About Eric Bahle

Eric Bahle stopped going to his real job so he could be a full time digital author and storyteller. He loves being in the woods with his bow or on the water in his kayak. He lives in Pennsylvania with his lovely wife and a mongrel dog. He is working on his next bestselling story.

How to Run a Writing Group: Running Your Meetings

The assorted authors on this blog belong to a writing group in Phoenix, Arizona, and we thought we would share some of our ideas and experience. This is one in a series of posts we’ve put together on The Care and Feeding of a Writing Group.

William Hogarth's 1736 engraving, Scholars at ...

William Hogarth’s 1736 engraving, Scholars at a Lecture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


So, you’ve gathered a group of like-minded folks eager to share the road and become better writers.  You’ve found an understanding cafe or bookshop to put up with your shared insanity.  You’ve synchronized everyone’s schedule.  Now it’s time to fire up the engine, this is where the rubber meets the road, or some other automotive metaphor.

How exactly do you run your sessions?  Some thought and discussion should go into it before you start meeting.  A few ideas on format and protocol can prevent awkward shoe staring while everyone figures out how to proceed.

For a brand new group, consider a getting to know you period.  If not a full meeting, at least a good chunk to break the ice.  Everyone should introduce themselves, describe what type of writing they are interested in, and then answer two important questions.  What are their personal goals as writers?  What are they looking for from the group?

Some people are better at this than others.  It always makes me feel like I’m in grade school, but it’s a known ritual that gets everyone in the collaborative mindset.  Anytime a new member joins, this ritual should be repeated.

The format needs to be flexible enough to allow for discussion and debate, but structured enough to cover all the material in the time allotted.  If that sounds easy, you haven’t been to very many meetings.  I advise against too formal, since that can be intimidating.  Even though this isn’t a social club, you are there to support each other and should feel comfortable.  Think more of collegial collaboration instead of boardroom meeting.

Our group started small, only four people bringing about a page each.  The simple method of taking turns in no particular order covered everything quite nicely.  As membership grew along with the output, the meetings had to grow more structured.  Not necessarily more formal, but definitely more focused.

We meet at a coffee shop and everyone orders.  The ‘how’s it going?’ socializing takes place while the orders are being filled.  When the last person gets their drink, socializing ends and the meeting begins.

From there we go in round robin fashion.  Each member gets a turn in the hot seat where their work is up for review.  Then we move on to the next writer.  If you didn’t submit work, you’re not off the hook.  You still take a turn and answer for your crimes.  We discuss notes and criticisms, talk about what we liked or didn’t like, discuss what-ifs, and ask where the piece is going.  This will be part debate since opinions differ, and part question and answer between the writer and the other members.

For the writer this is a gold mine.  I think a great way to see the effect of your writing, is to watch two people debate it.  You don’t get involved in the debate, merely observe and take notes.  You will get a real sense of what people are taking from the piece, and they tend to be more honest with the person they’re debating than they would be with the writer.

The danger here is that unchecked debates can drag on.  Discussion without direction will ramble and go off on tangents.  That bogs down the flow of the meeting.  The responsibility to stay on track is shared by all members, but you are going to need somebody in charge.  The person who formed the group might be in charge by default, but it doesn’t have to be them, or even the same person each meeting.  In the spirit of collaboration you want a moderator, not a dictator.

The leader’s main duty is keeping the meeting running by keeping it on task.  That means turning everyone around when they get on one of those tangents.  You can never completely stop the group from going on them, but somebody has to turn them around.  A simple ‘we’re getting off track’ should snap everyone out of it.

The other chore on the leader is simple timekeeping.  Groups of three or four have more leeway here, but the larger the group, the more you have to keep an eye on the clock.  Each writer deserves their fair share, and no one should get short changed.

For most people this isn’t a problem, but there are some time hogs out there.  They may ‘discuss’ their work by rambling about it rather than taking feedback from the group.  That rambling may roam far afield of the topic at hand.  They might even bring the discussion back to them when it’s another writer’s turn for feedback.  It’s the leader’s job to spot such behavior and keep it in check.  Usually an appeal to time management is sufficient.

Our group has been meeting for a long time in one form or another.  Naturally we’ve developed some slang, in jokes, and nicknames.  Some are obvious.  Slackers and moochers are the same in a writing group as in any other group.  Some are more obscure and won’t make sense to outsiders.  One term that’s come up for us is simply The Beast.

