Monday, September 15, 2014

Finding the Right Writer's Group

I wrote this blog post more than four years ago:

Almost three years ago I joined two writers groups. I had found both on the internet. The first group consisted of retired women, mostly my senior. We met in a lovely home in Newport Beach on the beach every Monday afternoon. The second group, the Orange County Fictionaires, met every other Wednesday evening in a room on the eighth floor of a hospital. I had to audition and be voted in. So, I began in January of 2007 to attend both groups. I’d been looking for a writing group for a long time. I’d taken a number of classes and I was looking for more individualized attention. I was excited about giving and receiving feedback.

I went to one meeting in Newport and came home feeling, for a number of reasons, ambivalent.

For Fictionaires, I had to send in my material for an initial screening. If approved, I had to attend three meetings, and participate in critiquing members' work. On the third meeting, I had to read aloud and be critiqued.  after which I would leave and be voted in or out. After my first meeting, I loved the Fictionaires. I found the members to be insightful, talented and witty, and I really wanted to join.

For the Newport group, I had to print out a copy of my work, but on the second week I had a printer problem and so I asked a woman, the hostess, if she’d mind printing out my work if I e-mailed it to her. She obliged, but somewhere in cyberspace, all my indentations and quotation marks were lost (through no fault of my own). She suggested that I didn’t belong in the group since I obviously didn’t know how to use my grammatical markers. I went to the meeting feeling annoyed with her and cyberspace. When I arrived, no one was there.

Now I was seriously miffed and offended. I continued to my outrage for a day or two, but after some time came an overwhelming relief which puzzled me. I sent an e-mail thanking the Newport group and suggesting that their time schedule wouldn't work with mine. A few days later I found a message on my cell phone left on the day when I’d found no one at home in Newport telling me that our hostess had gone to the hospital. I hadn’t been stood up, but still the damage was done and I was glad and a little concerned. Remember, it would be at least a month before I would know if I’d be accepted into Fictionaires, and I still really wanted to belong to a critique group.

While running with my comedian son one morning, I related the incident to him and admitted I couldn’t understand my feelings. I really wanted a writer’s group, why would I be relieved that one hadn’t worked out? I had learned from previous classes that just reading my work aloud helped tremendously, and that I had something to learn from everyone. (I still believe that every single person has something valuable to teach.) Nathan, who had to read his material before a committee each time he preformed, told me that it was always stressful to share his work and that if I didn’t value their opinions, why should I suffer the stress?

I felt somewhat better until my turn to read in Fictionaires arrived. It was a cold February night. I brought a large chocolate cake. I remember one woman told me “I’ll never tell anyone that they can’t write,” and I wondered if she wanted to tell me that I couldn’t write. I read my work and then the critique began. I felt like I’d been surrounded by a friendly group of terriers who had morphed into pit bulls. After a few minutes of their helpful and hurtful comments, I stopped taking notes. I left completely discouraged, but by the time I got home I had a telephone call welcoming me to the group.

It's been 7 years since I joined Fictionaires. They are still insightful, witty and talented, and I’m grateful to be in their number. The adventure didn't stop there. I wrote this blog post in November of 2010:

I’m lucky for many reasons. One of the reasons I’m lucky is I get to spend large junks of time doing what I love to do and I have friends who love to do the same thing. I belong to Orange County Fictionaires. I’m on the bottom of the success totem pole, although, next year I’ll be the president. You maybe wondering why. It’s a fair question, and I don’t know the answer, but here’s what happened.

Two Wednesdays ago, after a long, tiring day and an afternoon spent with piano students who hadn’t practiced, I stood in my kitchen stirring chili. “I’m thinking of not going to my writing group tonight,” I told Larry.

“Why?”

There were ample reasons, lack luster piano students, chili to be eaten, TV to watch, but I said, “It’s the time of year they chose next year’s officers, and I’m afraid they’ll want to make me president.”

“Why would they make you president?”

I thought about this and realized this was a very good question. After all, Jackie's published more than 80 novels, Neal has a movie deal and last year I made $50 by placing second in a contest. Why would they want me to be president? And, further more, we already had a president for next year – Ben, this year’s vice-president and president elect. 

I ate some chili, and went to my meeting, happy. I was happy until the break when Ben announced he is moving to Colorado. No president elect. James, this year’s president, looked at me and said, “There’s no one else.” This is not true. I balked, but after a few minutes of arguing, caved.

Why don’t I want to be president of Fictionaires? Another fair question. It’s a great group. I’m in noble, talented company, and I’m honored to be among them. But, frankly, I’m tired of being at the bottom. I’m tired of the unflagging writing rejection. I’m tired of trying so hard and placing second. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that if I hadn’t been asked to be president of Fictionaires, I may have stopped going. 

I wouldn’t have stopped writing, since that began when I was eight. But, there are times when I certainly want to stop trying.

And so, I took my turn serving as president. And every few weeks, I take my turn reading my stuff. They tore down the hospital where we used to meet. We now meet in an upper room of a Catholic church. Obviously, I  haven't stopped writing. Since I wrote both of these blog posts, I've published 11 books. I plan on publishing three more stories (one novella, one short story, and one novel) before the end of the year. Would I have done this without Fictionaires? I really don't know.

Writing is solitary enough. I'm glad I don't have to do it completely alone.


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