My husband, who was more interested in my writing activities than I was, told me about writing groups – people of like minds reading each other’s work to offer advice for improvement. I scoured the Internet for the location of a local writing group. Nothing. I tried the newspaper. Nothing. But there was a meeting at the library about writing, so I jotted down the date and time.
At the conclusion of the meeting, an announcement was made about a writers critique group meeting in Borders Bookstore. Jackpot! The following Monday, I walked into Borders and wandered about the store until a found four people sitting at a table near the bathrooms. I sat on an empty seat at the table and learned they were fiction writers. I wrote nonfiction and assumed I’d just attended my first and last meeting.
When they learned that I was published, they made an exception. Even though the leader had envisioned Sci-Fi writers, he decided the purpose of the meeting was to encourage the craft of writing and swung the door open for all genres. When I arrived, the group consisted of a Sci-fi writer, humor writer and a historical fiction writer. Eventually an attorney writing an epic, a fantasy writer and college administrator writing mysteries joined the group. This eclectic group of writers did what the church failed to do. They welcomed me, tolerated me and allowed me to participate.
We met weekly to refine our craft. The rules were sparse. The common goal of helping each other held us together. “Suck it up” was the only rule. When the members commented on our work, we could not reply until we had been sliced, diced and roasted. Was it difficult to remain quiet while people pointed out every detrimental item in your writing? Yes, indeed, but it worked wonderfully. They taught me how to write.
Our leader was content to sit among us as a shepherd who provided a place for the flock to graze as we found our own way. If he was late, or didn’t appear at all, we started without him. We were adults, not children who needed someone to hold our hand.
As the years elapsed, writers came, and writers left. Some left in wonderment that we did not perceive their genius. Some left in anger when we suggested their writing needed improvement. Upon the realization they would not be an overnight success depositing a million dollar advance check any time soon others departed.
We developed into a core group of writers who rarely missed a meeting. Even the mighty Hurricane Katrina, destroyer of cities, failed to blow apart our happy group. We kept in touch by email. When we returned to New Orleans, we regrouped and met like nomads until another bookstore took us in.
We had a good thing, and we knew it. Our writing steadily improved until some among us were paid for their finely crafted work. We rejoiced and “high fived” the proud authors. The playwright among us won a competition. When the play was produced, we attended the sold-out opening night to celebrate her success.
The group was happy until strangers desired what we had. Fear griped some of the faithful. We no longer reviews one to three members work per meeting, we had to wait weeks for a critique, and then we had to wait months. Grumbling rumbled through the group.
“This group is too big,” said one of the members.
“Something needs to be done,” affirmed another.
“Patience,” I cried. “Nothing happens fast in publishing, so what does it matter if we have to wait.” My plea was met with a scowl of disgust. New rules were discussed, but the submissions that came in like a flood subsided and the group breathed a sigh of relief.
Our relief was short-lived. The bookstore blessed us with advertising. More strangers arrived wanting what we had, but the group no longer wanted to share. If we shared, we had to wait. Our needs required instant gratification.
“Why can’t we welcome these strangers and wait if we must,” I inquired.
“These new people will destroy our group,” someone cried.
Our leader shed his shepherd clothes and crowed himself sovereign king. He extended his scepter and decreed that the strangers must prove their worth first. They must wait for weeks and then we will read their writing to see if they are worthy to sit among us. This time I scowled in disgust as the noble purpose of encouraging the craft of writing was forsaken.
A minority in the group saw the strangers as loss. I saw them as gain. What did we have to fear? Writers with new ideas and fresh perspectives. Unfortunately, the minority had the power to determine which path the group would follow. The noble purpose of encouraging one another was abandoned to adopt rules that made it hard for people to participate.
The strangers did not destroy us. The rules did. I knew from many years of Bible study that the letter of the law kills; the Spirit gives life. My opposition to the influx of rules fell on deaf ears. I didn’t want to quarrel with people who had become my friends, so I left the group. They later guaranteed I would never return by adding another rule: Fiction writers only.
I left a better writer than I was when I joined the group. In retrospect, it was time for me to leave. An introduction to blogging was about to fill my life with activity and redefine my purpose for writing. More about that in my next post.