Archive for May, 2012

Writers: How Did You Find A Writers Group?

May 17, 2012

It should be simple. My public library is willing to reserve a nice meeting space for us once a month; I have a fabulous facilitator lined up — an acclaimed local author who has published nonfiction, adult fiction, and award-winning children’s fiction; and I have several interested residents with a range of experience and interests who’ve told me they will join. Now all I have to do is write the email with all the details, and with one small click, I’ll have a writers group

But I can’t bring myself to do it. You see, I’m scared of writers groups.

I wasn’t always this way. I used to love the idea of a group of writers learning from one another. But then I had some bad experiences, and I’ve become a little gun-shy. Let me explain.

Several years ago I enrolled in a workshop that a local writer ran from her home. For the first 90 minutes of the class, we’d all do a free-write based on a prompt she provided. The last half-hour of the class was devoted to critiquing a participant’s work. I waited patiently for my turn to share and brought in the first chapter of a novel I had started. In that chapter, my main character — a young mom who desperately wants to return to her journalism career — brings her toddler with her when she goes to interview a store owner for an article she’s writing. As you can imagine, things don’t go well.

I read my chapter and then waited for feedback.

The first response came from a gentleman who completely disregarded my story and instead expressed outrage at the nerve of young mothers who bring their babies into retail stores. He said that he occasionally works at a liquor store and gets furious when toddlers have free range to roam the store and end up smashing bottles. This led another woman to go on and on about the outrageous parents who bring their babies and toddlers to nice restaurants and ruin everyone else’s dining experience. It was a half-hour of young-parent bashing, and then the class was over.

Not one word about my manuscript. Needless to say, I never returned to that group.

Shortly after, I enrolled in another workshop also run by a local author. This time I shared a short story about a young ambitious actor who hates the only acting job he has been able to land — as a clown on a children’s TV show. The story centers on his feelings of frustration and disillusionment, which slowly emerge as he is washing off his makeup after a day on the set.

The class complimented my character and my writing style. But after class, the instructor approached me. “You know, some actors are very grateful to get any work they can,” she said snidely. “My daughter has a friend who would be absolutely thrilled to land any role on a TV show.”

Huh? What did that have to do with my story?

Look, I write about flawed people. My characters are  flawed. They do stupid things, they do selfish things, they complain, and they make messes. But shouldn’t a critique focus on my story and not on someone’s else’s pet peeve?

More recently, I’ve taken some wonderful continuing education classes at a local college know for its writing workshops. The instructors were thoughtful and inspiring, the lessons were fascinating, and the discussions made me run back home to my computer and write and revise some more. I loved those classes and couldn’t wait to go there each week. But sadly for me, classes, unlike groups, have a beginning and an end. Plus, they can be expensive.

All I need is a little writers group. A little writers group that makes magic.

What do you think? Do you have a writers group? How did you find it? What does it do for you? Do you think I should go ahead and get my new group started?

Another needy day in the life of just another working writer.

 

Why Do Essays Feel Soooo Good?

May 1, 2012

Okay, I know the facts. It’s less than 1,000 words. It’s appearing in a regional magazine with a relatively small target audience. It’s not highlighted on the cover. And I didn’t even get paid that much to write it.

Still, I am so, so happy to see my personal essay in print!

It’s funny, isn’t it? I write a lot of research articles for a variety of publications, and I do love those assignments. It’s fun interviewing experts and learning new things–and like every other writer I know, I get a kick out of putting words together to make a great lead, a satisfying conclusion, or a clever headline. I like watching an article come to life, and I feel pride when I email a finished product to an editor–especially if it’s been one of those article that resisted getting written.

But nothing gives me the kind of charge that I get when an editor publishes an essay of mine. And the fact that it doesn’t happen that often makes it even more special. That email from an editor to tell me “Yes, yes!” is like the ultimate pat on the back. It’s the universe telling me, “You did it!” No–it’s the world saying, “We love you!”

Take this latest essay. It started with my plan to spend some alone time with my daughter by taking a weekend trip and exploring the home-turned-museum of one of our favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott.

Driving to Concord, I got that spark that writers all know so well–the sudden thought, “Hey, this would make a great article!” What followed, of course, were days and weeks of self-doubt and stagnation. “Nobody’s going to want to read this,” I told myself. “It’s all been written before; it’s all been written before–and better!”

And then, throwing caution to the wind, I plunged into deep and unknown waters–playing with words and memories, daring to feel that the work taking shape would actually have merit, whipping up a query that presented my heart and soul in a mere five-sentence paragraph, and then hoping for response from an editor who really “got” me.

Maybe what it comes down to is this: While most other types of articles are mostly about the work, a personal essay is also largely about the author. It’s the author’s opportunity to say, “This is what I think, and this is what I feel. This is what’s important, and this is why. This is who I am and who I want to be. This is a piece of my life.”

How about you? When did you publish a personal essay, and how did you feel? Are you working on a personal essay now? What are your hopes for it? And if you’re not working on one–why not?!

Another grateful day in the life of just another working writer.

 


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