Insecure Writer's Support Group Anniversary, Celebrating Writers' Houseparties

Happy anniversary to the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

The group was founded by Alex Cavanaugh, and the website now has a number of administrators. Each month there are different co-hosts; this month they are:
Kristin Smith
Suzanne Furness
Fundy Blue

To commemorate their anniversary, the IWSG is putting together an anthology of tips on writing and publishing.

My favourite bit of advice, which I never tire of talking about, is as follows:

It starts with a shiny new idea. The characters and situation grab you right away and you start drafting madly. Dialogue, action, intrigue all come together.

Sooner or later, though, many of us get bogged down in the middle bits of a novel. Our drive and attention dwindle as fear and self-doubt creep in, especially if we compare our pace with that of others. Insecure writer's syndrome at its worst.

Insecurity hit me hardest a few years ago, not just with one novel but with all of my in-progress stories at the time. Excitement was few and far between, left behind a year or so before when I'd started the first drafts. Researching grew more exciting than editing and it was easy to lose my characters' voices and slip into long stretches of expository omniscient telling. And then something happened...

I sent my characters off to a houseparty.

Writers' houseparties take place on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community, or Forum. There have been over ten such parties to date and I –- or should I say, my characters –- were present at the very first one in June 2007. Each party after that grew in size and complexity, as more writers brought their characters in on the fun.

Party-goers have included (in a mixture of adjectives) an FBI agent, a rock star, soldiers from wars throughout history, ghosts, King Charles II, a talking cat, a married threesome, a selkie, Ottoman citizens, modern yet ancient Egyptian travellers, werewolves, a retired teacher and her adopted daughter, and even a family of bombs with a wee baby bomb!

Chaos is the norm at these parties. We've been at a ceilidh in Scotland, a barbecue in Australia, a mall at the end of time, and more. Houseparties have it all, from magic to skipping between time periods, to anachronistic events and language, to romantic interludes down in the hidden folder on the Forum. No link available for that one -- you have to request access on the Forum if you'd like to see the spicier side of a houseparty.

Parties last anywhere from a long weekend to a week. No one worries about typos and writing mechanics, and there's no need to worry about timing either; if you'd like your character to be involved in something you may have missed you can always tack on an "[earlier]" or "[later]" to the start of your post. Time trousers – where a characters ends up in two places at once at the same time – can be quite fun!

Previous parties are all available on the Forum; some of them are fluent and fluid enough to be read as a novel, even if you haven't met the characters before. One of the more recent ones topped 198,000 words; the length of two long novels -- or one Diana Gabaldon novel! Here are some statistics from that party, which give a rough idea of the madness:

# of participating authors : 17
# of official characters: 44 (including Kedi the non-cat cat and Siri the non-dove dove)
# of unofficial characters: 2 (including Cthulhu)
# of explosions/crashes: 2 (plus 1 volcano and 1 flood)
# of casualties: 1 kick by a kangaroo, 1 koala fed to a dinosaur, and 1 leg stolen from Oscar Pistorius
# of MandMs fed to Cthulhu: unknown

Value of character revelations: priceless

And that's the best part of a houseparty: they're a great way to thrust your characters out of their familiar worlds and learn things about them that you may not have known before. You can always go in with a goal, whether it's characters you're trying to develop, a specific voice you'd like to hone, even a motive you're trying to figure out. It's amazing what you can uncover when your characters -- and their author -- are plunked into a chaotic new setting. Writing for a houseparty is just like writing your first draft –- fast paced and fluid, with no second guessing.

When I was feeling insecure, that anything-goes mayhem brought back the rush and the fun I'd thought I'd lost. I've churned out more words at a houseparty and in my own stories in the weeks after a party than I usually manage to squeeze out all year -- words that don't have me feeling insecure about my writing or the story itself.

If you can't wait for the next Forum houseparty, and you have a trusted group of writing friends -- and you're feeling a little insecure -- why not host one of your own?


Zan Marie said…

Need I say more? I love 'em. The one I hosted is an all time high for my revelations. I love them all.
Elizabeth Hein said…
Those parties sounds like a ton of fun. I would love to attend one and see if my characters kill anyone off.
Elizabeth Hein - Scribbling in the Storage Room
Diane Burton said…
Houseparties? What fun! Thanks for sharing.
Chrys Fey said…
That's an interesting idea. I've never heard of it. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Deniz - well that would be letting the cat out amongst the pigeon writers - it'd be amazing fun - and I can quite see how easily you'd get lots of ideas and diversionary tactics ...

Cheers Hilary
Let us know when the next one occurs - that sounds like fun. Although I'll try to keep my distance from Cthulhu.
M Pax said…
Oh, that sounds like a lot of fun. Yes, the 'must press on' middle.
stu said…
It sounds like a very interesting way to get things going again with characters.
I can see how this would get hilarious with my friends. Or perhaps raunchy.
Anonymous said…
What a cool idea! I know I have a character or three who could benefit from a shindig. I might have to check this out.
Lara Lacombe said…
Yay for Forum houseparties! :)
I think it'd be interesting to see my characters at a party, because I know right away that some of them would stand in corners and others would be dancing in the middle of the room. I've never been good at regular parties; I usually make up an excuse and leave early (but not before eating some of the free food).
Michael Di Gesu said…
Hi, Deniz,

What a FANTASTIC and FUN idea! I love the thought of house parties for an author's characters. Such a great concept!

I'd love to join in on the next one. Keep me posted, please!
dolorah said…
Reminds me of the site I joined a long time ago called Come In Character, where Characters, not authors, interacted. Lot of fun.
Deniz Bevan said…
So glad you all like this idea! The next one should be in a few months -- I'll let you know.
sage said…
Interesting idea and San Francisco in the mid-19th Century is something I know a bit about as my doctoral dissertation focused on Nevada during the Comstock Lode era and the fate of both SF and Nevada at this point were linked together.

A wonderful novel about SF during this period is Oscar Lewis' "I Remember Christine"
Deniz Bevan said…
Ooh, you could give us some tips for local colour! I just finished Beverley Cleary's autobiographies, about growing up in Oregon and San Fransisco in the 1920s and 1930s. The first book talked a bit about her family coming west in the 1860s. Amazing to think of how relatively empty all the land was...

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