Writers working on a longer piece, say a screenplay or a novel, might not want to bring it in piecemeal.  If they’re still contributing to the discussion, this is fine.  However, when that work is done, they’re going to want feedback.  Now you’ve got a Beast.  It won’t fit into the meeting run time along with other members’ work.

We have what we call a focused session.  A whole meeting dedicated to one person’s work.  It’s scheduled well in advance, so everyone has a chance to read the Beast.  Since it’s focused on one work, the discussion can go into great detail.  This is win-win for the group.  The writer gets detailed, honest critiques, and members get to practice their editing skills on a long piece.

That format of round robin critique should be the meat of the meetings, but leave a few minutes for new business.  If anyone has an idea for a group project, or questions about new tools and resources, go over it now.  Get in the habit of reviewing goals and deadlines.  Encourage an attitude of contribution and respect for the group’s time and rules.  Writing can be a lonely process, but this meeting is where you get to travel with companions, at least for a few hours.  Enjoy it!

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What Are You Waiting For?

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, it’s a good news/bad news kind of thing.

The bad news:  no one has been posting and our poor little blog looks downright neglected.

The good news:  we haven’t been posting because we’ve been busy with other writing work.

Some of us are even stupefyingly close to that terrifying step.  The p-word.  Publishing.

It’s a saturation point basically.  When you finally finish that first draft, that piece that you know is a bona fide, honest-to-goodness, real writerly work; you’ve hit a milestone.  But it’s only one milestone on a many mile journey.

You have to rewrite it.  Maybe more than once.  You need to give it a line editing pass and get somebody else to line edit it as well.  Then you need to make those changes and maybe just give it another polishing draft.  Eventually, you have to decide if you’re going to stay in the comfy confines of endless reworking, or take the plunge and publish.

I decided to publish.

But here’s the thing, publishing and writing aren’t the same thing.  They’re intertwined, sure, but you quickly realize there are even more miles to go.  And you thought you were so close!

Don’t despair.  Help is out there.

With all the opportunities that epublishing offers, getting your work out there is pretty close to DIY.  You’re taking on a lot of the tasks that a publishing house would handle in the old model, but I think that’s a good thing.  You have way more control of how your final product and brand come out.  Who wouldn’t want that kind of power?  But there’s no question it’s also intimidating.  What to do?

Get help of course.

Jeff Moriarty, the guy that runs this blog, has quite a few different irons in the fire.  One of those irons is ePublish Unum that he started with Evo Terra.  Last summer I attended one of their live seminars that gave sort of a broad overview of how digital publishing works.  It was great stuff, but the real powerhouse is The Quick and The Read.

This is a web-based, six week course for writers to take you from finished work to published author on Amazon.com.  Yes that is challenging, but it is also totally doable.  It’s online, so you’re not limited by location, but you still get a live class/lecture once a week (How does that work?  Hey, these guys know their digital stuff).  You learn what to do, why to do it, and most importantly, how to do it.  They give step-by-step breakdowns on formatting, cover design, sales copy, and that all important publish button.

I took the course and can’t recommend it enough.  A lot of this was new territory for me, truly starting from zero.  But, as promised, I went from a final draft that I wasn’t sure what to do with, to a real live eBook.  I’ve been taking some time to set up a digital support system for when the book comes out.  My own blog, a website, that sort of thing.  I’m on track to publish the first week of June.  Watch for West of Dead:  A Nathaniel Caine Adventure on Amazon!  Hey, might as well give myself a plug while I’m at it.

So, take the plunge.  You can publish you’re writing.  Don’t say “just one more draft”.  Don’t say “it’s not long enough”, or “it’s not good enough”.  Above all, don’t say “I don’t know how”.  That’s just not an excuse anymore.

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Cakepan II: Chapter Three – 2 by 2

This is a creative writing experiment, shamelessly stolen from the Chopin Manuscript: a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. The members of this blog are each writing their own chapter, and we’re calling ours the “Cakepan Manuscript”. This is our second story.

For this story we used a random plot generator, which gave us: “The story starts when your protagonist gets lost. Another character is an anesthesist who is researching something terrible.” You can start reading at Chapter One, and each week we will post a new chapter until we reach the thrilling conclusion!

We hope you enjoy!

Chapter Three: 2 by 2

Wide angle shot of hospital morgue

Image via Wikipedia

“Who sent you? Who told you to pretend to be my daughter?” he asked.

