During the first seminars of the four-day 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference, conference organizer and literary agent Michael Larsen challenged those in attendance to form writing groups. He pressed for volunteers to start a fiction group, a young adult group, and a non-fiction group. He encouraged people to meet up afterward to discuss the potential.
I raised my hand to lead the non-fiction effort. Immediately after the seminar four people pressed business cards in my hand, eager to get started.
During the conference I scouted for others who I knew would add to the robust and expert feedback that makes a group thrive. By conference’s end I had seven other writers in mind for the group. A month later seven of those eight gathered to launch our writing group. Two were in attendance by Skype, one from Seattle, one from Mexico, while the rest of us gathered in downtown San Francisco.
With some tweaks from the members, we agreed on a format a bit more intensive than other groups I had joined. For two hours once a month, we’d meet leading up to next year’s SFWC with the purpose of writing something ready to pitch.
We’d dedicate one hour to two writers at each we meeting, allowing us all to have an hour of feedback every quarter.
Those presenting their work send it out to the group at least a week before the meeting. The rest of the group reads it and marks it up in track changes. We then synthesize our comments for an overview discussion during the group. We then follow-up after the meeting by emailing our detailed edits.
This format allows us to vet more pages than a group with limited time given to every writer. We decided we can send up to 25 pages. This intensive, detailed and thorough review from six other writers with different skills, experiences and expertise is the foundation of the group. We’ve only met once, but the feedback was exceptional. The quality and care of each writer’s feedback was evident. We all learned thanks to one brave writer who went first. Even in the comments I wrote for her, I caught flawed patterns in my own work. In helping her, I was encouraged to get back to the drawing board myself.
None of us knew each other when the conference started, but the common goal and dedication to craft has stitched us together for the next year. We have different projects and different goals but a common respect for the process and ardor for the art, and the results it may bring.
And who joined us for the first meeting? Mike Larsen himself.
“This is what the conference is all about,” he told me.
This is also how it lives on.
OTHER LINKS ABOUT #SFWC2105:
By Doug Piotter: Starving Artist given new life at SFWC2015