We are once again shining a spotlight on members of the Writing NSW community to learn more about their writing journey. This month we look at the Writing NSW Open Genre writing group who meet online every Thursday evening. The group are a long-time fixture with us and have had many successful members over the years. As the name suggests they are an open genre group and welcome all styles of writing. We checked in with their convenor Jack Peck to see how it was all going since their move online.
Open Genre has been a Writing NSW writing group for a very long time, can you give us a brief history of how it all began?
The group formed almost twenty years ago but I’ve only been with Open Genre since 2017. So, for me at least, the group’s origins are lost in the mists of time. I can tell you one of the principal strengths of the group, and the key reason for its longevity, is that it is ‘OPEN’ Genre. By exposing all members to memoir, poetry, screenplay, historical fiction, even musicals etc, our constructive criticism allows all members to develop skills outside their comfort zones owing to the diversity of genres canvassed.
Moving from an in-person writing group to an online group, what are some of the challenges and benefits you’ve found with virtual meetings?
While a few of our long-term members missed the interactivity of real life, in-person meetings, by meeting online we can accommodate folks who live remotely and would otherwise find it impossible to travel to Writing NSW. In fact, that’s one reason we’ve agreed to continue online rather than return to the building: we eliminate the need for the commute (plus those of us who would like to can have a glass of wine and not worry about driving home).
How do you structure your meetings in an online format?
We believe our structure is important to the group’s success. We have written guidelines to ensure everyone provides constructive and helpful criticism. In our meetings we provide twenty minutes for each reader each week. A person typically reads for ten minutes, then gets 10 minutes of feedback from everyone in attendance. Readers are selected via a spinning wheel to assure fairness. Folks with publishing deadlines are given first priority. If we have more readers than can be accommodated on the night, they are given “first cab off the rank” slots the following week.
We often hear about the success of your members, what have your members been up to lately?
One of our members, Ally Burnham, wrote a full-length movie screenplay, Unsound, that began streaming on Netflix worldwide after its successful launch in mainstream theatres in Australia. Various members have over the recent past: launched collections of short stories and fictionalised memoirs, published biographies of famous scientists, and taken topical poetry to spoken word stages throughout Sydney and Europe. Another group of our members has begun to assemble speculative fiction stories for publication later in the year.
How do you keep your writing group members motivated after all these years?
Like me, some folks initially joined the group with modest intentions; they want to perhaps produce a memoir for their families or realise some other work for their own pleasure. However, over time the growing confidence they gain from the encouragement of our members and their successes sometimes inspires them to consider that the wider world may be receptive to what they are doing. This realisation is sometimes slow to emerge, but everyone, no matter how far they wish to take their work, always comes to know that they are improving week by week.
What top tips do you have for anyone who wants to start an online writing group?
Online writing groups actually work in a very similar way to in-person groups. The most important thing is getting the structure right so that everyone in the group has the opportunity to share their work and feel confident that the feedback they receive is constructive and will improve their writing. You’re welcome to follow my advice on structure above. I’d also be happy to provide advice to anyone interested in starting a writing group of their own.
Join Open Genre
Open Genre meet online via Zoom on Thursday evenings, 6.30-9pm. Visit Writing Groups or contact Writing NSW for more information and to join.
Starting your own writing group
For more information about how to host online meetings or how to start a writing group, visit our resource sheets for writers. If you would like to start your own writing group, either onsite at Writing NSW or online using our Writing NSW Zoom account, get in touch.