Writers Group Virginity.

This coming Monday evening, (April 23), I will be attending a writers group for the very first time.

To some of my writing colleagues I am sure reading that would be akin to reading a skydiving blog written by one who has never been able to get on an airplane. But it’s true. Despite being writer, getting paid for my writing, working intently on my first novel’s third draft, visiting writer message boards and subscribing to various writing oriented blogs, I, Ty Unglebower, have never been a member of a writing group.

While I don’t agree that a writer must join one in order to be taken seriously, I will concede that it is somewhat unusual that a writer would get to this stage in his life and career having not done so. Though this is no tribunal, I will offer my readers a few reasons why I am only now taking this step.

To begin with, availability. My particular geographic area doesn’t have a good track record of providing active groups pertaining to my passions and interests, writing included. Neighboring counties sometimes do, but despite my motivation, I am not one to drive over an hour, or into freeway traffic just to go to a writing group. I realize that many writers would adopt a “whatever it takes” approach to commiserating with fellow writers in order to improve both their craft and their network. Yet such commuting tends to drain and irritate me, and I suspect I’d be of little use to a group once I finally arrived.

Thanks to Meetup.com, (of which I have been a member for seven years, having never attended a single meeting of any kind) I’ve become aware of a group that meets within my acceptable travel perimeters. Hooray.

Yet travel is only one part of this equation. Another part is the critiquing component present in most such groups. I am somewhat ill at ease over the concept of offering criticism to someone else’s writing. Sure, I’ll write a Goodreads review of a book I just read, but with the assumption that by then, the author of said book is unlikely to read it, and unlikely to be affected negatively if they do. I write such reviews as a consumer of the written word. In a writing group I’d be saying things to the face of the writer himself. That tends to put the brakes on objectivity PDQ.

I know that many writers thrive, or claim to thrive, on having people dig into their words. I have experienced the same with some actors on stage. They love to have their creations picked apart, because they see it as the surest route to improvement. I admire people who can feel this way, but it doesn’t make the concept any easier for someone like me, sitting on the other side of the table having to share the thoughts.

Besides, who the hell am I, anyway? I am just another writer who wants people to read and enjoy my stuff. How exactly does this qualify me to mention alleged structural deficiencies in the excerpt written by Mr. Smith as he’s sitting right next to me at the coffee shop table? Not that any writer expects all people to love all of his writing, but that is the exact point I am making; I like what I like and don’t what I don’t. I have tastes, but does that mean I don’t like something because it could be “fixed” or “improved” somehow?

Truth be told, I want to improve as well. I want to continue to evolve my craft. Yet it would be a flat out lie if I were to say I relished the chance to have people, (even other writers), sit two feet away and tell me where they think I have screwed-up. I am sure in some ways I have screwed up, but being told that in such a casual atmosphere? It does give me a small case of the willies, and if I feel that way about  receiving such criticism, I’d be an astounding hypocrite to not also feel reluctant to bestow same on other people.

And of course there is the basic, ever-present introvert thing working here, in regards to leaving home and meeting total strangers.

These are some of the reasons I haven’t ever been to a writing group before.

So why am I now reversing my trend and opting to do so?

To begin with, as I mentioned, a group finally opened up within the vicinity of where I live. They meet in various locations, some less convenient than others, but none inaccessible to my driving tendencies. The commute problem was no more.

I also liked this group’s policies about critiques. By design, positive feed back is encouraged and preferred, and I felt more comfortable with that approach than I do the firing squad template of some writing groups.

Also, I’ve been doing more “extrovert-introvert” things lately. That is to say, being more forthcoming and assertive…so long as the environment is likely to be filled with mostly other introverts. I find that writing groups tend to fulfill this requirement.

But mostly, the time had come. I have been digging my heels into the ground this year in hopes of expanding my writing business, as well as my recreational writing. From getting business cards, to building this site, to branching out into writing contests, this has been a year of making more specific steps to enhance my presence as a writer in all of the ways that don’t relate specifically to the page. Joining a writers group is the next logical step in this ongoing effort to enhance my focus.

I need to meet new writers. Local people with whom I can converse in person. As wonderful as my blog readers and Twitter friends are, one needs to have tangible access to colleagues sometimes, and right now, I have none. I don’t yet know what to expect from this group, but I know it will be far more likely to build local writing bridges than anything else I have done before. Perhaps I will even find a new friend, unconnected to all of my other ones.

So, Monday night it is. My writing will not be read at this meeting, and indeed, I don’t yet know when it will be. People tend to volunteer their work when they feel ready to share, as opposed to being forced to under a deadline. I will of course do it sometime. (There are various meetings per month.) I am happy, however, that I won’t have to jump into the deepest part of the pool on the first day. My responsibilities are to read the excerpts posted on the website, and I have already begun to do so.

A week from today, I shall follow-up on this post, and share with you what I experienced during my first writers group session. (By Monday’s deadline for blog posts, I won’t have been to the meeting yet.) Check back then. In the mean time, I’d like to hear about your writers group experiences, if you have any.

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5 Comments

  1. Congratulations on taking this next big step. Having your work dissected and critique by almost strangers on a face-to-face meeting has to be unnerving but it is a sign of commitment and dedication to your craft that you are stepping out of your comfort zone and opening yourself up. And, you are doing a huge favor to the other writers present by giving them your feedback on their words. That’s pretty awesome!

    • Thanks! I think there is a place between keeping things to myself, and submitting my work to an editor that I haven’t often visited. I don’t let people casually read my fiction much. My non-fiction yes, but not my fiction. Only this year, I allowed three select friends to read the second draft of my novel. That was the most of my fiction anyone had read up until that point and it helped a bit. So I imagine this will be a step in the right direction.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed workshop-style classes and writing group/writing partner relationships. Each workshoppy relationship I’ve entered into has had a different dynamic, yet each one has proven beneficial. Constructive criticism aside, groups/partnerships like these can be fantastic sources of advice, community, collaborative opportunity, inspiration, writerly commiseration, and contacts/resources.

    As for the critiques, I find it’s important to remember that not every comment will be helpful to you… but some of them will be. It’s good to just listen with an open mind, take it all in, and make a mental note when something rings true for you.

    Good luck!

    • I hope you are right, Steph. I know I am not the most charismatic type in social settings, but my hope is that by offering, honest, positive feed back on the pieces I read, feedback I give thought to, I will at least earn a position of trust from some new people, and be able to make use of it when I may need it for my writing later on.

  3. Good for you! I did a summer workshop many years ago, and had one workshop-style creative writing class in college, but other than that I’ve never done an in-person writing group. For many of the same reasons you mentioned, I like online groups. No worries about commuting, and I can give my feedback at 3am if that’s when I do it. I’ll be interested to hear how you like the group.

    Giving and getting critiques is definitely an interesting experience, and can certainly be challenging. My best advice would be not to react too quickly, and let things sink in before responding. I received some harsh criticism that was way off base once, but even that feedback gave me things to think about. As for giving critiques, I like to point out things I like along with things that need work, and I always try to frame criticism in a constructive and kind way. Sort of a “crit the way you want to be critted” type of thing lol.

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