Best-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. She discovered her vocation after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. After fifteen years writing for the general fiction market and a change in her own heart, Robin began to write stories that included her Christian faith and values. Winner of the Christy, the RITA, the Carol, the Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and many other awards, she is also a recipient of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from both Romance Writers of American (2001) and American Christian Fiction Writers (2014). Robin is the author of over 70 novels and novellas. Learn more on her website at http://www.robinleehatcher.com.
First, please note that I have been writing and publishing for over 30 years. I don’t have a critique partner or group; that never worked for me. I am a pantser (seat of the pants writer), and I am an intuitive writer. I know how to write romance/relationships (I’m published in contemporary and historical romance as well as women’s fiction). I know the things my characters need to communicate to one another in a story. What I need help with in brainstorming is to come up with situations/scenes where these discussions and discoveries can take place, where these emotions can play out. Someone who is a plotter and writes thrillers or suspense will need something different from the group than I do.
Something I love about a brainstorming group (BG) is that we can toss out ideas for other writers like crazy (truly, ideas are a dime a dozen), but no one feels ownership of those ideas. They are freely given to the author. And it is the author who has to decide what fits her story and her characters. She has to do the hard work of actually writing the book. But it is great fun to see those books come to life in a year or two.
Years ago in my first BG, I introduced the List of 20 (it did not originate with me; I learned of it from Debbie Macomber). We were a group of four and met for maybe two or three days. What we did was each writer told the group what we knew so far about the story. It could be a lot or a very little. Then we discussed. There was lots of “Well, what if you do …”. When the discussion and back and forth was over, we would write our Lists of 20. For instance, write 20 things that could happen to the characters as they are making their way down the Amazon River. That first group met from 1995 until 2000.
My current BG got started in 2003. We have used the List of 20 some, but not always. Sometimes we just talk and “what if…” the entire time. And since we have been meeting together for so long, we have learned what the other writers need and try to work accordingly. With familiarity comes a kind of shorthand language. Two years ago, I began recording the sessions so that the author can take those recordings home with them. Very helpful!
I must also tell you that this current BG is far more than just a BG. We are a care group. When we started, most of us were strangers to one another, but that was quickly changed. Although we live in seven different states, we are in constant contact (daily) via a Google Group. We talk to one another via phone and Skype/iChat/Facetime. We pray for one another. Every need that comes up, these are the people we trust with it immediately. We are a family, a group of sisters in Christ, and the love goes very deep between us. We have done Bible studies together via email (talk about bonding!). We have traveled together. We have mourned together. We have rejoiced together. God formed something amazing eleven years ago, and we recognize that.
Now for the nitty gritty basic operation: Our retreat begins on Thursday night with a recap of our past year and a time of prayer for one another. Normally, this takes a good three hours, and we have to be disciplined in our sharing to get it done on one evening. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we brainstorm three books each day. Each session runs for an hour and fifteen minutes. We begin each work day with a 30 minute devotional led by one member of the group (different person each day). We then have two sessions in the morning with a 15 minute break between them. Then we have lunch. Next we have the third sessions. Our afternoons usually include walks in the mountains, power naps, reading, working on the computer, dashing into the nearby resort town for shopping, some years a ride in the boat (depends on weather; I tried to waterski a number years ago but there were too many people in the boat so mostly I drank in lots of lake water). Most years our evenings include some sort of silliness: watch a movie, do some karaoke, play a game like Lie-brary (Balderdash for bookophiles), etc. Everybody departs on Monday for home, most of them flying but a few driving.
We try to keep the meals fairly simple so that no one spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Whoever buys food or other materials for the retreat turns in the receipts and then it is divided among the BG. Oh, we all take a ton of pictures and one member takes them and creates a calendar for the following year. All year long, we can see our silliness in the photos on the calendar. And oh, there is LOTS of silliness, I promise you. Plus, we may keep the meals simple but we eat like queens. I kid you not!
Different groups will operate in different ways, of course, but this is what has worked for us. If you’re looking to form a BG, I hope this will help you on your way.