I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. As the third born in a gaggle of seven children, car rides were the perfect time to entertain my younger siblings with tales of witches, magic, and happy endings. For years I dreamed of being a published author, but like many others, I made excuses about why I didn’t have time to write.
And then in 2001, we teachers in Hawaiʽi went on strike. We gathered daily to “walk the line” and took advantage of the opportunity to get to know one another more personally. One teacher suggested we bring notebooks and do some timed writing exercises together. A few of us joined in the exercises and even fewer of us were brave enough to share what we’d written.
By the end of the strike, three of us had formed a writers’ group and committed ourselves to writing together one day a month, typically on a Sunday afternoon. A fourth teacher joined us later after deciding to send our trio a writing sample and a request to join. Based on our frequent snack of ice cream sundaes, we dubbed ourselves the Sundae Writers’ Group. Two of us remain active to this day.
One of our earliest lessons was that supporting one another was superior to going it alone. And along the way, over almost two decades, we learned other valuable lessons on our paths to publishing.
How to give and receive constructive criticism.
In the early years when we were all raising children and teaching full time, we used our monthly writing sessions to motivate ourselves. We did a lot of Natalie Goldberg timed writings and made up some of our own. We looked at our school vacations and started to arrange weekends of writing—two nights and three days in a rented house with no other distractions. Stories and poems emerged. We added reading our work aloud to the group and critiquing one another.
How to deal with rejection. Lots of rejection.
The poet in the group had already published a few poems and had her eye on publishing a chap book of her collected work. The rest of us wanted to be published, so we explored those options and started submitting some stories and poems to magazines.
The success of one was a celebration for all.
One of our writers had a good idea for a non-fiction book to help students better understand the writing prompts in high stakes tests. We rallied around her and helped to revise and edit her chapters. She published that book with Corwin Press.
With structure, we are more productive.
Over time, members of the group moved and took on more challenging positions in the workplace. Determined not to dismantle the group, we arranged to meet in the summer for a week-long retreat.
Eventually, two of our writers were no longer able to attend writers’ group, but Kristin Noelle Wolfgang and I soldiered on even when she left the state for five years. Every summer we rented a quiet place to write for a week and continued to follow the organization we had developed for our retreats—set goals and celebrate our progress, make simple meals, minimize contact with the outside world, honor quiet writing time, and stay in the sanctuary except to take walks.
Over those years, I too became a published author. I learned to value scheduled, structured, writing time, but most of all I value the support of Kristin and all the other writers who make up my tribe.
Jacquolyn McMurray writes both contemporary and historical romance. She and her husband live on a macadamia nut farm on Hawaiʻi Island where they feed a clowder of cats and a flock of hodgepodge chickens. Jacquolyn is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Greater Seattle Romance Writers, and the American Christian Fiction Writers. When she's not writing, Jacquolyn enjoys time with her family, reading, sewing and solving crossword puzzles. In her past life, she was an elementary school teacher.
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Listen to Jacquolyn McMurray's podcast episode here.