks train together. If the instructor is introducing a yellow belt-level skill, the black belts in the room work on it, too, because there's always the possibility that they missed something when they learned it, there's always the possibility they can improve that skill. They cannot allow themselves to be blinded by the belief that they already know this stuff. They have to maintain the mind of a beginner. (Humility is also a good thing on a very practical level.)

That's how the people in this writing group conduct themselves, also. If they attend a program, they consider how the content can improve their work. If they get feedback on a submission, they don't walk away believing the agent/editor just doesn't get it. Within workshop meetings, they try not to respond to critiques from other members. The point is to listen to what others have to say and assess it.   


In the taekwondo school I attended, people of equal rank usually trained together, trying to share knowledge, the idea being that what one student missed last week, another will have picked up on. They were trying to learn from one another. Even in the tai chi school I attend now, where there is no belt system, students who are just learning a form are positioned within the group of more experienced students during practice, so the newbies can model their movements on the people who already know the form.

The people in this writing group do something similar. "How about this for the first chapter title?" "You might be able to eliminate that first page." One writer might be able to pick up on something another writer has missed.

Getting Up Off the Mat 

Getting knocked down isn't that big an issue in martial arts training. Getting up again is.

The people in this workshop submit their work. If the work comes back, they train some more and submit again. You cannot stay down and move forward, too.

Don't Care For Martial Arts Metaphors?

In the event that you don't love martial arts metaphors the way I do, you can phrase the reasons for this writers' group's success another way: These people study. They keep an open mind about their work. They work together. They persevere.

If you're at the point of looking for a writers' group, this is the kind of group you hope to find.


Nancy Tandon said...

I try to celebrate every step of the journey, and the friendships I've made with other writers always comes out on top of my list. Don't know what I would do without the support! I feel lucky to be part of this group and am so glad you've joined us. You bring a level of wisdom and wit that we all appreciate. Onward!

Gail Gauthier said...

Writers need to enjoy the journey because a lot of writing is journey rather than destination.