Maureen looked at him squarely with those big, blue, unwavering eyes of hers.

You did,” she said.

Russ backed up and shook his head, trying to force his brain to start working, force the pieces together.  Tony had his hand on the metal bar of the door and he kept licking his lips.

“Me?” Russ said.  “Why would I do that?”

You knew you would be sent here.  You asked me to get you out.”

“We don’t have time for this, Maureen,” Tony said.  He took a step toward Russ who kept backing up.

“Tony, no!” she said but those big blue eyes never left Russ’s.  He jerked his head away from that unwavering gaze and Tony was there, reaching out for him.  Fear shot through Russ’s body like a shock from a live wire.  In that moment the thought of that grasping hand touching him was the most terrifying thing he could imagine.  He tried to swat it away but couldn’t bring himself to touch it.  Instead he lurched back and turned to run.

Russ collided with a brick wall in green scrubs.  He rebounded and would have fallen but huge hands steadied him.  They didn’t let go.  Russ looked up and up into the broad face of an orderly.  The face split in what was supposed to be a smile and Russ shrank back as far as the hands would allow.

“I thought I told you to stay put, Mr. Winston?”  It was Nurse Ratched and her tone was light but her eyes were hard.  “Who were you talking to?”

Russ turned but the hall was empty and the door to the parking garage was just clicking shut.

“My daughter,” Russ said.

“Mr. Winston you don’t have a daughter.”

“Yes.  Her name is Maureen.”

“You’re mistaken.”

“I’m not.  I’m…”

The hands that had steadied Russ now squeezed.  The movement was slight but the pain was considerable.  He had no doubt the brick wall could break him in two with very little effort.


“That’s alright Mr. Winston.  Let’s get you back to your room.”

The huge hands stayed on him to the elevator and all the way up.  Russ watched carefully and saw they got off on the 14th floor.  Nurse Ratched dismissed the orderly at the elevator and walked Russ down the hallway.  Back to the goddamned room.

“Let’s get you back into a gown, Mr. Winston.”

“Okay,” Russ said and started to tug at his shirt.  “I’m sorry I’m such a bother.”

Russ groaned and put his hands on his stomach.  He swayed and bent double.

“I think I’m going to vomit,” he said.  “Could you get the bathroom door?”

Nurse Ratched rushed to the door and opened it.  Russ waddled over still bent and as he passed the nurse he started to fall.  She reached out to steady him and Russ straightened quickly and put all his weight behind his fist as he punched Ratched in the gut.  She folded over and Russ brought the edge of his hand down at the base of her skull.  He pushed her into the bathroom where she lay dazed and groaning.  Russ shut the door and wedged a chair under the handle before fleeing this damn room.

He made his way to the elevators and hit the button but the car was taking too long.  He found the door to the stairs and ducked in.  Russ looked down the stairwell, then up.  He needed time to think and they’d be watching for him to try and get out.  Instead of going down Russ started climbing and kept climbing until he ran out of stairs.  There was a metal door that was being held open with a brick and Russ could see the roof.  He stepped through the door and started to look around.

“Patients aren’t supposed to be up here.”

Russ jumped for the voice was right next to him.  A skinny man in scrubs was perched on a piece of ductwork smoking a cigarette.  His hair was slicked back and he was unshaven.

“How do you know I’m a patient?”

The man pointed with his cigarette.

“You’ll never get away from them while you’re still wearing that.”

Russ looked where he pointed and held up his wrist.  He still had the plastic ID bracelet on.

“What makes you think I’m trying to get away from anybody?”

“Spare me old man,” the skinny man said.  “It’s written all over your face.  Did they come for you?  A pair of them pretending to be someone you know.  They always come in twos.”

“Who does?”  Russ pulled at the bracelet but couldn’t get it off.

“Well I don’t really know but I’ve been trying to find out.”  He walked over to Russ and took his hand.  He pulled out a pair of medic’s scissors and cut off the ID band.  “Russell Winston.  Huh.”

“Who the hell are you?”  Russ said.  He rubbed his wrist as if the bracelet had galled him.

“Alex Udo,” the skinny man said.  “I work here.  But I don’t work for them.”

“If you know something why don’t you just spit it out?”

“Like I said I don’t know.  Not for sure,” Udo said.  He threw down his smoke and stamped it out.  “But I think I just got a big piece of the puzzle.  Come with me.  There’s something you should see.”

