As I travel around the country, leading Zona Rosa groups, I find I'm often frustrated at leaving just as the good stuff is beginning to happen. When I began suggesting that the groups keep meeting in my absence, I quickly found that the vibrations continued to resonate, and soon I was hearing great things about the Zona Rosans' writing and lives, and the great connections and support systems they generated, similar to the AOL, or Ass on the Line group in Atlanta. Soon, they were happening all over the place, and all of them had their own resident experts on practically everything, from grammar to revising to publishing.
We decided to call the groups Sub Rosa groups, after the phrase that means "under the rose, an ancient symbol of secrecy," a perfect symbol of what we share in Zona Rosa. Later, at a women’s event at which we were led in singing the works of Hildegard of Bingham, I heard the phrase Gena Rose, or “generated by the rose,” and we decided that was a good definition for our groups, too.
You can start your own Sub Rosa group by following the principles in this book, which is also full of the acronyms, credos, and jump starts we've come to depend on in Zona Rosa. Please feel free to share them through the use of this book -- every Sub Rosan should have a copy -- but please not to copy and disseminate them, since they are copyrighted materials.
In the meantime,
here are the suggestions, designed to keep your experience as close to ours
in the official Zona Rosa groups as possible.
Your Sub Rosa Group: Some Suggestions for Tone and Structure
The Basics: Each Sub Rosa session will need a leader. Since this is a peer group, I suggest that the participants lead the sessions on a rotating basis.
Create A Policy. In Zona Rosa, our only criteria for admission is the desire to take part. Writers can range from total beginners to those working on a third or fourth book, and all genres -- poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction -- are honored. Important: within the group we are all "beginners," sharing our experiences from where ever we are, but none of us reign as "expert."
Also a Schedule: Our ongoing Zona Rosa groups meet once a month for five or more hours, which gives plenty of time for participants to write between meetings. Also the once-a-month schedule makes it easier for participants to attend each meeting. You may nor may not want to adhere to such a schedule. Someone also needs to be in charge of a phone and e-mail list, and meeting reminders.
Structure: At the beginning of each meeting, read The Zona Rosa Promises (from the front of this book). Next, go around the room, giving each woman a chance to speak for a limited time if she wishes. This is also a good time to introduce newcomers. I ask each of them to talk for a few minutes about where they are with their writing and where they would like to be, as well as anything personal that they're willing to share. At this time, to further insure your sisters' comfort, you may want to discuss a policy of anonymity about what goes on the group, saying that later sharing their truths, their secrets, with the world at large will be up to them.
The Leader Suggests a Topic of General Discussion, perhaps using readings from this or other books. Everyone should have one or both Zona Rosa books as references. Subjects that are good jumpstarts are sources of inspiration (e.g., quotations or special experiences); reports of progress and writing successes (it's always nice to applaud here!); obstacles to writing and discoveries about how to deal with them (for women, whose lives tend to be fragmented by caretaking and the fulfillment of other goals, this topic is particularly important), or something as specific as means and standards for revising. Indeed, since these subjects are ongoing, it's appropriate for members to discuss them on an ongoing basis. And just as in grammar school, raising our hands seems to be the best way to share.
Next, Ask Those Who Wish Read From "Exorcises" Given The Previous Month. Since these short pieces are designed to help writers tap into new material and to break through blocks, they are not to be treated as writings-in-progress, though members might respond to the strengths of a particular piece. Indeed, a number of Zona Rosans have ended up publishing pieces that began as exorcises.
The Leader, Along with the Group, Throws Out Exorcises For The Coming Month. This book includes many exorcises, as does the last Zona Rosa book. But they can also come from other sources, including the members themselves. In fact, we usually brainstorm new exorcises at every meeting, creating them out of our burning issues of the moment! This a good time for a break, and those Foods of the Goddesses that the Sub Rosans are already competing to bring!
Call and Response is what readings, and the participants' return voices, are called in some churches. And response is our preferred word for what we give in Zona Rosa when we hear others' manuscripts. Now read from manuscripts in progress: members can read from their own work, or ask someone else in the group to read for them. Set a time limit, and if there are too many manuscripts for a given meeting, rotate the manuscripts read on a meeting-by-meeting the basis. Members may or may not supply copies of their work for the rest of the group. This can be either an individual or group decision, as doing so is time-consuming for women who may already be very busy! And as we've learned in Zona Rosa, hearing the work read aloud without copies before us helps us develop our ability to listen. The reader should introduce the material to be read if necessary. She should also read loud enough to be heard, and slowly enough for understanding. This is good practice for reading in public later.
IMPORTANT: Useful Responses To Manuscripts Are, In This Order: Emphasize portions of the work to which you respond positively, and other strengths -- this can't be overdone, so don't stint on praise! (This gives the writer the motivation to make needed revisions.) Next, mention of areas of possible confusion; this will give the writer an idea of where she might need to clarify and simplify. Last, give concrete and/or useful suggestions of a positive nature, e.g. "It might be interesting if you moved that scene forward," or "Did you realize that you had repeated the image of the mountain man in the pink ruffled skirt three times?"
Keep in Mind: Discernment, perceptiveness, and kindness are always welcome. On the other hand, we are not here to judge content on moral grounds; to share biases about experiences or materials; or to respond out of cultural, racial or class prejudices. Nor are we here to judge among various writing styles and genres, whether mainstream or literary; poetry, memoir, creative nonfiction, or fiction. We are here only to support writing strengths, and to make suggestions that might drive to the good of the work. Remember that when negativity come into the room, creativity flies out the window --thus we leave competitiveness, judgment, envy, and social expectations at the door.
In Conclusion, the leader might ask for further questions or suggestions, and whether anyone has a burning issue she needs to discuss before leaving. EACH SUB ROSAN SHOULD LEAVE THE MEETING FEELING SUPPORTED IN HER VISION. REMEMBER THAT WHILE WE MAY BE AT DIFFERENT LEVELS IN OUR WRITING, THE SUB ROSA GROUPS ARE MEANT TO BE A WIN-WIN SITUATION FOR EACH OF US!
WRITE TO US WITH NEWS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR SUB ROSA GROUP! Contact us at email@example.com Or see our web page at www.myzonarosa.com
And for information or to join our first on-line Sub Rosa group, led
by Maxine Rothman of Houston, see http://subrosaonline.blogspot.com/ Way
to go, Maxine!
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