The benefits of a good cluster
Last year I was introduced to the idea of a creative cluster by Julia Cameron in Vein of Gold. Sadly, I didn't make much progress with Vein of Gold (sorry Julia – I’ll get there one day), but I really liked the idea of a small group of creative people coming together, not to critique each other’s work, but to act as a sounding board and offer support.
I spent a few weeks thinking about who I’d like to cluster with and how many clusterers should be involved. I wanted an ‘in-person’ cluster, which eliminated many wonderful and experienced writer friends in Australia, as well as several of my friends in Berlin who have heavy work or study commitments. I also considered whether or not I’d like to invite people who were working in different art forms. Most importantly, I wanted to cluster with non-judgemental people I could be vulnerable and honest with.
In the end, I approached two friends I’d met through Write Together Berlin, a group I started in 2015. Although we’re all writers, we have very different aspirations and projects. Gerlind Becker is a screenwriter of both German and English scripts, who also writes for education. Carly Dee is the editor and co-founder of BLYNKT Magazine, but her true love is writing for broadcast and spoken word. We meet once a month, notebooks in hand, and talk about our current projects and challenges. We brainstorm solutions and help each other set achievable goals. And we always have a good laugh and an enormous meal – crucial elements for clustering.
About a month ago, we floated the idea of a ‘Cluster Camp’. We booked a house with three big rooms and a table we could work at. Despite the temptation of the enormous tv, the impossibly comfy couch and a sprawling garden, we were hugely productive. An extra night would have been ideal to give us two uninterrupted writing days, but we still managed to get our work done, lollop around a bit, have some great conversations, cook, go out for dinner and fit in some local sight-seeing. And we managed all this without getting out of bed before 9.30am.
What kept us focused was having a specific goal for the weekend. To keep ourselves accountable, on Friday evening we told each other what we’d be writing, and what we hoped to achieve. The others were working on existing projects, but I decided I’d have a little holiday from my novel. Instead, I wrote a collection of short stories – one for each track on the Susanne Vega album Solitude Standing. I’d prepped before the camp by listening to the album, printing off the lyrics and grouping the songs into three sections: the Odysseus stories, the Luka stories and the Midnight Picnic stories. By Sunday morning, I had an album of microfiction.
I have no aspirations for the collection – it was written purely for joy and the challenge. Completing a project over one weekend has refuelled me, and given me the energy I need to finish the second draft of my novel. I’m looking forward to our Summer Cluster Camp, to get the next mini-project out of my head and onto the page. Thank you, Gerlind and Carly, for clustering with me!
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Thanks for wandering this way. I hope you cross paths with something interesting.