Udo walked off and Russ followed.  Udo crossed a helipad (Russ wondered where the helicopter was) to a pair of doors to a large elevator.  Instead of a call button there was an electric card reader.  Udo swiped a card and the doors opened immediately.  They got in and Udo had to swipe his card again below the floor buttons.  He pressed one marked B and the doors closed.  The elevator began to drop smoothly and quickly.

“Where are we going?” Russ said.

“The morgue.”

(Continued in Chapter Four)

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Cakepan Manuscript – Final Chapter

This is a creative writing experiment, shamelessly stolen from the Chopin Manuscript: a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. The members of this blog are each writing their own chapter, and we’re calling ours the “Cakepan Manuscript”.

You can start reading at Chapter One, which began with the premise: “An unemployed teacher, in a wine store, runs into a former student.” Each week we will post a new chapter until we reach the thrilling conclusion!

We hope you enjoy!

Chapter 7:  A Twist of Tomasso


Image by mrjoro via Flickr

Dietrich’s borrowed clothes were too constricting for cooking. He needed to keep his whisk moving in the saucepan. He thought the whole outfit was hideous, but agreeing with Terrence and putting it on was the quickest and easiest way to get him out of the apartment and start dinner. As it was he would probably still be cooking when his date arrived even if she was fashionably late.

Dietrich took off the jacket and threw it at the back of a chair, pushed up the sleeves of his shirt. That was better and he started to get into the rhythm of cooking, letting the familiar movements take his mind off the bodega debacle. He was disappointed in young Zach. Dietrich knew the kid faced challenges but he had expected better than what he’d seen in the store. Lesson learned.

Dietrich laid aside the whisk and took up a sharp knife. He had fresh herbs from his window box and he laid them out on a cutting board. Before he could start chopping though the doorbell rang. He glanced at the clock but it was still a bit early for his date. Dietrich started for the door then stopped. He still had the knife in his hand. He didn’t think anyone had followed him from the bodega and he doubted the cops could track him at all let alone this quickly. Unless they got to Zach before Benny and his boys. He decided to use the peephole this time.

The person in the hall was a woman with her back turned to the door. All Dietrich could see was a mass of platinum blond hair. Terrence had said Kelly was a blond so he unlocked the door and opened it. She turned and Dietrich could tell she was scared even though her eyes were concealed by oversized sunglasses. The girl from the getaway car.


Dietrich started to close the door but a foot shot out and kicked it open. Zach had been hiding beside the door away from the peephole. Now he shoved Dietrich back and barged in with his gun pointed in Dietrich’s face.

“Yeah guess who motherfucker?” Zach was trying to sound triumphant but it came off as shrill. His face was still bloody from Benny’s boys.  “Drop the knife!”

“Zach,” Dietrich said. He did not drop the knife. “How did you get away from the mob?”

“When the cops showed everybody scattered. I ran and had my girl come get me.”

“Huh. Sounds like the only thing you got right today,” Dietrich said. “Why did you come here and more importantly, how did you find me?”

“Your phone dumbass!” Zach held it up and waved it. “It’s got Mapquest directions from here to Benny’s.”

“Wait,” said the girl, “you got that phone from Holfinger?”

“Yeah I took it from him in the store so the cops couldn’t trace mine.”

“Well you took one of my phones,” Dietrich said. He reached in his pocket and pulled out another one which he waved in mockery of Zach. “And you can leave it with me before you go.”

“We’re not going anywhere Holefucker.”

“Holefucker,” Dietrich said and laughed. “I like that one better than Dickface. And it’s more accurate. Of course your girl would know that better than you. Right Ashlee?”

“You recognized me?” Ashlee said and pulled off the sunglasses.

“Of course dear. The disguise was a good idea but you didn’t hide your talented mouth.”

“Babe,” Zach lowered the gun and phone and looked at the girl. “What’s he talking about?”

“Why do you think I got fired Zach? For letting you morons play video games?”

Zach looked back and forth from Dietrich to Ashlee. “Babe?” he said in a small voice and Ashlee just shrugged.

“Oh, you’re dead asshole,” Zach raised the gun again and Ashlee grabbed his arm.

“Zach no! You don’t know—” Zach shook her off.

“I’m gonna blow your head off!”

