I never plan on running the group. I do not like being in charge. I do not like planning things or motivating people. I am a true introvert. I will take the stairs just to avoid chitchatting with you on the elevator. Even if you’re someone I like.
In fact, when I joined my current writing group, which I found through meetup and which was just having it’s first meeting right around the time I moved to Washington, D.C. last April, I remember thinking I’ll use this group to get motivated. I won’t put any work in. I’ll just take what’s useful to me and that’s it.
The thing is that I have a history of getting put in charge of the groups. Somehow I always plan on being a user and end up being the organizer, whether it’s meetup groups or Warcraft guilds. And when you are the one in charge, you’re putting in a lot more work than you want to and experiencing a lot more stress, too.
But I figured there was no danger with a writing group, since research shows that there are approximately 100 billion and 2 amateur writers in the world today. Surely there are tons of people already organizing and running groups. (After all, there are approximately 100 million and 2 websites devoted to writing groups) So. No effort from me required.
Same old story, yet again. Here it is, less than a year in, and I’m now the co-organizer of the group, with the original organizer planning on quietly disappearing, and I’m sending out the emails and so on. I’m tired and I wouldn’t mind skipping tonight’s meeting so I could go to sleep early but there’s a lot more pressure to attend when you’re running the meeting. Crap.
As my friend Andy once said, “It is dangerous to show competency in a group setting.”
Is it worth it?
Here are the facts about running an amateur writing group.
1) I have to read a lot of amateur writing by other people.
Let me be frank. I prefer reading the pros.
Hell, a lot of the pros I wouldn’t want to waste my time with. There have been many published books that I started reading only to stop within a few pages because I didn’t consider the story or style interesting enough to waste my time with. Yet being a part of a writing group means I have to push through to the end of some atrocious amateur pieces.
2) I have to hear the whines and complaints.
Like any group, people only want to participate if all the cool kids are doing it.
Some months, we have 12 people show up and there’s enthusiasm. Other months, not many people come (once we had only 3 show). Whenever there’s a low-attendance meeting, the herd mentality says jump ship quick! leave now! The people start thinking the group is dying and they should all quit and find a group that’s working ASAP. And everyone is looking at me to “fix it.” Why bother? There are always whiners and complainers, and attendance will always go up and down. Don’t flip out. If it’s down a month or two, it’ll go up next time. Relax and let it happen.
3) There are leeches.
Leeches are the people who show up once to get their stuff read and then disappear again.
My group tries to avoid this by requiring people to attend at least one meeting before having their stuff critiqued. In theory, this means that people will read other group members’ work before we read theirs. Yet some months, not many people have stuff up to be critiqued and the leeches end up getting read on their first meeting. Or they show once or twice without ever reading other people’s work, then disappear once they’ve had their own stuff critiqued. Lesson? You can never entirely get rid of leeches. You will have some of your blood sucked at some point in your group.
So…. back to the original question. Is it worth it?
Maybe, maybe not. Some people might have the discipline and drive to work in isolation. I don’t. I need the motivation wherever and however I can find it. A writing group helps . . . a bit.
It’s NOT a waste of time to read other people’s amateur stuff. That’s something I learned through my years participating on critters.org. Here’s what I found out from that experience : Sure, you learn a lot when you read good writers. But you also learn a lot from bad writers. Most bad stories have good ideas deep in there somewhere (even Rebecca Black’s Friday got some things right, which is why it keeps people interested enough to keep making fun of it). You can take those and use them to inspire your own writing. Also, learning to see where others go wrong is often the best way to teach yourself how to get it right, and it makes you want to do better, too.
Some of the greats make me want to quit; reading someone like Kurt Vonnegut makes me think the rest of us shouldn’t bother trying. But reading flawed writing gives those of us who are not Kurt Vonnegut a goal we can reach.
And if nothing else, it means that people are occasionally reading my stories. And that’s the biggest motivation to keep on writing possible.
Coming up soon: How to offer a writing critique when you can’t think of anything to say and Why do we NEED to write fiction?