Thursday, December 25, 2014

Writing Groups Presentation: Part 5: Bumps in the Road

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. I know it's Christmas and most folks won't be checking blogger but I do want to get this series finished before New Years so here's installment 5. I'll leave it up a couple of days. Only one more installment to go.

Part 5: Bumps in the Road.

If you join or form a group that lasts more than six months, you’ll definitely have to deal with losses and gains in members. For many reasons, people’s needs change. Their focus and interests alter. Life gets in the way with marriages, sicknesses, or job changes. Our group stresses that it’s OK for a member to leave with no grudges held. I’m still good friends with many ex-members. We also stress that it’s OK for a member to join or start a secondary group with a different focus than ours. The goal is to help people become better writers.

Our group started as an “open” group at the library, meaning anyone who wanted could join. As we started getting ourselves organized we transitioned to a “closed” group, which means you have to be invited to join. We only accept a new member when an old one leaves, and we’re careful about it. We ask potential new members to sit quietly through two of our meetings to see what we do and find out if it is for them. Then we actually vote on admitting the member. We’ve never had a vote be less than unanimous.

No Human Endeavor is Free of Conflict. The worst conflicts in writing groups are all about hurt feelings. I left my first group because one woman constantly made snide comments about SF/Fantasy/Horror. She called it “Comic booky.” I felt disrespected, and it didn’t seem she was trying to help me but was trying to tear me down, perhaps to make herself feel better.

Sometimes the disrespect you seem to be getting from other members is genuine. Sometimes the member is really feeling sorry for themselves. Sometimes the reviewer means well but comes off too harsh in tone. People have different critique styles.

When a personal conflict occurs, you have three choices:
a. Confront it. Start out with a one to one talk, then bring it up as group issue if that fails.

b. Leave. If it becomes too personal, you may have to. Start another group.

c. Learn from it. Hurt feelings are inevitable, but legitimate & honest criticism is how we grow. People say, “develop a thick skin!” What does that mean? It means to take criticism in a professional manner without getting defensive or erupting with anger. Don’t ignore criticisms that upset you. Learn what you can from each criticism. Remember that you own your work. Don’t just change it in an effort to be accepted. And for goodness sake, resist the urge to write for the group.

Reviewers need to remember some things too, though: Words have power. Criticisms need to be directed to the material, not the writer. You’re not there to make yourself feel better, but to help the writer. Fine writing and terrible writing can occur in any genre. Newer writers generally need a lighter hand than experienced writers.



Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and Lana!

X. Dell said...

This (and the previous posts in this series) sounds to me as if you have participated in a number of different writing groups. I've never thought about joining one, but did not realize the diversity of writers' groups.

Cloudia said...

People never talk in a general about these conflicts - just when they come up personally, and then they have a dog in the fight. This is generally educational and needed- not just for writing groups. Thanks

ALOHA from Honolulu

Vesper said...

Why would anyone participate in a group and be disrespectul to other members? I guess that's just human nature and, unfortunately, it shows itself everywhere...
Also, I think that what you're saying in the last paragraph of this post is very important. Words do have a lot of power.
Merry Christmas and a wonderful Holiday Season to you and Lana!

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, thank you. And same to you and your whole family.

X Dell, I've been in half a dozen so far.

Cloudia, I appreciate your kind words.

Vesper, happy holidays to you and yours as well. And yes, some folks are just like that.

SzélsőFa said...

Amen to that. Been there, too.
And the advice I liked the best is that no writer should write to please other members of the group. He/she should write to meet a set standard of writing, to achieve a certain quality.
Sometimes the members hold you back, sometimes they help have to be educated (by other groups, other helpers, other reading materials, etc.) to know the difference.
It's not easy.

BernardL said...

You've certainly spelled out all the reasons I enjoy writing alone. :) I hope you and Lana had a wonderful Christmas.

Charles Gramlich said...

Szelsofa, as the most experienced writer in my group, I'm constantly warning them about writing for the group and about how they have to keep the larger world audience in mind.

Bernard, groups certainly aren't for everyone. I think I get enjoyment out of seeing newer writers "get it." Part of the teacher in me, I suppose. Lana and I had our Christmas yesterday essentially, when my son and his girlfriend came up. We had a good time.

G. B. Miller said...

I think having a blog can be the ultimate for a beginning/novice writer's group, especially if the blog features a few short stories now and then.

Can't tell you how many times I received solid constructive criticism about my writing, and never once was I made to feel inferior about my writing or my writing abilities.

Father Nature's Corner

Charles Gramlich said...

G.B., yes, the blogosphere is generally a pretty good place for that sort of thing.

David Cranmer said...

Best of the season to you and Lana, Charles. Catch you in '15.

Charles Gramlich said...

David Cranmer, thanks man. And the same to you and the charmers.

BernardL said...

Yep, I'll bet it is the teacher in you, my friend.

Riot Kitty said...

I'm feeling better about my own hurt feelings from a fellow author now. Thank you :0

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernard, most likely.

Riot, I've certainly gotten my share of hurt feelings