Writerly Rant #55
I moved to a new town recently, about an hour away from where I was living. Previously I’d gotten myself involved with three different writing groups – one local town group focused on positive support, one Regional group that fed me and offered workshops about the industry as well as net working opportunities, and one small critique group that I ran out of my home.
While there were some alliances in the larger groups that didn’t quite jive with my sensibilities, we were all polite and respectful of each other.
Being so far away from these supportive resources was beginning to drain my writing-esteem. I decided it was time to see what this new town/region had to offer… not much. A local librarian told me about a writers guild so I made contact and arranged to be at their next meeting. With the bountiful options I had previously (which worked out so well) my excitement grew daily waiting to meet this new group of writers.
Boy was that an eye-opening experience.
Now, I arrived early and the woman setting up for the afternoon’s meet got me to help her out – okay, no problem. I like to help and did that often with the Regional writer’s group. But then the woman started asking me questions about what I wrote, was I published, etc. etc. etc. and I’m not giving full answers because I’m expecting to be asked all of this once everyone arrives. You’d think she was asking to be polite and help me be at ease but it felt more like a test I was failing miserably – and MiniEgo has left an indelible impression.
When the others arrived we numbered just over ten bodies, but several egos in the room made it feel like three times that number. Then came the first clash – the secretary of the meeting was discussing what she had found out about an upcoming local author’s event and didn’t sound very sure of her information. I too, had spoken with the library representative who was coordinating the event and I offered up my information to answer specific questions raised by SuperEgo (the only one among them traditionally published several times over). I got the distinct impression that not only was I not supposed to be speaking during that time but that my information was not appreciated and who the hell was I – since no one had thought to properly introduce themselves or me prior to this. LittleEgo/secretary was silently steaming away and giving me the evil eye after that (she really wasn’t very good at her job but I was just trying to help).
Then it was time for reading aloud. No critiquing was permitted unless a reader specifically asked in advance (only one did). This was time to practice listening to yourself speak. About four writers participated but when it came time for AlphaEgo to read, her memoir was about the neglect and abuse she went through as a child. I got the distinct feeling that she was writing for catharsis and therapy more than she was writing for the craft – and those are great reason to write but if you’re sending mixed messages about wanting feedback for improvement and then getting defensive at the response, you’re still too close to the text to look at it objectively. On the other hand, many of the critiqued suggestions were phrased in such a way as to feel like an attack on AlphaEgo. At this time it comes out that she was the one who started this group X-number of years ago, and this was its intent and she this and she that (so much for their democratic philosophy of everyone leads a different meeting and they’re all part of a cohesive group). But, as much as I disliked the jostling Egos in the room, I put my two cents worth in and actually defended AlphaEgo’s reasoning with my own experiences and attempted to clarify how some of the other comments could help improve the woman’s writing but were perhaps also missing the mark.
I should have bit my tongue and slipped out to use the washroom never to return.
Suddenly SuperEgo is spreading her wisdom from on high and I feel like I’m back in the principal’s office getting ripped a new one for something I didn’t do. Once that was over, they shifted gears to prompt writing.
At this point my mind is reeling: I’ve just listened to four unique stories/excerpts and now I’m expected to create something of my own from a list of ideas. That’s not going to happen. In all of my other writing groups if prompts happened at all, they came after announcements and before readings… that way the mind is still clear. So that was a futile exercise since I just re-organized different element from everyone else’s readings instead of generating a piece that meant something to me.
Needless to say I was not impressed with the experience. If I had never been to another writer’s meeting I would have run screaming from the room, buried my head in a good book and never bothered with the networking again.
While this was obviously not the right group for me, I know that good groups exist and will keep looking. I do recall someone mentioning during announcements that there was one other writer’s group nearby… I think I’ll hit up the local Indie Book Store and find out what I can about this other option… because at this point things can’t get any worse!