April All-Day Writing Workshop

Greetings,

We’re hosting another all-day writing workshop like the ones we did in February and March. Since winter here has been brutal and it looks like we’re having a real spring (“So… lovely weather we’re having”), we’re going to take advantage of it like a [bad simile]. This time we will host it outdoors at Cylburn Arboretum, a glorious place full of flowers, picnic tables, free parking, more nature, and ~inspiration~.

If you are interested but are not on the mailing list, feel free to send an email to writinghour@gmail.com to show interest and get info on times/date, as well as a rain check plan.

More details (and photos) forthcoming.

New Feature in Our Weekly Writing Hour

Starting this Saturday, March 8, we’re going to make a change to our usual Saturday meetups. We are going to introduce a critique/share section every week! The normal Writing Hour will begin at 11, and at 2 we will have an open floor for sharing our work. You may share something you wrote at that Writing Hour (which would be very exciting!) or bring something in advance. If you do bring something with you, bring copies to pass around. You can also email your work, but then you are the mercy of spotty wifi and writers with laptops.

Due to time constraints, there is a limit of three pages of poetry and two pages of prose per week. Longer works are welcome at our monthly writing retreats. Further details and an itinerary on our next retreat to follow soon!

Second Writing Workshop, Literary Magazine, Amtrak Residency

Loyal readers and writers,

As mentioned before, we had our second writing workshop this past Sunday. I think we will be making this a regular monthly event, but as the club grows, we’ll need a bigger venue to accommodate us. I’m especially excited for the warm weather because that means we can have workshops outside where the possibilities and space are endless, or at least not restrictive.

The nuances of our workshops are still in beta as we find our rhythm. For example, my brilliant idea to have a room specially set aside for people to take breaks in was a complete failure. Do not try this at home. I didn’t take into account the principle that people don’t want to move and such forced physical breaks are very unnatural. So I think in the future we will just try to alternate between periods of silence and open floor sessions.

One exciting development is the birth of our literary magazine and the first issue we hope to release in the coming months. Currently we are letting it take shape “organically”, as they like to say, and will have it primarily online with a limited number of printed copies (as struggling writers do). There will be themed releases, art, poetry, short stories, and maybe even longer pieces. Really, we are not limiting ourselves in the scope of genre. The more blurred the genre lines the better.

The other very exciting development in the writing world which everyone is talking about is the rumored Amtrak Residency program. I personally am in so much anticipation over this and at the same time have so many questions: 1) how will participants be chosen? 2) will they require any measurable proof of writing at the end and/or how do you balance (or even define) “writers” versus writers against the adage “you can’t rush art”? After all, is a sludge pile of rushed, sloppy dregs worth more than one great piece that changes the world?? 3) It’s been asked, but what, in Amtrak’s eyes, will constitute a writer?

Perhaps the biggest worry and potential disappointment is that whatever comes of this will only be offered to already established writers and not the hoards of self-published, indie, undiscovered writers for whom this WOULD be the dream (and esteem boost) to push so much work to completion, and we will once again find ourselves in the catch-22 of “this unpaid internship requires five years of relevant experience.”

While exploring Amtrak’s digs on their blog I came upon the observation room, and my first thought was how incredible of a circumstance it would be to host our writing group. Traveling, writing, and beautiful scenery are a heavenly threesome for creativity. As so many have noted, you leave your life and step out of time. On trains (and planes and ships) you become no one and, consequently, free(er). I have done some of my best (or at least most enjoyable) writing while in this sublime state of transit, and I can only imagine what a mind meld may yield in such a state.

My mind is spinning with places this can go: friendly competition, certain themes for certain trips, literary publications based around these programs, and, most importantly, a grab at the gold for people who may not otherwise have the chance for such bounty. Dreams unfulfilled is a sad state of life too many go through due to no fault of their own but merely from unfavorable circumstance that stifle what could be. It is often the right circumstances that push out the potential waiting like a bud within us, and as anyone who’s ever tried to break into a competitive realm knows (so, anyone), the rewards and chances are not dealt purely to those who deserve it.

I digress. Amtrak, I leave you with these highly pertinent questions about the Amtrak Residency: when will it start, when will it end, can we go to Colorado, and what will we do about crying babies?

- Alina (writing for the Writing Hour)

Reflections on First Writing Workshop

This past Sunday, the Baltimore Writing Hour held its first all day writing workshop, and I wanted to reflect a bit on that. The basic idea was to write for a bunch of hours, then finish with a peer review/share/critique session + food. Overall, it went really well, and the main goal – to write for the greater chunk of your waking day – was accomplished.

