Our writing group is attempting a group novel. It's the first time I've done something like this, but as with the collaborative short story I wrote with Bren and Zara, collaborators-extraordinaire, at Clarion South this is turning out to be an invigorating experience.
The project came about because we were talking about putting together an anthology for a competition, and I said it would be good if we could attempt something different because we've done the themed antho before, and it's always good to expand your boundaries. So of course our godmother, who heads the group and runs it with the strict eye of a mafioso matron, said, "What exactly did you have in mind?" And of course I had nothing, but that meant some fast thinking on my feet.
So we had another meeting about it, and I was supposed to come in with a more concrete idea when in reality all I still had was this fuzzy notion of what it could be. Thinking on your feet among creative people is always a plus because they can't help chipping in ideas. (Watch the slip into historical present tense.) Godmother listens to it all, putting forth ideas too, and then says, "Well, it could be one of two types of book. Which do you want it to be?" And she talks about the differences. One part of me hopes for one type because that will make me most uncomfortable, but I know too it might be too big a stretch for the group (except for Godmother who is comfortable in both genres). The decision is a group one -- this has long moved away from personal realms into the group consciousness, as such projects have to do to be successful. Everyone has to embrace it or it will fall flat. The group opt for the second option, and I'm happy because this is the one we all can have a go at. Godmother has taken a very wonky idea and made it happen. Every writing group needs someone with her practical know-how -- and her big stick!
And the plot ideas start to fly. Within an hour we have an expanded idea, a rudimentary plot worked out, five characters and their relationships, some minor characters (with a little fleshing out) and the first five scenes mapped out. And everyone's off to write.
One week later, everyone turns up with writing -- er, everyone bar me who didn't realise that we were supposed to have it started. Poor showing on my part. But I email my first scene and the next that night. One of the others emails me back and says I've been reading too much of my male students' work, which I take as a great compliment because I'm writing a male character.
Anyway, I haven't seen the group so energised for a while. Nothing like a new project, something different, to really get you going. I remember when Jack Dann suggested the collaborative story at Clarion. He was facing "the ferals" as he called us. Week 5. We were emotionally and, after four weeks of relentless Qld summer without airconditioning in our rooms, physically exhausted. He said he had to do something to get to us, and those stories really helped turn that week around. I'd come into it very low, and it turned out to be the most exciting of weeks. I think, similarly, that for us, this will be the time that stands out at the end of the year as the most fun and most productive for most of us. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.