FAQ to a Writing Group Moderator

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Eight months into the year and I have finally realized my long time dream of creating and moderating a real-time writing group! Yoohoo. Here is a list of the Top 5 questions folks ask me, when they hear about Chennai Writers’ Ink.

  1. So what do you actually do in this writing group?

We meet once a month on second Saturdays from 4:30pm until people are ready to leave! The agenda revolves around three components: Critique each others’ submissions; attempt a short, timed writing exercise and read it aloud; discuss and share thoughts on the art, craft and business of fiction writing. Our primary goal is get our novels finished and our fiction fine-tuned, and this we do by critiquing each others’ works. There is an official googlegroup email thread where WIPs and documents are exchanged securely. We practice the adage: “Help others, and thus help yourself.”

3B

  1. Why are you so keen on managing a writers’ community? I mean, how important is it really in the big picture?

It’s the difference between living alone in a house on a deserted street and living alone in a hut in a commune. Each has its merits, but sooner or later, the commune wins. Writing is a solitary act, and there comes a point in every writer’s life where they need some literary companionship. I have long wondered (and cribbed and ranted and moaned) at the dearth of writing groups in Chennai / India. Then one day I just got tired of my own whining and started a group myself. If you want to know more about the backstory of this venture, please click here.

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  1. Why the insistence on critiquing each other’s works? Shouldn’t a writing group be… writing?

You’re right, writing is an act that does not need outsiders’ help. But getting feedback on your writing… yep, now that is a different thing. That’s the only way you can learn what works and what doesn’t work in your writing. And most importantly, correct it at the beginning itself. As writers, we become blind to our own works so we need to get a perspective from a third person. And who better than fellow writers? By critiquing each other’s works, we learn to identify the right and wrong writing techniques. It’s like going to part time MFA writing school, without the $$$ fees, grading and snobbish atmosphere. Nice, right?

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  1. But you restrict group membership at 10! How can it really help all those people keen on becoming writers?

Hmm, good question. I can see you’re itching to call us selfish. But you see, selfishness is much preferable to stupidity. This is the first lesson writers learn. You cannot save the world. You can attempt or try to save may be like, three people in the world. Ideally one, but three is max. But not the entire world. If you attempt to do so anyway, not only is it a waste of time and resources, it also results in the destruction of joy, peace and all things sane. Because, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

TBH, I would love to add the entire writing population of Chennai in the group so that our city becomes what London is to the literary world, but past experience has taught me that a crit group cannot handle more than a dozen writers at a time. Any bigger than that, focus and conversation shift to all topics other than writing. And the more people, the more chances of someone taking offence at something and souring the entire equation. A smaller, intimate group can grow together as a family, but a larger group tends to be split into cliques and eventually leads to anarchy.

And I can’t moderate anarchy (no bandwidth). Ergo, membership cap at 10.

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  1. So, that’s it? Only 10 members? No chance for others?

Yes, if capacity is full in this group I am moderating. But if you would like to start a writing group in your neighbourhood, just shoot me a mail and I will give you all my tools and survival tips. Free. Because that’s how, sometimes, the world has the chance of being saved.

Remember the 3 people I told you about? If they help 3 more people and those 3 people help 3 more people… yes, exactly, what they call paying it back, grassroots level. If someone is inspired by our Writers’ Ink group and is willing to take up the responsibility of starting a writing workshop in their neighbourhood (and moderating it – because you must be the change you are willing to see), I would be most delighted to pass on all my trade secrets and together, we can save the world.

I will wait for your call.