There are writer's groups and then, there are Writer's Groups. Why do some groups just seem to fade away, and others stay together and actually publish? The difference is organization, dedication and determination. This is what you will find when you meet the members of ‘The Pledge’. As founder, Tim Yao explains, “’The Pledge’ originally started off as the pledge to publish, and the whole concept behind that was we had written stories for Nanowrimo, and that was a November thing and we wanted some kind of continuing writer’s group so that we could help each other get published."
Members of the first writing group met through their participation in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, in 2006. Tim was the Municipal Liaison for the Naperville region and kept the momentum going throughout the year with emails, Jabber chat and regular meetings. “In previous incarnations, the pledge had been a little bit more of a social group. We had more outings in previous years than we did this year. We decided early on that we needed something to focus the group with. The previous years, we had written some short stories, more as a way to practice giving critiques of each other’s work, than anything else. And so this year, we decided to actually write and publish, self-publish, a short story anthology; a little more ambitious, but not as ambitious as maybe we could have been. This seemed a little bit more, almost like a working relationship, to jointly produce the anthology. It was more productive than in previous years.”
The current group has been together since NaNoWriMo, 2008. “We started with 12, we finished with 12. We had some people who almost dropped out along the way but we managed to pull them back in. In a way, it was kind of an extension of what you see with NaNoWriMo, where some have described it as trying to ‘herd cats’. And I think there was some aspects to that with ‘the Pledge’; getting people to meet deadlines and get everything done. But we’re finally at the point where we have finished the stories, the work has been put together and edited; we are close to having a cover done, and we should be able to get it up on Amazon very shortly.” Tim Yao has been Municipal Liaison, or head ‘cat herder’ of the NaNoWrimo Naperville region and of ‘the Pledge’ since 2006.
Katherine Lato, also a Municipal Liaison, joined the group in 2007. She explains how new members hear about and join the group. “We were all part of Nano last year, so we advertised the fact that there was going to be a pledge. We started having Jabber chats and we basically got an email list together of people who were interested. We had a meeting in January, and at that, hammered out the theme for the anthology and basic rules: No more than 5000 words- short stories and you’re going to read each other’s work. We’re talking short stories. We’re going to read each other’s stories. We had to critique three other’s stories in the first round, two other’s stories in the second round with a detailed critique. That requires that you read three entire short stories. One thing I did was make sure that anybody who had given critiques got a critique” Katherine is the editor of the anthology.
Tim adds that there were times when it looked like this wasn't going to happen. "The worst part came some time after or right around first draft. After the first draft, when people had done something, most of them had put something out and we were trying to get the critiques done and then, people seemed to go into that stretch of time where they become busy. Some people started to lose interest and I just had visions of a failed pledge where we had set goals and we wouldn’t accomplish them and it looked like the whole thing was going to falter. That was the worst time." It was a lot of work for everyone involved.
There were no regrets. Katherine explains. “My thought process was it was a way to get to know the members of the group by reading their writing because you get to know a lot about a person by reading their writing. It was a nice way to be able to learn more about each person because you could read everybody’s short stories.“ Tim, “For me, the best time was when we finally regained some momentum and people went through and they produced their second and third drafts and they got the reviews done and we even pulled one writer back from the brink where he hadn’t even finished his first draft, and he went through and completed that, and did all the requirements, and now, it looks like we’re going to have a successful completion.” Mike appreciated the feedback he received on his work, and learned a lot in the process of giving feedback to others. "Hopefully, I tried to make each critique instructive, and as far as I know, nobody got mad at what I said, so it all worked out ok. The best part was the very nice feedback I was getting on my story. That’s always nice to hear. I had no idea how it would be received. I agreed with all of the constructive criticism that I got and was pleasantly surprised that …so people just liked it. “
What are the writer’s hopes for the book? Tim, “I don’t think it’s going to be a critical success. I think these kinds of books tend not to be. But its nice to go through the process and get something out there. And that’s something. I personally enjoy doing this. I hope that we can do it again.” Mike, “One thing that pushes me toward submitting my work as a novelist is encouragement from friends, and here’s something that is published in a book and they’re going to tell me if I should be putting more of my work out there. So this is one more way to push me to get some of my work ready for publication.”
What advice would they give to someone who is thinking about writing, or who wants to finish that novel? With no hesitation, the author’s answers were unanimous. Katherine, “Try NaNo.” Tim, “Yeah, NaNoWriMo. It’s fun, and you do a lot of writing. And writing with a group of people is a lot more enjoyable, I think, than just writing by yourself; maybe I’m more of a social writer” Katherine, “Seriously, try Nano.” Mike, “Or just write. You can’t say you want to be a writer and not do the writing. The more you write the better you get.”
“What do you do for an encore after completing your novel for National Novel Writing Month? At the end of 2008, twelve aspiring novelists came together in a group called The Pledge to hone their writing skills. Together they decided to write a short story anthology. There is an infinite monkey theorem that says that "a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text such as the complete works of William Shakespeare'[Wikipedia]. If monkeys could produce Shakespeare, the novelists believed they could produce a short story anthology; and so, the title "Infinite Monkeys" was born. What is in this book, however, has nothing to do with monkeys. Infinite or otherwise. Each story in this book explores themes of redemption. The stories traverse different genres and moods, ranging from light humor to dark mystery.”
For more information about the Naperville group: http://naperwrimo.org/2009
For more information about NaNoWrimo, National Novel Writing Month: http://www.nanowrimo.org/
[Bonnie Jean Adams / Examiner]