Monday, August 18, 2008

Iowa Writing Coach: What Makes a Good Writing Group?

Sitting with my writing group in the Iowa City ped mall last month at an outdoor cafe under a locust tree, watching the sky turn pink at the gloaming, I was thinking that the craic was good, to use a line from Van Morrison's song, "Coney Island." ("Craic as in the Irish term for "fun or abandonment, often in the context of drinking or music.")

After we discussed the piece for the night, we branched off into a more general discussion of why we write (to make order out of chaos, for catharsis, for understanding), why we blog (to reach out and connect from our writers’ solitude; to write something more focused for an audience than journal entries; to build a platform for the eyes of agents and editors; and maybe above all, to build/assert/confirm our identities as writers), why My Space appeals to some and blogs to others (MySpace for extroverts, blogs for introverts?) and, finally, how to live (Hope: move to England to write and house-sit for B&B owners; Jennifer: manage her way through a separation and single-parenting; Marji: watch her nest partially empty; Kate: indulge in her love of herding-dog tournaments; me: make the freelancing life work at least another year, to retain flexibility for the arrival of our first grandchild).

The conversation ebbed, the sun receded, the sky turned indigo, and I kept thinking of another Van Morrison line from the same song: “Wouldn’t be great if life was like this all the time?”

What makes a good writing group? Maybe it’s about strong, opinionated people who occasionally get touchy with each other (we’re all sensitive writers, after all) but know how to make it right. Maybe it’s about time – we’re seven years and counting. Maybe it’s about the glass of wine we enjoy when we’re together, or the great cafĂ© food or the dishes we bring when we meet in one of our homes. Maybe it’s about meeting in Iowa City and walking the same streets as Flannery O’Connor once did, or Kurt Vonnegut, or Jane Smiley. Maybe it’s about honesty in criticism, generosity in praise, celebration in publication.

Whatever the reason, the craic is good with my writing tribe.

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On behalf of Exile Productions and Exile Publishing, many thanks for plugging Van Morrison and, for your readers’ info, up-to-the-minute news on Van’s latest album - Keep It Simple - and 2008 shows is, of course, available on and and, for a limited period, you can still see Van's exclusive BBC sessions at . We’re also pleased to announce that an increasing archive of exclusive film footage of Van Morrison performances has now been made available for fans on Exile’s official YouTube channel at .

Thanks again for your plug.