The October 2007 issue of O Magazine contains a nice article about a writing group called "The Finish Party." The eight member San Francisco Bay area group meets once a month, even though several of the members have to commute from LA in order to participate.
I came away from the article both a bit envious and with a renewed sense of hope about such endeavors. Over the years, dating as far back as my freshman year in college, I've been aligned with several different writing groups. My own experience with such groups has ranged from truly horrific to decidely mixed at best.
Sometimes the primary issue was simply a matter of conflicting interests and/or objectives. But more often than not, my own lack of patience with what I perceived as too much unadulterated bull crap came into play.
No doubt, some of the items on the following list (Twenty Signs That A Writing Group / Workshop Isn't For Me) are bound to rub some folks the wrong way. My reponse to that is . . . "Oh well." As I've mentioned before in the Old School Mix, what to me may reek like ten day old boiled cabbage, may to some one else have all of the savory appeal of birthday cake with ice-cream. It's just an opinion folks and one of the best things about living in the US of A is that we're each entitled to our own.
Anyway, this list is in no particular order, but the existence of more than one or two of these items in a group and on a regularly occurring basis will generally lead to the swift end of my participation.
1) The group is over-run by folks writing ghetto / gangsta / street / pimp /'I don't wanna be a freak but I can't help myself'/ type of lit. (Sorry, that's just not my kinda crowd.)
2) Lots of praise is given, but no real critique or discussion ever takes place. (Seriously, if all you want to hear is how great your work is, your best bet is to keep showing it to your Mama 'Nem.)
3) The group acts like it doesn't know how to function in the absence of its leader. (You know, where there is a set "game plan" this typically doesn't happen.)
4) Bad information is routinely passed of as fact and/or "The Truth, The Way and The Light." (Dag people, just 'cause the leader of the group or the dude with 20 self-published books under his belt or the wanna-be-editor who's out to take the rest of your money said "it," doesn't make "it" Gospel. Learn to double check stuff and solicit other opinions. Sheesh, when all else fails "Google."
5) The first thirty minutes to an hour is spent waiting on late arrivals. (Why? Am I the only one who thinks life is too short and my time too valuable to waste on folks who've obviously decided they have better things to do?)
6) No one knows when or where the next meeting will take place. (Ah, yeah, sounds like a plan to me.)
7) The consumption of food, liquor and/or weed appears to take higher priority than any actual writing, critiquing or discussion. (Gotta love those priorities, don't cha?)
8) Group members appear more interested in attending and scheduling events and selling their work than working on craft. (This is one of my major pet peeves. Sorry, while I can certainly see the benfits of such for some, every now and then, I'm simply not interested in doing marketing, making money or bringing attention to myself under the guise of providing a service to the community.)
9) Group members are strongly encouraged, instructed and/or required to dress alike. (Huh? Say what? Sorry, as one who treasures her individuality, just the thought repulses me. One reason I never wanted to join the Girl Scouts is because I hated those doofus-looking--oops--I meant, those cookie-cutter outfits.)
10) The group is over-run with groupies, star-gazers and brown-nosers. (In general, these types get on my nerves anyway. But in a group setting their presence is particularly distracting and annoying.)
11) There is no real accounting of the monies being collected. (Yeah, this always makes me want to hum a few bars of Prince's "Thieves In The Temple.")
12) A lot of time is devoted to writing exercises. (Really, if I wanted to do exercises, I'd sign up for a class, preferably one where I'd get a grade for my efforts. Sorry, but for me this typically feels like a huge waste of a group's time.)
13) The group has an on-line presence (or website), but very few people know how to access it or it is extremely difficult to do so. (To me, this is a sign that the parties involved don't really care).
14) The group leader is consistently late, missing in action or unprepared. (Is it just me, or does the lust for power and incompetence frequently appear to march hand-in-hand?)
15) Non-writing participants routinely critique the work of writing participants. (I'm saying, why are non-writing participants even in the group?)
16) Newcomers are never given any specific written information about the group--no rules or by-laws, no agenda, no member contact information, no meeting schedule. (I'm cool with a casual, laid-back style, but to me this is the mark of a group who isn't really serious.)
17) The poets in the group out-number those writing fiction. (Okay, I like poets. Some of my best friends are poets. But I don't really know a lot about writing poetry. Likewise, most poets don't really know a lot about writing fiction. Come on folks, lets keep it honest and real. Aren't we supposed to be helping one another?)
18) The leader dictates, delegates and castigates those who refuse to adhere to his/her personal program and/or agenda. (This may work with weak-minded, easily impressed folks who are open to drinking the Kool-Aid, but I'm grown and I'm neither easily enamored nor readily led.)
19) Members full of excuses and reasons why they NEVER have any work to submit to the group for critique. (Keep it real, y'all. Writing isn't a spectator's sport. Either you're committed and ready to do the damn thing or you're not.)
20) The group is primarily made up of self-published authors. (Nothing personal. I've just noticed that the goal of a lot of self-pub folks appears to be perfecting what they obviously view as little more than a hustle . . . rather than learning what it takes to improve their writing and story-telling skills.)
Again, to be clear, just because the things I've listed don't work for me, that doesn't necessarily make them bad. Feel free to share some of your own thoughts . . . even if they don't exactly jibe with mine.