By Annie Prafcke
Moorhead Friends Writing Group gathers virtually to administer advice, brainstorm blueprints, and constructively critique. A welcoming bunch, Moorhead Friends provides encouragement for anyone striving to meet their writing goals or simply hoping to acquire motivation to put fingers to keyboard.
Moorhead Friends meets every other Tuesday from 7-9 pm via Zoom. Those who are interested can message the group via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/moorheadfriendswriting or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the schedule and meeting link. Sessions are open to anyone with a fervor to write and access to an electronic device.
Moorhead Friends Writing Group consists of complex characters, starting with founder Chris Stenson, cost analyst by day, horror writer by evening. Although Stenson graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead with an accounting degree, he also minored in creative writing with the ambition of becoming an author.
As a kid, Stenson says he escaped hardships through books – from Danny Dunn to Doc Savage to Stephen King. He believes reading helped him cope with his parents’ divorce and his strained relationship with his stepfather. “. . . books kind of saved my life, because when life was really bad, I would just disappear into my room, find a corner, and disappear into books,” Stenson admits.
While he wrote throughout high school and college, Stenson says life got busy when he married and started a family. He put down the pen for 20 years. It wasn’t until his daughter found a box of his old drafts that Stenson began to consider pursuing his dream again. He eventually set a goal to write a minimum of 350 words daily for one year. It paid off. Now, Stenson is the author of “Two Bobbies,” of the Horror Writers Network anthology, “The Gates of Chaos: Stories Written During the Pandemic.” His novel “Sins of the Mother” will be published late 2021 or early 2022.
In September 2016, while Stenson was writing his novel, the director of the Moorhead Public Library, Megan Krueger, approached him about starting a writing club. Moorhead Friends was born and the rest is his story (pun intended).
Stenson says there are roughly 30 active group members, with 10 to 15 showing up per meeting. He adds that many members work part or full-time jobs in addition to writing. Moorhead Friends participants include poets, children’s book authors, high fantasy novelists, and history writers. Because meetings are virtual, attendees come from states across the U.S., including Arkansas, California, and Pennsylvania, although Stenson says most live in Minnesota and North Dakota.
One member, Tiffany Fier (pen name T.J. Fier), has been a part of the group since 2017. Fier is an associate professor of set design at North Dakota State University and author of the urban fantasy novel, “The Bright One.” When she began writing, Fier wanted a group of writers akin to her theater community. She says, “Theater is a super collaborative art form, so I’m not used to working alone. As soon as I had some stuff that I had written and was putting out there, I knew I needed feedback.”
Fier affirms that Moorhead Friends has been instrumental in developing her writing. She says, “Just being around people who know a little bit more or are exploring with you completely changes the way you write. It can make you a more effective writer.”
Sarah Nour, another long-time Moorhead Friends member, is a freelancer who contributes to the High Plains Reader and is currently in the process of publishing a children’s book series. Nour says she joined after completing her graduate studies in creative writing. She recalls missing the workshops and classes that helped fuel her ideas. Her muses now include the diverse set of people who make up Moorhead Friends.
“There are writers that are older, writers that are younger, writers that have day jobs. Some of them are retired, some write horror, some write fantasy. Some that write for a younger audience or for an older audience. Just having that kind of variety and getting input from all types of writers is interesting and it helps wake up some kind of inspiration,” she says.
Stenson says Moorhead Friends has evolved over the years. It began with only five people. They wrote from prompts and read their work outloud. As the group grew, Stenson says they began sharing their work via Google Docs to allow more time for discussion during sessions. The COVID-19 pandemic created an additional plot twist, necessitating a switch from in-person library gatherings to virtual Zoom meetings.
One static element of Moorhead Friends is their commitment to goal setting. Stenson affirms that everyone is encouraged to establish realistic goals and the group tries to hold each person accountable to achieving them. Stenson adds that Moorhead Friends is understanding that goals differ from writer to writer. He says, “Not everybody in the group wants to get published. There are people who just want to write for themselves, but they want to do a better job of expressing themselves, or they want to write better at their jobs.”
Perhaps the climax of Moorhead Friends’ get-togethers is when Stenson hosts a published author each month to talk about their writing process and story inspiration. In 2020, Moorhead Friends heard from nationally-renowned writers Alma Katsu, Keith Donohue, and Richard Chizmar, among others.
Stenson says that this year, Moorhead Friends plans to independently publish an anthology around the theme “winter.” While still in its development stages, Stenson hopes the anthology will include a variety of genres and styles. He affirms it will be an excellent opportunity for participants to boost their writing portfolios as well as learn about self-publishing.
Most importantly, Stenson believes Moorhead Friends provides a space for all writers to feel heard from others who understand writing’s tribulations, such as time management, publication rejection, and inspiration slumps.
“Writing is really a solitary endeavor. Writers sit in a corner and bleed,” Stenson says, alluding to Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote. “We spend so much time just ourselves in our minds. We need support, and I think that’s the biggest thing that the Moorhead Friends is – we’re a support group.”
If Stenson could only give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, he would simply tell them to start. He says, “I was told, if you want to become a writer, you need to sit your butt in the chair and write. It doesn’t matter what it is. Brainstorm. Write about your day. Write something until an idea comes up that you want to dig into more deeply.”
He believes Moorhead Friends is a great way to get that start.
So whether you’re a weathered writer or a freelancing fledgeling, Moorhead Friends offers an unmatched opportunity to take your writing to the next level and spread the love of words with fellow logophiles.
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