Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Your Other Writing Group

We all have at least one source we consult after finishing a project, hopeful of that most useful of editorial tools, the other eye, or the saving grace. This is part of writerly interconnectedness, not simply because writing is often such lonely work, but because our other sources emerge from often surprising places. Diane, the person I am most likely to send my work to, lives some distance over a sinuous highway on which impatient individuals ply their SUVs at maddeningly irresponsible speeds or frustratingly slow speeds, thus 154 from Santa Barbara to Santa Ynez is more often than not an emotional experience. Diane was once a regular in my Saturday group.

Another likely consult is some hundreds of miles north, more or less near his alma mater of Stanford, whence I proceed every other month to moderate and perhaps even to militate.

And there is yet another, who is back now from Canberra and tucked away in a small Canadian town neither of us can pronounce.

I am the choice of a number of writing buddies in addition to editorial clients. Sometimes the lines are blurry, as with Brian Fagan, who began as a client, still is, but is also a friend.

All of which demonstrates the fact that many writers have some ties of support and encouragement, others still seek and get their support from virtual or active or both writers groups; the graduate-level writing program where I have been associated for lo these many years goes out of its way to encourage electronic connections with instructors and student peers; I am encouraged to use the University system for posting lecture notes, editing things on line, and downloading podcasts and other events from audible dot com.

Truth to tell, I feel frequent waves about many such group connections, largely because I see and hear such outrageous suggestions from them, suggestions that waste the writers' time and undercut their originality.

Having just paid $26 American for a hardcover book I thought I wanted and $12.95 for a trade paperback, I am more of a mind to accept the equation that such prices are inevitable and accordingly I will only pay the respective tariff for the real thing and let convention or imitation of a style or concept go hang itself in the closet.

Nonreaders seem to gravitate to writing groups, which should be a warning. How much critique should I take from a nonreader? Indeed, how much from a nonwriter? And how about my discovery yesterday that one of my best students was wasting time doing an exercise that was assigned in one of his workshops? Assigned by a workshop leader who was a former student of mine and with whom I am on cordial terms?


Don't start off on exercises.

The one I like the most is where each member of a writing group picks a word. The words are rendered on a poster or as a group email. Each member then has to write a story containing all the chosen words. Instant Chekhov, right? I can recall interrupting a new member at my Saturday group after that person had read three or four pages during the course of which I grew increasingly impatient for traces of story. That text reads, I said, trying my unsuccessful best to sound neutral if not encouraging, as though it were an assignment from your other writing group. The reader was stunned. How, he wondered, could you tell?

No spontaneity, I said, and no story.

Of course there are writers' groups other than the bizarre assignment sorts. Take the Foundation Garment or Maximum Support Groups, in which everything is wonderful, life is good, and the free-lance writer shall end the New York publisher conspiracy. Life is good to the point of being amazing, but everything is not wonderful. I could deal with that last observation without ever mentioning George W. Bush. I could start with Ronald Reagan. While it is true that some massively wrong things find their way into publication, members of the New York publishing establishment are too busy to have time to conspire. It is not true that all good things will eventually find a home, but that is because of a massive lack of taste, which cannot be argued ito existence as a conspiracy.

Those groups that encourage individual voice and theme are the groups that rock.

The others? They should all be forced to listen to Middlemarch or The Mill on the Floss from a slow-speed book on tape. There! That'll teach 'em a thing or two.


John Eaton said...

Moderation and militation, and tagging the memes.

Voices, and themes, and the solitary voice amid the crowd, in the throng, inside the sound of groups and whispers. Individual notes.

Testify on, man,

John :)

John Eaton said...

Oh, and tag, Shelly.

Seven Random Things

R.L. Bourges said...

in your opinion, where do blogging buddies and memes fit into the reading/writing group dynamic? (apart from being cheaper than books and/or MFA programs)

lettuce said...

that would teach 'em a thing or two. And which of the two would you choose, if you had to?

x said...

I have never been involved in a group that more strongly encourages individual voice than the blogosphere. I posted a bad poem I wrote about it today.