For Book Groups

Mighty Ugly can certainly be a solo adventure, but if you’re inclined to feel more comfortable slaying your creative demons in the company of others who are also in the fight, perhaps a book group would be a good thing to join. Or start. It’s not difficult to do. Here are some tips.

How on earth do you form a book group? And why would you even want to?

Book groups are rad, man. Not just for reading this book, but for reading and discussing any book. 1) Talking about books is fun. Talking about ideas is fun. Meeting new people who like to talk about ideas and books is fun. Getting to know your friends better is fun. Also, maybe, challenging, in the good kind of way. 2) Being in a book group is a great way of making sure you get together with interesting people on a regular basis. 3) Talking with said interesting people about ideas you find challenging can be an excellent way of working through them.

So now that I’ve convinced you, here’s how you can get started. Gather about eight people who are eager to read Make It Mighty Ugly and do the exercises and talk about it. These people could be friends or strangers, coworkers or people from your knitting group. You could check in with your local bookstore to see if they can help you find people; same with your local art-supply store, craft store, or community centre. You could post about it on Facebook or Craigslist. Whatever.

Fewer than eight people makes for a paltry showing if a couple of people can’t make it; more than eight makes for conversational mayhem. But then again, there are no rules in book club, so do whatever you want.

That’s pretty much it. Your newly formed group can just decide on a date to talk about the book in its entirety, with everyone agreeing to have finished it by then, or you can meet several times to discuss certain parts of the book and/or do or discuss some of the exercises.

Do you have, like, a sample reading guide for my new book group?

Funny you should ask. One morning I woke up with a fully formed year-long book-group plan in my brain. Naturally, your book group doesn’t need to commit to a year of working through Make It Mighty Ugly, but here’s a reading/exercising guide in twelve steps (could be done in twelve weeks instead of months; could be gutted so only two steps remain; could be condensed into just four gatherings – remember, no rules). If you need a hand smooshing this schedule around, drop me a line.

Each month/gathering, discuss an essay from the book, and either do or discuss having done an exercise. Like:

  • Gathering #1: Introductions

    Get to know each other a little. Discuss the J.K. Rowling quote on page xii, and your reaction to the idea of using rock bottom as a solid foundation to build up from. Homework for next time: Do Hero Qualities (page 21)and Speech Bubbles (page 34) exercises.

  • Gathering #2: Personify Your Ugly Voice

    Discuss your experiences of doing the Hero Qualities and Speech Bubbles exercises – no pressure to bare your souls, you can simply discuss what it was like to explore these things. Optional activity: Get crafty and personify your ugly voice. Make that stupid monster. Then tell it what you really think of it. (Ask every participant to bring some scrap supplies or stuff from the recycling bin; have some scissors and glue on hand.)

  • Gathering #3: Mighty Ugly Night

    Do the Mighty Ugly exercise all together (page 67). Like for the optional activity at the last gathering, have each participant bring some supplies and tools to share with the group. If you usually meet in a coffee shop, library or bookstore, maybe you should make a change this time and gather at someone’s house. You know, in case of total mess. Optional activity: Do a Skype call with me. Shoot me an email in advance to see if I can make it, obviously.

  • Gathering #4: Collage Night

    Another potentially messy get-together, this time for some playful mixed-media crafting. Discussion topic: What did you used to make when you were a kid? Any horror stories about feeling defeated in a creative project? How do you feel about making something (not intentionally ugly) around other people? Homework for next time: Do the Date Night exercise (page 95).

  • Gathering #5: Memento Mori

    Discuss your experiences of Date Night. Further discussion topic: Lauren Bacon’s blog post about The One Question You Must Ask (or, The World’s Shortest Bucket List). Homework for next time: Watch Tess Vigeland’s World Domination Summit talk and Brene Brown’s TED talk.

  • Gathering #6: Confessions

    Activity: Watch Kate Bingaman-Burt’s TEDxPortland talkDiscuss her (and your?) experience of public confession of something shameful (bonus points if your discussion drifts into the very smart things Kate says about rules). Also, discuss Tess Vigeland’s and Brene Brown’s talks. Homework for next time: Read at least through page 115.

  • Gathering #7: Commencement Addresses for All

    Discuss: If you were to deliver a commencement address, what would you say? Would you say anything different if that address were to be delivered only to a younger version of yourself? Homework for next time: Do the Three Little Pictures exercise (page 122).

  • Gathering #8: Celebration of Constraints

    Discuss your experience of doing Three Little Pictures. Relate it back to Kate Bingaman-Burt’s talk, maybe? Optional activity: Go on a photo walk all together; set any constraints you’d like (or choose one person in the group to set the constraints). Homework for next time: Decide on and complete your own daily project for one week.

  • Gathering #9: Daily Project Rundown

    Discuss your experience of doing your daily project for a week. What stressed you out? What set your mind on fire? What did you love and what did you hate? Activity: Watch Phil Hansen’s TED talk.

  • Gathering #10: Make Time

    Discuss: How have you been finding time to do all this – the reading, the exercises, the video-watching, the gatherings – and how do you plan to continue to dedicate time to making things? Share advice and support. Homework for next time: Do the Take Stock exercise (page 144).

  • Gathering #11: Show and Tell

    Activity: Based on the Show (and Tell) exercise (page 150): Share something you’ve been making, whether finished or still in progress. Do it even if you feel like you’re going to barf. Go around and have each person share. Perhaps finish up with treats. Yeah, this night totally warrants treats! Homework for next time: Do the exercise Read a Book! No, a Different One (page 162).

  • Gathering #12: Wrap It Up

    Discuss: Look back to the beginning – bet you know each other better, eh?. Do you know yourself better, too? Survey the demons you slayed and the stuff you made. What did you love and what did you hate? Will you keep on making things? Will you see any of these people again? Will you, you know, maybe collaborate on something?