October 25, 2003

writer's group

I found a notice at the library for a weekly writer's meeting at a different branch. It's at a time I could go. But do I want to? Why do people join writer's groups, anyway? Is it for feedback? That's the idea, I guess, but it has to be just the right combination of voices for good quality, constructive feedback, doesn't it? I've been in writer's groups for screenwriting, thus my hesitation. The social aspect is fun. The feedback aspect? Not necessarily. I was in one that was positively brutal and when you're critiquing something in progress, you run the risk of permanently derailing the story. I was in another group that was warm and fuzzy and a lot of fun, but the feedback, although well meaning and certainly not hurtful, was a little clueless and ultimately not at all helpful. That writing group led me astray because I started writing toward what I perceived they liked instead of writing what I needed to write.

A group by its nature, I think, tends to want things easy to digest. Material that's more like other work they've read/seen than fresh, new and challenging. And as you read, you may feel one way toward a character based on a single action, but later on that character surprises you and you change your mind. But if you're reading in bits and pieces, your early feeling may solidify -- and, more problematically, the writer will hear how you feel and may therefore make different choices as he or she writes forward, compromising the work.

This writing group that meets at the library is a somewhat different beast: they write from prompts. Writing exercises. Then I think they talk about the exercises and maybe talk a bit about other work too. It could be a chance to get my writing style and method critiqued without submitting my more tender work to the critical knife. And it would be nice to be among a community of writers. If indeed that's the nature of the group.

How do I decide? Do I commit the time to this, taking it away from my other writing projects? Good idea or bad? I don't know. I just don't know.

Posted by Tamar at October 25, 2003 11:18 PM

Speaking both as a writing instructor who uses prompts and a writer whose current novel all grew out of an exercise, I can testify to the power of both. It's a kind of workout, one you'll find less or more useful depending on where you are. That stuff can have unexpected benefits -- if you have the time!


Posted by: Chris L. at October 26, 2003 01:03 AM

I tend to agree with Chris -- I think it could be fun and could spark creativity in a sort of all-around way. Recently, I picked up Anne Lamott's Bird-by-Bird again, just a sort of breath of fresh air creativity-wise, and there was a description there in her discussion of school lunches. She gives the assignment to describe your school lunches, the attitudes, etc., and in the description she remembered the kid on the fence -- you know the one who was always ignored, etc. It made me start thinking about the kids on the fence that I had known, and why they were there, what made them the way they are now, and ended up giving me a whole layer in something else I'm working on that I may not have found without that prompt. I do think you could enjoy that aspect. (And you could always plead busy if you decided it didn't work for you.)

Posted by: toni at October 27, 2003 10:55 AM

Erf. I know you're both right, but erf. And urgh. I once had to write an exercise for creative writing class about a decision. Wrote about a guy trying to decide whether to take a bite of the apple in his hand. This is known as a cop-out.

It would be good for me to take writing exercises seriously, huh? Maybe I'll give it a try. Next week. Really. Or maybe the week after.

Posted by: Tamar at October 27, 2003 11:32 PM