Quite a few of the things we did worked very well, and a few could have been tweaked, but the experience led to a few observations. The fist successful measure was the “quiet time” rule. We designated four hours of no talking with an hour long “open floor” break in the middle should people want to chat, ask questions, take a break… or should they want to keep going in their work. Clearly, four or five hours of no talking is, for the average person, insane and, for an itinerary, impractical. What’s equally impractical is expecting people to follow this strictly. After all, writing and the creative process is all about letting your inner impulses go unbridled. What ended up happening was that the break wasn’t really used. After two hours, everyone was deep into what they were doing and kept working through.

Which leads me to wonder about what could be done better. Maybe we could have four hours of silent work time. But that would conflict with the next observation, which is that after four hours sitting in place people start going stir crazy. Four hours sitting at a table (much like eight hours sitting at a computer, employer), is not shouldered easily. The table gets crowded, everyone is too close, you hate yourself (yes). You need to get up and walk around.

One solution I thought of to this, and to the silence/talking issue, was to build in a few short breaks. Perhaps three 20 minute breaks. Alternately, since everyone is on their own timeline, there could be a separate space set aside for talking. At the table it’s always silent, and off to the side in another room, people can go in to take breaks and exchange their ideas. The dangers in this are that you lose much of the externally placed willpower, and the circle breaks up, so that the last person writing at the table becomes isolated and loses motivation.

Another factor that worked out well was that we had a good person to space ratio. Everyone had their own space at the table and nobody knocked elbows. This is supremely important. I think you (obviously) don’t want a place that’s too small, but you don’t want a place that’s too big or it will become isolating. Factions will form. Loneliness will breed. It’s important for people to be in each other’s presence… otherwise the motivation all but dies. In all of humanity’s millenia, nothing has trumped the circle for this.

It is an equally optimal setup for the peer review session. We set aside three hours for peer review. With only a few people, it lasted two hours, but you want to be generous with this time. This is the dessert at the end of the meal.

Finally, food: it should run in abundance, with snacks, drinks, and coffee. Coffee is a must. Here, everything must be as comfortable as possible stopping short of beanbag chairs.

So, with all this in mind, here is what I have for an ideal setup: a large, circular table where everyone has enough space, with a bunch of food in the middle on a lazy susan so people can share without getting it everywhere. A table of drinks. A place where people can get up to walk around and change their surroundings. Either this space is where people go to take a break and chat at their leisure (and it can have books, snacks, instruments, anything distracting other than a TV or computer), or there are short breaks built into the hours-long writing span that everyone takes at the same time.

I liken this to gardening: you provide a framework and let nature grow up around it. It will not color in the lines, but without a framework it will go wild and uncultivated and fold in on itself.

Overall, feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Even if we were to repeat exactly what we did it would be great. So without a doubt we’ll do this again sometime soon. The one thing I want is for people to come to some of the regular weekend sessions to see how they fit into the group dynamic, because really at the bottom of it, this is the meat within the pastry dough of our surroundings, the greenery thriving between the garden posts and latticework archways.

Lift-Off From the Comfortable Plateau

Loyal Readers,

It’s time for an update on the Writing Hour. Things have been going well for the past few months, with a natural camaraderie growing out of the weekly meetings. Like a fine wine or whiskey, time has worked its slow magic and allowed the group to develop its unique flavor, and the note that strikes me the most is that people are genuinely interested in forming a community of writers. Since writing is one of the most solitary hobbies and has the danger of isolating one from the real world, this was an initial goal of mine in forming this group.

The downside is that we are now at full capacity. For the past month, our little table at the Towson Public Library has been completely full, and at least as many other people have expressed interest in the writing group to me. As you, astute reader, might guess, this means that the search for a larger venue has begun. We are hoping to find another public place somewhere from Lutherville and Baltimore with great parking and coffee accessibility that’s open on Saturday afternoons and allows for semi-privacy.

Additionally, expansion efforts are underway in other realms. Next month, we are doing a full day writing workshop where we will hole ourselves in for eight hours and focus on writing, finishing with a critique and dinner. It should be great, but as this is my first attempt at ever doing something like this (!), we’ll evaluate at the end and probably make changes to the prototype. Expect a reflective, waxing-philosophical entry a few weeks down the line.

I’m also aiming to incorporate other activities from time to time, perhaps with other writing groups in the area, local venues, and the Baltimore Book Festival. In short, we’ve been on a comfortable plateau, and now is the time for growth.

This is an exciting time for the group, and if you are a writer looking to get some work done and meet other writers in the area, I urge you to stop by with your projects and see if it is for you!