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.