“I kinda doubt it,” Dietrich said and gestured with the knife at Zach’s tattooed chest. “For one thing this isn’t Grand Crimezone. For another I explicitly told Johnny V to give you an unloaded gun.”

“How the hell do you know Johnny V?”

“Zach let’s get out of here,” said Ashlee. “It’s his phone.”

“Who’s phone?”

“When you called me from the store the number came up as Victor Tomasso.”

“But I called you with Holefucker’s phone.”

Dietrich and Ashlee waited while Zach looked from one to the other, then from the empty gun to the cell phone in Dietrich’s hand to the one in his own. Finally it clicked and Dietrich was pleased at the look of fear when Zach met his eyes.

Dunh dunh duhhn!” Dietrich waved the knife with a theatrical flourish.

You’re Tomasso?” Zach stammered. “But how did…it’s not…why?”

“Oh, please,” Dietrich said. “Do you have any idea what an art teacher makes?”

“I’ll tell!” Zach screamed. “I’ll go to the cops!”

“And tell them what? Your art teacher is also a gangster?”

“Yeah but the store—”

“The store you tried to rob? Where you pointed a gun at the gangster and he pissed his pants? I don’t think they’ll buy it. Lucky thing I had to go.”

“Zach let’s go,” Ashlee was backing out the door.

“Yes Zach go,” Dietrich said and advanced with the knife. “Keep the gun but leave my phone.”

Zach did as instructed and Dietrich followed and stood in the hall. He watched them go down the hall toward the elevator.

“Take the stairs,” he called as Ashlee reached for the button. “I’m expecting a date and I wouldn’t want your appearance to upset her.”

Zach and Ashlee disappeared and Dietrich heard the door to the stairway open and shut. The elevator doors opened at the same instant and an attractive blond woman stepped out. She stopped when she saw Dietrich’s knife. Dietrich plastered on a bland smile.

“You must be Kelly,” he said. “I’m Dietrich. I’m just making dinner.”

“Hi,” said Kelly and came to meet him. She handed him a bottle. “I brought some wine.”

“Woodland Syrah,” Dietrich said and fingered the woodcut on the label. “It’s perfect.”

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Literacy Rant: Closing Thoughts

Banned Books Week Banner

So the task was simple. Pick five and only five books that would do two things: stand as a crash course in literature and encourage the reader to continue that education on his own. I’m pleased with the list and stand behind it, but there are a few random thoughts that occur to me.

I’m not a misogynist. But I may be a chauvinist. There aren’t any women authors on the list. The books are by and large ‘boy stories’. Women could, and certainly do, enjoy them but they all have male heroes and are generally male viewpoints. In part this is because the list was made by an older dude (me) for a younger dude (an illiterate moron I work with). The only real candidate I could come up with to fit the criteria was To Kill a Mockingbird. This is probably, and hopefully, just a hole in my own reading preferences, but if I were making a list for a young lady who didn’t want to read about wolves and murderers…well I’d be pretty much screwed.

I’m not a snob. I have a problem with people who look down their noses at popular fiction just because it’s popular. The books on the list are generally considered classics, but they’re also good stories. I think they’re all powerful as Literature with that stupid capital ‘l’, but if you don’t enjoy reading something what’s the goddamned point? Take away that snobbish capital ‘l’ and you might have better luck getting somebody hooked on reading with Harry Potter. Those books are easy to make fun of if your reading nose is in the air. I read every one of ’em and thought they were pretty flippin great.

I’m a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Fahrenheit 451 made my list because it was more accessible than 1984 but I really wanted 1984 on the list. I don’t know if people are truly getting dumber, although it certainly feels that way. It’s easy (and apparently human nature) to think kids are more stupid than you are. But it’s not a case of raw intelligence so much as a framework to express that intelligence. A book like 1984 can give you the syntax to express what you think of things with names like red light cameras, full body scans at airports, the patriot act, or tracking chips in your phone.  As far as I know, 1984 is no longer widely taught. I’m not sure that’s an accident.

I have no idea if this will work. The young guy I made this list for transferred to another department and I no longer see him. If he had read the list, I don’t know if it would be the magical transformation I hoped for. To tell you the truth I don’t think he would have even tried to read them. I can’t force him. Well, I suppose I could, but that would be me infringing on his right to be aggressively ignorant and I am a strong believer in individual rights. I’ll keep trying though. His replacement is another young kid. If I throw enough books out there maybe one will stick.

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