Posts Tagged ‘Writer Resources’

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.

 

Article Interviews: Why Do They Talk?

February 16, 2012

A few years back when I was on staff a at trade magazine, I set out to interview a key merchandising executive at Bloomingdale’s. Susan K. was glamorous, sophisticated, powerful, and notoriously press-averse.

“Everybody already knows who I am and what I stand for,” she told me. “Manufacturers and designers all want to get their products onto my floor.  The only possible thing that could happen if I do the interview is I could say something wrong and get people mad at me. Why would I consent to that?”

Why indeed? Why take the risk?

I was thinking about this situation not too long ago, while I was writing an article for a regional magazine about the pros and cons of living a rural life. I had contacted a writer friend of mine who lives in the country, and she spoke eloquently–almost lyrically–about the joy of driving home on winding roads after a long day at work.

“If you quote me, do you have to use my name and hometown?” she asked.

I did. That was the magazine’s policy. She told me that she didn’t like being so exposed in print — but then she said she would do it this time, and she looked forward to seeing my piece.

I wondered: Why did she agree to be published? Was it because I was her friend and she didn’t want to disappoint me? Had I gotten her to do something she didn’t want to do? Did that make me a bad friend?

Another time I was working on an article about developmental delays in children, and through a friend of a friend, got in touch with the mother of a severely disabled preschooler. The child had motor issues and language problems, and Mom’s entire life revolved around doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. Worried that she would regret being so open, I offered to hold back on anything she preferred to remain unpublished — but no, she said, she was fine with my printing everything she said.

Why did she agree to be published? Did she really want to be as open as she claimed she did? Would the right thing be to hold back on some of her more personal quotes, as a way of protecting her from her own candor? Did I exploit her to write a good story?

Now, my interviews don’t always proceed this way. Some people ask to see their quotes before the article is printed. Some people even ask me to repeat their quotes two or three times, as though their whole world might collapse if they used the word “this” instead of “that.” Sometimes it’s because they’ve been misquoted by others in the past, and sometimes it’s because they have never been quoted, so they don’t know what to expect. And some people just don’t like to relinquish control.

And what of my Bloomingdale’s friend? She ultimately and unexpectedly called me back and agreed to the interview — and enjoyed the whole process so much that she thanked me whenever she saw me for months.

Why did she talk?

Truth be told, I’ll never  know exactly why anyone I’ve contacted decides either to speak to me or not to. But if my years as a writer have taught me anything, it’s that being interviewed for publication entails consequences — and when people decide to do it, I want to make sure that they’ve reached that decision without being manipulated, and that I quote them accurately, objectively and in the proper context.

How about you? Have you ever tried to interview someone who felt conflicted about whether to talk? What did you say and what did they say? What finally happened?

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

And P.S….my fellow blogger Nicole Cloutier (http://nicolecloutier.me) nominated my blog for a sunshine award. Now it’s my turn to spread the sunshine, so stay tuned for my great blog pics!


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