WEEKI WACHEE — “OK, let’s write a 15-word story,” announced Susan Balestrieri, who has been leading the Creative Writers of Spring Hill group for some 10 years.
Group members sitting around tables at the West Hernando Branch Library, in Weeki Wachee, dutifully picked up their pencils and began to write. It wasn’t just an exercise in brevity, but also spontaneity.
“Text received, heart pounding and weak-kneed in anticipation; handsome newlywed husband home early and waiting for me,” Grace Weeks of Spring Hill read aloud, after admitting she’d gone two words over the limit.
Other group members piped up quickly, suggesting edits. She balked at removing “handsome.” Her friend, Lisa, made it simple: remove the last two words.
“Ah,” everyone sighed, nodding approval.
The engagement, sharing and discovery are what the group is all about, Balestrieri said after the meeting, which is held the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. Membership is free, and writers of all abilities are welcomed.
After the short story, Balestrieri’s assignment was to write 15 syllables. It was just the sort of task one might expect from a retired school teacher who spent 33 years in the classroom looking to challenge students. In a lot of ways, leading the group is like leading students, Balestrieri said. Stimulate minds and watch what happens.
She recalls a group member who had some technical issues with grammar and lacked confidence. As time went by, she broke out and penned some great stories, said Balestrieri.
“After that, she just blossomed,” she said.
That’s the kind of development Balestrieri likes to see, and it is what current members of the group like rookie writer Anna Marie Isgro of Port Richey hope to achieve. It was her first meeting, and she believes she’ll be sticking around for more.
“I always wanted to join a creative writing group,” she said. “I look forward to growing into a better writer; ultimately I’d like to write a book everyone in the world would see.”
It was Lisa Kruchkow’s first time, as well, and the Spring Hill resident says she’ll be back for more. She had a couple of poems published years ago and wants to get back to writing.
“I always had the desire to write,” she said. “I’m hoping to get some direction and get my creativity going.”
Everyone has a shot at realizing their writing dream, said Balestrieri.
“If you can talk, you can write,” she said.
Balestrieri has authored a couple of books and is about to publish a recipe book. Two of the group members are working on books, she said.
One key to achieving writing goals is getting over the fear of sharing, Balestrieri said—something she encourages by creating a “comfortable environment.”
When writers share, the revelation is that everyone’s writing is different, and that styles will emerge over time.
“The only thing I ask is that they be committed,” said Balestrieri, adding that missing assignments makes it hard to keep everyone on pace.
What do most beginning writers need to work on?
Writing powerful hooks that draw the reader in is paramount, Balestrieri said. So is using strong verbs. Learning to take (and give) constructive criticism also is important.
Balestrieri picked up a copy of her book, “Baker’s Backyard Adventures,” a story about the animals she grew up with on a farm. She turned to a chapter about a pig she would sometimes ride when a toddler. She flipped to a chapter about her goose then pointed to a sketch of the bird, roasted and laying on a platter.
“I didn’t eat that night,” Balestrieri said. “Father said nothing ever goes to waste on the farm.”
When pointed out that she’d just uttered a poignant 15-word, two-sentence story, she paused to consider her words.
“Yeah, I guess so.”