What does “No Safeword” mean?
In BDSM culture, a “safeword” is a word, phrase or non-verbal signal–agreed upon by two or more people–that, when uttered or evoked, brings all bondage/pain/sex activities to an immediate and complete stop. A safeword is usually used when the target of such activity has basically had all they can stand right at that moment.
In No Safeword Writers Group culture, “No Safeword” means that–when you come to our workshop–you can’t refuse to read/edit/talk about a particular piece of writing, simply because the erotic expression in it isn’t necessarily your kink/grosses you out personally/makes you want to rip your eyeball out so you can bleach them/whatever. For example–if you’re straight–you can’t refuse to work on LGBT-themed stories … just like–if you’re gay–you can’t refuse to workshop heterosexual-themed writing. We get both on a regular basis. Likewise, if you’re monogamous … then–get ready–because you WILL be reading stories about polyamorous relationships. The reverse will be true, too. And–trust me … if you sit at our table long enough–you’re going to learn all about kinks you never ever knew existed, some that will surely fascinate you … and some that will probably shock you, too! I often leave workshop thinking “I learned something tonight … and I want to go home and try it!” I’ve also left workshop thinking “well, that’s NOT a kink I’m interested in!” … and that’s okay, too 🙂
I’m really stoked hearing about this group … but, I gotta ask: is there any reason why I wouldn’t be welcome at a No Safeword Writers Group meeting?
The only real limit we have at NSWG is age: local, state and national laws say you must be at least 18 years old to attend our workshops and meetings. Hey, don’t give me that dirty look! That’s your (or your parents’) tax dollars at work that made that rule–not me–but it shouldn’t surprise you. That’s the same rule you find on everything else in Seattle that has anything to do with sex! And I’ll be happy to welcome you to your first workshop on your 18th birthday … but–until then–please don’t ask!
Beyond that, we accept members of all writing skill levels, education levels, shapes, sizes, colors, philosophies, backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, kinks, tastes, persuasions … and pretty much any other difference you can name! I’ve always felt that we’re made stronger by our exposure to diversity …. so bring it on! 🙂
Do I have to pay dues to be a member of NSWG?
No! We volunteer our time at NSWG, and the expenses to keep it running are fairly low. Since we meet in a restaurant, however, we do ask that you grab yourself something to eat or drink in order to thank The Hurricane Cafe for allowing us to meet there. Please remember your server, too! They’re the ones who seat the kids and old people somewhere other than right next to us! … so we like to keep them happy, too 🙂
Do I have to submit my own writing for workshop in order to be a member of NSWG?
No. In fact, we have a few people in the group who’ve been coming for years … but they’ve never once submitted their own work for review. It doesn’t matter! They’re still very vital members of NSWG because they perform the task that every writer in the group needs: they’re critical readers! Think about it this way: I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve workshopped more than one piece at a meeting over the course of my eight years with the group … and I’d still have a couple of fingers leftover. However, we need readers twice a month, every month … month in and month out, year after year! In other words, we need a new piece to workshop every two weeks, so we get in about 24 pieces a year, one at a time … but to give each one the justice it deserves in workshop, it takes a lot more filled seats around that table!
So I’ve basically killed that excuse for you, too! What are you waiting for? 🙂
I’ve never been to a NSWG meeting before … but I’ve written this really great story, and I really want to get all of you to workshop it for me! Can I bring it with me/plan to have it workshopped during my first meeting?
Sorry, but no. Experience has shown us that it’s best for new members (and for us) if they get a chance to sit on the other side of the table first–as a reader/reviewer for someone else–before they’re “in the barrel” for the first time themselves.
The reason why is simple: writers don’t just stick a few random words and thoughts together, and then slap them around until they become a story. They give BIRTH to their work! Every word, phrase, sentence, and idea we put down on paper (even virtual paper) is precious to us because it’s hand-crafted, and it’s OURS! It came out of our individual hearts, minds and souls, and–as writers–we’re invested in making sure our readers like it, too … so it can be really hard to listen to other people’s opinions of your work, especially when they just don’t think it’s as creative as you do. And that reaction is 100% normal. Writing is art! You’ve sweated over/petted/babied/hand-picked all of your words and sentences, built all the characters from scratch–and the whole story line, too … often spending months or even years of your life doing it–and then a bunch of strangers (or–worse–your workshop friends) start **gasp!!** CRITICIZING YOUR BABY!!! R-R-R-RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!!! It can be hard to take emotionally, even for a strong person, and even when you know intellectually that hearing honest criticism from actual readers can make you a better writer. Yet, even after years of sitting in that hot seat myself, I’m honest enough to tell you that it can still be intimidating … each and every time, no matter how many times I go through it :-/
However, don’t let that statement scare you! It can be intimidating, yes … but workshop can also help you become a better writer in lots of ways. First and foremost, your fellow writers can help you discover your own bad writing tics faster and more completely than you could EVER figure them out on your own. For example–thanks to workshop–I now know that I overuse the word “that” … often, to excess! After several folks said that about my writing in a workshop environment (and, as the old Arabic proverb says: If one man calls you a camel, laugh and walk away … but if five men call you a camel, buy a saddle), I now start my last editing pass prior to submitting a piece of writing somewhere by searching on the word “that.” Then I try to write the word out of every single sentence I’ve used it in! It doesn’t work 100% of the time, of course. You need the word “that” occasionally, and–in that particular case–substitutions don’t exist. However, I’ve found that–with a little creative effort–I can usually rewrite 75% of them, which makes a HUGE difference in the strength of my prose.
