Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Writers' Groups, Part II

Writers’ Groups, Part II

During the last twenty years I’ve participated in seven writers’ groups, but most of them have been organized into one of four categories. All of them were interesting and have played a role in my life as a writer, but some were a better fit than others. I look back on all of them fondly and sometimes with amusement at our disjointed efforts to move forward.

First is the support group whose members are writers. The group usually meets in the evening on a weekday or a Saturday morning on a weekly basis and focuses on anything about writing, encouraging its members to complete work and send it out. Members share resources for research and names of journals to send work to, commiserate on rejection letters, and generally encourage each other to keep writing. Discussions tend to wander, and not everyone is a practicing writer.

Second is the group that comprises writers who have published something and are focused on continuing to get work into print. They arrive at the meeting with coffee and perhaps a snack to stave off hunger, or a late lunch (or early dinner). They read their work, listen to general comments, and report on efforts to publish.

Third is the group that expects a certain amount of work from its members. Each writer brings copies for others to read along with as he or she reads the story or chapter or scene from the current work. Comments are expected to be substantial and helpful, but not of the order of how to recast the entire story (a temptation we all fall into when enthusiasm exceeds judgment). The reader asks questions and discusses the comments. Everyone feels a certain investment in the work and expects regular updates on progress of other publishing efforts. This is not the place for writers who can’t seem to finish anything, never take a risk, or are waiting for inspiration.

Fourth and last is the group for those with a tough hide. These groups are usually small because they require more work than the other groups and devote one session to each member. The writer sends copies of the chapter to be discussed to the group members in advance, giving the members time to read and analyze, and prepare for an in-depth discussion. At the meeting, the writer whose work is being discussed sits on the sidelines and listens to the discussion, not allowed to comment, interject explanations, challenge or correct misinterpretations, or add anything to the discussion. After about two hours of this (if the writer is still in the room), he or she is allowed about half an hour to comment on the discussion. This kind of group has no room for anyone who is not writing regularly and not advanced enough to produce substantial work.

I’ve participated in groups in every category, two that served wine and food, one that adjourned for a meal after every session, one that never served anything edible and didn’t expect anyone to bring anything edible, and one that felt like a picnic. But all of them included writers who were dead serious about their work, who listened attentively and thoughtfully, and contributed what they could, and many who went on to publish books and stories and articles.

Even if some of the earlier groups I participated in seem a little frivolous or disorganized when I look back on them, it is clear to me that I learned from the others in the group, drew inspiration from them, and kept going because they were there every week or every month encouraging me. You can’t ask for more than that.

1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that a highly focused group would be the most useful kind. Whenever I have belonged to a group that was not it was pretty much a waste of time.