Groups give writers a venue to unleash their creativity
Steamboat Springs — On Thursday, the table was scattered with the detritus of creativity — crumpled paper, pens and pencils, folders full of research notes and chocolate.
Fourteen people were gathered to read their work aloud for the critical ears of other writers.
Ernie Weiss held six pages of a book he is writing about the history of his family during the Holocaust. As he read, he folded an entire chapter of history into a retelling of the boxing match between Joe Lewis and the German, Max Schmeling.
In Weiss’ telling of it, his uncle sat next to the radio listening to the fight and cheering for Lewis. As he chain-smoked and leaned closer to the radio, the fight was about things bigger than the two men in the ring. It was about the war and fists beating Germany.
“It was June 22, 1938,” Weiss wrote. “It was a great day for Adolph Hitler.”
The fight lasted only 124 seconds, but Weiss wrung every bit of tension out of those two minutes. When he finally stopped reading, there was silence in the room.
In any other setting — reading to friends or family — someone would have said, “Wow. That was really good,” and let the commentary stop there.
But that isn’t why people bring their writing to the Steamboat Writer’s Group. They come because they want bare-knuckle punches and honest critiques. They come because they want to become better writers and you don’t become a better writer by having someone tell you, “That was really good.”
After a moment of appreciative silence, the critiques began and everyone had been listening closely. They made small points about the way one sentence sounded against the next. They questioned word choices and character names. Sometimes the suggestion was as simple as removing an “and” or a “that” from a sentence.
They gave the kind of critiques that only writers could give, and the author made notes on his manuscript.
Halfway through the meeting, Mary Calhoun pushed her chair away from the table and excused herself. She was leaving for the winter and would see the group again in April.
“I’ll miss you,” she said. “I don’t find anything like this in San Clemente.”
The Steamboat Writers Group meets at noon every Thursday in the baggage room of the Depot Art Center, just as they have since 1982.
There are the regulars who come every week and the stranglers who show up occasionally to read a passage in a stalled book they are writing.
After Weiss garnered enough notes to keep him re-writing until the next meeting, it was Sandra Sherrod’s turn to read.
She read from her children’s fantasy book where the characters wander through places such as “The Land Where Anything Is Possible.”
Then Kathi Guler asked for a critique of the 15-word description she wrote for her third book about Britain’s pre-Arthurian called “The Anvil Stone.” Even such a simple task, the writers in the group took very seriously.
Becoming a member of a writing group eliminates all excuses for not writing. Members hold each other accountable for work undone and encourage each other through work completed. New writers may not be ready for the kind of analysis that comes along with joining a group like the Steamboat Writers Group.
Across town at Epilogue Book Co., a different kind of writing circle meets. The group meets on the first and third Wednesday nights of each month and is a more informal group for young writers.
Janel Moore started it last year with a core group of four to six writers. She modeled it after a poetry class she took in college in which the professor acted as a facilitator and let the group lead itself.
“The open environment helps people expand their horizons,” she said. “You’re not facing criticism in this group unless you ask for it.
“It’s good to have a group of artists with like minds get together. Sometimes, we just break away from reading work and get into what I call creative discussion.”
On some occasions, Moore has come to the group with writing exercises. People write on an assigned topic or in an assigned way and then read what they’ve written aloud.
Although the environment is much different from the Steamboat Writer’s Group, the feeling is the same. It’s a gathering of people who love words and love to write.
Moore, 27, said she has tried to start a group like this in every town she has lived in, but it never worked before Steamboat.
Most of the people who attend the writing group at Epilogue are college-age or recent college graduates. Some of the participants had never read work aloud before coming to the group.
A girl walked into the group and announced that she wasn’t a good writer.
She said, “I’m not a writer. I’m a ranter.”
“When she read her stuff, it was good. It was good because it was her own voice.”
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Things have changed since Joe Ghiglia and Rick Bear graced the stage at the Ratskeller, located in the basement of Inn at Thunderhead in Ski Time Square, in the 1970s.