Writers reading writers
The Unnamed Writers’ Group offers resources, critique groups and inspiration to writers
Ideas run through the blood, echo in the mind and itch at the fingertips until a writer can do nothing else but scribble them down on napkins, receipts or old mail. For many writers, it all ends there, scraps of paper stuck in a desk drawer or “filed” in a pile of litter on the bedroom bureau.
But what about those writers who want to do more, who want to develop these napkins and receipts into a story, screenplay or article and maybe foster dreams of publication?
Most writers (even the closeted ones) in the Truckee Meadows have heard of the Unnamed Writers’ Group. Three local writers—Carol Davis Luce, Kay Fahey and Cindie Geddes—who got together now and then to swap a yarn founded this group of literary enthusiasts in October 1995. Their little group is now almost 200 writers strong.
The UWG has its general membership meetings on the first Saturday of every month, usually at the Northwest Reno Library. At these soirees, members bask in the wisdom and experiences of guest speakers and professional writers. While the monthly meetings are usually well attended, it is the peer criticism writers can receive from fellow writers and members that fuels membership.
“The real driving force is the critique groups,” says Chris Champagne, UWG president. “They are the engine, the core part of the group. There are at least three to four people in a group writing in a similar genre. I’m part of a science fiction and fantasy group, and we meet monthly to discuss a complete short story or one chapter of a novel.”
There are also groups writing screenplays, fiction, nonfiction, poetry and cookbooks.
“We’ve even got some people right now who want to start a critique group for Spanish speakers,” Champagne says. “And if there is a critique group that you want to join and it’s full, you can make your own.”
The idea behind the critique group is to establish a connection among writers who work in similar genres, who will tell you when your stuff is good, tell you where it needs improvement and tell you when it stinks—only in the kindest possible terms.
Consuelo Beach, 40, was trying to organize her own critique group when she heard of UWG.
“I went to Denmark this summer, and it struck me how social and intellectual these people were,” she said. “They would get together and converse at their cafés. When I came back and tried to organize a writers’ group [at a local café], it was hit and miss. It was hard to get a dedicated group of people together, so I went to the Unnamed Writers’ Group.” Now she is part of a dedicated group of seven people who meet every week, each bringing about 10 pages of work. Their critique groups can run up to three and a half hours long.
On the Wednesday before Christmas, Beach’s group meets for wine and hors d’oeuvres before launching into its critiques. Group member G. T. Snyder, 43, says the feedback is invaluable.
“Everyone looks at things from a slightly different angle,” he says. “It’s hard to critique your own work because you’re so far into it. But when fresh pairs of eyes look at it, they can say where you lost them. With a critique group, you get a lot better a lot faster. You can avoid hack work, which is the bane of the writer’s existence.”
Another group member, Jim Tolles, 23, says sometimes members get a lot of response—positive and negative—to work with, and during the process of critique and revision, writers find what works best for them and their audience.
“You tinker,” he says. “You see if your characters dance and if they don’t dance, you change the music. [In critique] you’re trying to bring out the best in your colleagues.”
But critique isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Clearly, writers are attached to their intellectual offspring, and when their children are boring, choppy or confusing, it can be difficult to bear.
“We all have egos,” Asha Anderson says. She’s been writing all her life and publishes a zine called RedDog Review. “Mine is as big as anybody else’s. But we have to have alligator skin to be writers. Writing is about telling the truth, and I take that to critique group.”
Although the idea of having other people dismantle a literary masterpiece may sound intimidating, Champagne stresses that the group is for almost anyone who enjoys the craft of writing and needs that extra push to produce.
“It’s for people who want to make writing a pursuit and not just a hobby. No. 1, it’s a friendly group. We’re here for everybody.”
Champagne says the best thing about the Unnamed Writers’ Group is that it offers a sense of community for people whose avocation requires virtual isolation.
“As a writer, you get wrapped up in your own head. Being in a community, you remember that you’re not alone,” he says. “It also forces you to be on time and on target.”
Among its other benefits, the UWG offers writing seminars on about a quarterly basis and a monthly newsletter. Membership dues are $15 a year. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.