Hello Dear Readers,
So far, 2012 hasn’t started off on the brightest, shiniest note. A friend just left our writing group. In a group of ten or more, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but we’re small…five people, to be exact, and one of those doesn’t even live in the city anymore. Now we’re down to four, three of whom can actually attend the meetings. To make matters worse, one of the reasons I began this group in the first place was to spend more time with this friend, who has a great attitude about life and is a stellar human being. Sure, I love his writing, but his contributions as a person are much more important to me.
He left for his own reasons, and I get it. When you’re not writing, you’re constantly guilty about not writing, and the last thing you need is to sit around with a group of other writers and hear about how they’re all-so-busy with their many projects. Sometimes it can guilt you into getting your butt in gear, but not always. A lot of times, it just makes you feel like a loser.
I wonder why so few writers talk publicly about how difficult it is when you’re not writing. Surely we’ve all been through periods like this, and yet, it seems no one wants to admit it. Instead we’re bombarded with stupid quotes like, “Writers write. Period.” Yeah? Well, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes (unless you’re already making the big bucks as a full-time novelist, and if that’s the case, bully for you) life gets in the way. And, in my opinion, this doesn’t make you any less a writer. Say you’re a runner. If you take a year off because of an injury or a death in your family or a stressful situation, no one says, “Oh, there’s Karen. She used to be a runner.” No, Karen is a runner who is taking some time off. Why doesn’t the same go for writing? I don’t know of another art form where people are so focused (and judgmental) about output. I blame things like NaNoWRiMo for this. Sure, it’s a great idea in theory, but to my thinking, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to the written word. Is it really so important that you wrote 500,000 words if 488,000 of them are crap? The best writing involves a lot of thinking. So what if you’re not pounding out chapter after chapter? Just tell your nosy writing buddies that you’re in the thinking stage. It has its place, and it does have merit.
But back to the idea of writing groups. I’ve always had my struggles with them, and I’ve yet to be a member of one that really worked for me. My first writing group was composed of myself and two like-minded friends. None of us were writing, and all of us wanted to be. We hoped that the group would be our impetus. It was for one of us, but the other two languished, feeling guiltier and guiltier while our friend churned out (very well-crafted) pages. The second writing group was more inclusive. Anyone who wanted to be a member could be, and there was no pressure to write or to read your work aloud. Sounds perfect, right? It could be–when the work being read was interesting, and the person reading it was a good narrator. When those factors were missing, it was purgatory. And although there was supposed to be a time limit, no one stuck to it, and let me tell you–listening to fifteen minutes of a ho-hum novel being read in a monotone is not inspiring.
You were also at the mercy of anyone who showed up during the evenings you planned to read. Those who critiqued tended to fall into two groups: people who loved everything, because they were very nice and trying to be helpful, and people who wanted to sharpen their claws on everyone else’s work. While I did meet some good critique partners at this group, they were far from the norm.
My latest writing group has yet to hit its stride, or figure out what it wants to be. In the beginning, I envisioned a place where people could talk about the writing life and its challenges–including how to deal with the times when you just can’t write, for whatever reason. I didn’t want us to be held hostage while everyone read twenty pages aloud, and we’re probably too busy to read each other’s finished works. But I don’t know…I could be wrong about that, and I will ask at the next meeting.
At this point, I’m not sure what writing groups are supposed to achieve for their members, or what the best structure is. The one thing I can take away from every experience I’ve had is the wonderful writing friends I’ve met, and how good it feels to meet kindred souls who completely get where you’re coming from. To me, that’s been the best part.
What’s been your experience with writing groups? What has worked the best for you? Have writing groups improved your writing, or inspired you to create during a non-productive time?