*Originally posted July 1, 2012
A couple of months ago, Gail Anderson-Dargatz–author of the much-loved novels, The Cure for Death by Lightning and, most recently, Turtle Valley–asked us to write a guest blog post for her website. July marks our tenth anniversary as a writing group, so we wrote the following piece on how we’ve managed to stick together. You can also read it on Gail’s site, where you can browse posts by other guest bloggers, including Frances Itani, Vincent Lam and Eva Stachniak.
Ten years ago, June Hutton, Jen Sookfong Lee and Mary Novik were aspiring novelists looking for confirmation that the books we were writing were worth reading. Ten years ago, we met in a room at UBC, eager to start the Booming Ground novel workshop we had each signed up for. After the workshop, we decided to stick together and form our own group. We promised that we would work through these novels all the way to publication, even though publication was never a guarantee. And we came up with a catchy name: SPiN.
Ten years later, we’re still together. Ten years later, we have five published books among the three of us and three more books in the works. And, most impressively, ten years later, we still like each other!
Aspiring writers often ask us how we’ve managed to work together all these years. Writing groups can sometimes fizzle and fade away as members move on to new projects or get tangled up with life. Much of what keeps us together is a matter of happy circumstance. We all live in or around Vancouver. We all like red wine and cookies. And writing is a serious matter for all three of us.
Looking back now, the gravity with which we approached our fledgling writing careers was pretty funny. None of us had an exit plan. All of us were organized planners, writing down every last detail of how we envisioned our publication journeys. We practiced answering questions from journalists. We discussed book tour wardrobes. And all of this with unfinished novels sitting on our desks at home.
But that early planning was essential because our meetings were about getting our books in shape and helping one another navigate the bumpy ride to publication. We were colleagues. Sure, we were friends too, but the more we saw our monthly meetings as valuable work, the more we committed to the group and to our careers as writers.
Our meetings are as much about support as they are about manuscripts. Writing, selling, editing and promoting a book can batter an ego like nothing else. When one of us is down about a negative review, the other two cheerfully point out the many ways in which the reviewer is just plain wrong. When another is feeling overwhelmed by an intense revision, we try to be good listeners as she organizes her thoughts. And when we’re exhausted by family or renovations or ornery computers, we offer wine and empathy in equal measure.
Trying to describe what makes SPiN roll along is a bit like trying to describe the ingredients to a happy marriage. We could talk about honesty or accountability or commitment, but what it really boils down to is that we found each other, we like each other, and we care about the novels that we write. Every day, we chat online, making sure that we describe what we’re working on. Every month we meet and talk about what we’ve done, what we could have done better, and what we’re going to do. We know that the group will always understand our failures. And we also know that it will always, always, celebrate our successes.
But we can’t write a blog post about SPiN without mentioning one more very important reason we’ve stuck together for so long. Years ago, we discovered that literary events are far more fun when you’re part of a trio. Why? Because you never have to lift a glass alone.