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The masterminds of solitary togetherness

A few years ago, after finishing graduate school and completing what I hoped would be my debut novel, I found myself at a standstill. The middle grade historical I had so lovingly crafted wasn’t exactly ready for primetime. What’s worse, I had no idea how to get it there. In my rush to write as many pages as I could, I hadn’t learned much about revision during my low-residency graduate school program.

Every day I read and reread the pages of my manuscript, tweaking words here and there, feeling like I was banging my head against the wall. I knew I had to get away from it before I could even hope to make it better. I also knew, after leaving corporate America to raise kids, write fiction, and run my own marketing communications agency, that I needed a change. Working alone was lonely. The question was, what did I want to do?

It started with a neighborhood walk. It was my habit then (and still is, in fact) of walking in the evenings with my friends. We’d walk and talk, and I’d tell each of them what was on my mind, listening, too, to what was on theirs. We’d share stories about our kids, our work, our problems, and our dreams. And by the end of each walk, we’d feel heard and supported, happy to have each other.

Still, my everyday frustrations remained. My revision was going nowhere and I was no longer enjoying my work. My friends, too, were struggling to gain traction with their own challenges: learning new skills, changing careers, and finding jobs. What we needed was something more formal than a walk—a forum where we could meet regularly to focus on change.

It didn’t take long to come up with a plan: four of us would meet once a month for an hour and a half. After ten minutes of chit-chat, each person would get twenty minutes to explore ideas, ask for advice, refine her goals, and update the group on her progress.

We called ourselves the Mastermind Career Syndicate.

We met for almost two years. By the end of that period, one woman finished nursing school and started a job as a home health-care nurse, another moved from a corporate job to a more fulfilling paid position in a non-profit, and another left a toxic position at a well-regarded academic institution to secure full-time contracts at a different academic institution. And me? I got a teaching position at a local community college and started work as a freelance editor. With much of my time taken up with that, I relished the chance to get back to my novel, even if it meant I had to revise it.

The beauty of the Mastermind Career Syndicate was the formality behind it. All of us took that hour and half very seriously. We never met if one of us couldn’t make it, because there was something sacred about the group. We came to the meeting prepared to listen and ready to help. And while we were there, each of us got attention, support, ideas, advice, and forced accountability.

These days, my mastermind group consists of three other writers. I decided to create a new group when my focus narrowed to topics around writing. It’s a lovely alliance. We help each other set goals, talk craft, share interesting books we’ve read, discuss the business of writing, and more than anything, give each other support. For me, mastermind groups are here to stay. They’ve changed the trajectory of my life and career and constantly remind me that I’m not alone.

Danielle Sunshine teaches college English and is the Regional Advisor for the San Francisco South chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She provides developmental editing for picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels and also offers editorial assessments, line editing, and query critiques. Find out more about Danielle here.

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