A decision to leave a writer’s group I had attended for five years gave me an education in human behavior. I owe a debt of gratitude to the man who started the meeting. My writing improved dramatically during my time with them.
The first meeting I attended comprised three members. I wrote non-fiction. They wrote fiction. They made an exception. I wrote about God. The Lutheran did not mind. The pagan was not pleased but tolerated me. Even though the leader intended the group to consist of one genre, he decided the purpose of the meeting was to encourage the craft of writing and swung the door open for all genres.
We met weekly to refine our craft. The rules were sparse. A common goal of helping one another held us together. “Suck it up” became the golden 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.
Everyone’s writing improved except our leader who rarely submitted work for a critique. He seemed 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.
Over the years, writers came and writers left. Some left in wonderment we did not perceive their genius. Some left in anger when we suggested their writing needed improvement. Others left upon the realization they would not be an overnight success depositing a million dollar royalty check in the morning.
We developed into a core group of writers who rarely missed a meeting. Our writing steadily improved until some among us were paid for our finely crafted work. We rejoiced and high-fived the proud authors. The playwright among us won a competition. We attended the sold-out opening night when a local playhouse produced her play.
We were happy until strangers appeared desiring what we had. Fear invaded the group. No longer were we reviewing 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 member. “Patience,” I cried. “Nothing happens fast in publishing, so what does it matter if we have to wait.” Some scowled in disgust. We discussed new rules 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 that nurtured us blessed us with advertising. More strangers arrived wanting what we had, but the group no longer wanted to share. If we share, we have to wait. Our needs required instant gratification. None of us had a publishing deadline or even contest deadline, but we had a rule. If someone had a deadline, his or her work would move to the top of the list.
“Why can’t we welcome these strangers and wait if we must,” I inquired.
“These new people will destroy our group,” someone huffed.
Our leader shed his shepherd clothes and crowned 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.
I don’t think the minority within the writing group realized what they did. They saw the strangers as loss. I saw them as gain. What did we have to fear – new ideas, fresh perspectives, more talented writers giving helpful critiques? Unfortunately, the minority had the power to determine which path the group would take.
Instead of encouraging writers new writers, we nitpicked about the rules. 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. But my opposition to the influx of unnecessary rules fell on deaf ears. I didn’t want to quarrel with people who had become my friends, so I moved on hoping to recapture what I once had. A group of writers with a common goal of encouraging one another.