In other words–when you have a good workshop group, and NSWG definitely fits into that category–it’s the closest you’ll ever get to having a headphone jack installed directly into your readers’ heads, giving you the opportunity to actually hear what they’re thinking when they read your work. We also encourage our readers to expand on their observations as much as they’d like–both in the notes they write for you, and in their oral comments in the discussion–so you’ll often get feedback about micro- and macro-level issues in your piece: everything from spelling and grammar … all the way up to story arcs and overall character development. We’ve even had members of the group up on their feet at meetings, blocking out action from the story in real time in order to help another writer put the right physicality into their work. And don’t freak about all the red ink you get on your manuscript copies during workshop. As I say all the time in the group, the ink color has nothing to do with right/wrong, and everything to do with contrast/visibility on the page. I simply use red because that’s what Ambrose was using when he handed the group over to me, and I never changed it because–in my opinion, mean English teacher connotations aside–it gives the best contrast with a standard b&w printed page. And if your workshop submission doesn’t get much in the way of red ink from your readers … that’s not always a good thing at our table. For the most part, the more red ink you get … the more engaged your readers were when they were reading it 🙂
Also, don’t worry if you’re really new to all of this … because we give feedback on every piece of work based on the author’s current writing level. In other words, if you’re just starting out as an erotica writer, we’re not going to criticize your work the same way we would if you were already a famous/published SmutWriter … because you have different needs in a workshop environment than that person does. In fact–if you write well and especially if you’re already published–we’re probably going to get even MORE detailed/nit-picky about your work than we would if you were just a beginner … because we’re here to help everyone get better … by encouraging them to step-up their game! That means–if you’re just starting out–we’ll help you with a lot of the basics of grammar, sentence structure, story and character development, and a lot more–if you need it, of course–including teaching you aspects of the craft that you may not have considered before. And if you’re already writing at a superior technical level when you walk in the door, we’re going to push you even harder from there: talk to you about audience and expectations, about creating different textures in your writing by using not only story arc elements, but also by tweeking the language/word choices in order to create variations in pacing, creating that itch and scratch aspect of setting expectations for the reader … and then fulfilling them … only to make them itch again!
Also–have no fear–it may feel like it the first time or two you’re in the barrel at workshop … but we’re not here to get our jollies off criticizing everything you write, simply so that we can feel superior. I’ve seen that modus operandi at work in other writers groups before, and–bluntly–I won’t have it. If I see someone doing that sort of thing in my group, I will take them aside/call them on it … because that’s NOT our focus! At NSWG, we will always strive to give you honest feedback because–when it’s our turn in the barrel–that’s what we want from YOU about our own writing.
And–finally–in almost eight years of running this group–we’ve only made one writer actually cry. However, have no fear! She cried because someone at the table told her that her work was awesome and publisher-ready 🙂
What format does NSWG use for workshop?
As I said in my section of the group history, I earned my MFA in Creative Writing after age 40, which included three years in workshop classes for three+ hours/week. While the situation at NSWG isn’t exactly like my graduate school experience, I do structure my workshops based on that model, somewhat modified for NSWG’s own specific challenges.
A lot of writers groups try to cram as many pieces into each session as they can. Most accomplish this by requiring their writers to pass their work out two or four weeks in advance, often to total strangers, so that the readers can get their reading/edits done before the next session meets. Then–during the actual meeting–they might only give each piece 10 minutes of talk time in order to cram numerous pieces into one hour+ session.
This model is problematic for our goals and the reality of NSWG. First and foremost, even though we have regulars in the group … everyone (including “me”) can’t make it every single time. We almost always have new people at our table each session, too. Therefore, if everyone else read/made their written comments in advance, but you have a new person there–or a regular who wasn’t able to attend the last meeting–then you have part of your crowd prepared in advance for workshop … but the rest–the new people and the regulars who missed the last meeting–would either have to read quickly/quietly, trying to get ahead of the readers plus … or just sit there without participating. Neither makes for a smooth session for either them … or the rest of the group.
Instead, I use a modified version of the workshop format we used during my graduate school days. We have a two-hour workshop scheduled, but now that we meet at a 24-hour restaurant … that time limit isn’t as hard as it was when we met at the CSPC. Our workshop usually starts with a few minutes of how’s everyone doing sorts of chatter, and then the person who’s being workshopped will pass out copies (double-spaced, standard margins, at least 12-pt font, with numbered pages PLEASE!) for everyone to read. We’ll spend approx. one hour reading/marking up the copy … and then we spend the second hour discussing the piece around the table. At that point–the point where it becomes the most painful for the writer–it’s usually best if the author of the piece slaps both hands over their own mouth … and fights to stay quiet/just listen. Why? Well, first off, if your writing isn’t telling the story all by itself, without you sitting there trying to explain what you meant to say in that case … then the writing has, quite simply, failed. And since you’re not going to be able to personally go to every home where someone is reading your story … so that you can explain to them what you meant by what you said … then the best option is to rewrite that section some. That’s where the notes people make on your manuscript can be VERY helpful. You see, the instructions I give the readers at every workshop say “you wrote this story five years ago, stuck it in a drawer, and you just now found it … so now you’re going to edit it like it’s yours!” That means that you could easily get several different versions of the same scene back from the other people in the group … and then you–as the artist–get to pick and choose what you think works … and then simply discard the rest!