I spoke to a group of writers about their collaborative writing project The 900 Club. Despite having individual take on facial hair fashions and literary styles, they have a shared approach to writing productivity and a model to kick-start other writing groups into action.
A monthly challenge
Every month the 900 Club set themselves the challenge of writing a short story of exactly 900 words – excluding title. The only requirement being that each story must contain a specified two word phrase which changes every month: phrases like ‘loose ends’, ‘dive in’, and even ‘Stephen Fry’.
The 900 Club has a blog site and each month on a set date, all five members promise to post up their story. The stories aren’t discussed before posting and remain a secret until the big day. So where did the idea come from?
“The idea of getting a few people together to write stories that can be read in one toilet sitting was incredibly appealing.”
900 Club founder Simon Evans says he’s always had an active imagination which causes thoughts to whizz around his brain like dust in a Dyson. Writing, he says, helps him empty all the crap out of his mind.
The idea came to him after entering a story into a writing competition with a set of similar rules and liking the deadline-based, 900-word structure.
“Writing short stories has always been more appealing to me than writing anything longer. I admire the novel writers of the world but I don’t really have the patience. The idea of getting a few people together to write stories that can be read in one toilet sitting was incredibly appealing.”
Building the Club
So, loo paper in hand he asked long-term friend and published author of fantasy fiction Martin Bolton to join up. Then, he invited his brother Paul, a former naval officer with a novel in his head and his own comedy DIY YouTube channel. Next, Simon roped in brother-in-law, former journalist and PR man, and short story enthusiast Adam Stones. The final member of the group, first time writer, former farmer and woodsman John Pilling, surprised himself by volunteering to join when his son David – Martin’s writing partner – couldn’t take up the final position.
The group started in January 2013, and so far, every deadline has been met. However, all the writers reach their deadline and produce their story in different ways.
Getting it written
John’s approach is to wait to be hit by a writing thunderbolt. He admits that whilst at the beginning it felt strange to sit in front of a computer devoid of ideas – he just started to write and couldn’t stop until his first full story was complete.
“This appears to be a pattern with me, almost as if my subconscious does the work. I feed an idea in and then, maybe several days later, or on waking up, the outline of the story is there,” said John.
Finding time to write
Whilst Adam starts churning away with ideas as soon as that month’s theme has been announced, letting the creative ideas brew over the course of the month, Simon tends to pin point a free evening or weekend to get his thoughts written down – something he continues to do even after the birth of his daughter in February this year.
“More often thoughts fly into my head before I fall asleep or just after I wake up. I then formulate the story a little more on my long walk to work. The main inspiration however is the story itself. Once I start writing, the stories grow organically,” said Simon.
“I never get an idea until time is running out.”
Martin’s stories often come to him as dreams, something he blames on bad digestion. “I never get an idea until time is running out. My story is nearly always written a day or two before the deadline. Many of my ideas come in dreams, such as Tits Up and Poppa’s Fruits, the rest are sparked by real life memories or day to day events. I am always imagining mad things are happening around me, some of those things stay with me and turn into stories. I suppose they’re all either sleeping dreams or waking dreams, so there’s not much difference.”
“I drafted an erotic thriller whilst a guest on a warship in the Arabian Gulf”
Paul’s usual approach is to get the story written at home a few days prior to deadline. However, because of his work they sometimes get written in rather more exotic locations.
“Chime, was written in my room in the Iraq desert and I drafted an erotic thriller whilst a guest on a warship in the Arabian Gulf after providing a day’s training,” he said.
All agree that committing to each other to produce a piece to deadline plus the manageability of only having to produce 900 words keeps them all dedicated and writing.
“it’s the discipline of having to get one in the bag every single month that keeps it engaging.”
Writing “little and often” works for Paul being a family man with a responsible, demanding job whilst Adam says it really helps that they all enjoy reading each others writing – and that they’re clearly all dedicated to meeting the shared deadline.
Adam says: “We all love writing but it’s the discipline of having to get one in the bag every single month that keeps it engaging. I think we all genuinely really like each other’s stuff too, which is pretty important!”
For John in particular, joining the 900 Club has opened up a whole new area of his creative life.
“My only regret is that I didn’t realise it many years ago.”
“With a family to support and bills to pay, out of necessity I’ve lived a largely organised disciplined life. The sudden discovery that there is an area of my life where I am answerable to no one – where I am totally free – I find that very exciting. My only regret is that I didn’t realise it many years ago.”
From blogs to books – keeping things fresh
At the end of the first year the group decided to collect the stories together and publish a book.
For 2014 they added a genre or theme requirement to help experiment with other styles. June’s stories were written in the style of Teen Angst and over the next few weeks they’ll be scratching their facial hair to write Black Comedy.
With thanks to the 900 Club authors
- Martin Bolton – fantasy fiction writer and consummate buffoon @Bo1_tan www.boltonandpilling.com/
- Simon Evans – ineffective people manager with a penicillin allergy
- Paul Evans – land-lubbing desert-farer @panda_evans
- John Pilling – happy, skint pensioner and aspiring pie maker
- Adam Stones – word-maker and picture-taker @adamstones