My First Writers Salon.
As I mentioned last week, Monday evening would be my first experience in a writers salon. Today I fulfill my promise to tell you all about how it went.
I won’t mention the names of the group or any of the group members, of course, because that would be an invasion of privacy. I will however say that it is a group that meets regularly that I discovered through MeetUp.com. It was in fact the first MeetUp.com event I have ever attended, despite having an account on the site for years.
To begin with, several people were there early. This almost never happens in any group I have ever been a part of. (I’m usually the first one to arrive at anything.) So at least there was someone there when I arrived at the local coffee house, and that was a plus. I introduced myself to those already gathered.
Now it is a known fact that I don’t tend to make much of an impression on people early on. I don’t exactly know why, but I know I have tried different tactics over the years, all with the same result. I end up just sort of “being there”. That’s another issue for another post, but suffice to say for now I have grown somewhat accustomed to this. The people were polite, regardless.
As more people filed in, I was able to engage in some light conversation. Almost but not quite small talk, because most of it did relate to writing in a way. Or the venue we were in.
When we all introduced ourselves and explained why we were there, my reason was that I thought it was time to meet writers outside of Twitter for a change. (Which spurred the idea that we all exchange Twitter handles, but we forgot by the time it was over.)
The structure of this group is simple. Four people each provide five pages of writing to be critiqued by the group. (The pieces being made available a week before on the private message board.) At the group, each writer listens to comments, suggestions and reviews of their piece for 20 minutes, and cannot respond to any of it until the 20 minutes have elapsed. They may then answer questions or clarify something.
Permitted genres include just about everything other than non-fiction and children’s writing.
You will be happy to learn I did offer feedback on the pieces. The points I made didn’t usually spawn further comments, though. Nonetheless I feel proud of my comments because they provided exactly what I hoped to provide to each author.
My goal was to keep my observations as short as possible, and to direct them as much as possible towards the craft displayed in the piece. (“You have excellent word economy. You’re pacing was spot on. You provided just enough dialogue.”) These are the areas I am most comfortable discussing in such a setting. I did make notes on a few negatives, but I didn’t share those. Someone else tended to cover the same negatives anyway.
Others preferred to explore specific plot points, or mention how they might like to see a piece end, or how to make a given character stronger. I didn’t feel it was my place t make such a “personal” suggestion, though I am sure I could have. Maybe after I have been to a few meetings. Yet even by then I am sure I won’t want to do so. I feel as though I have more to offer when commenting on the engine, not on the color of the vehicle, or have to drive it.
I agreed to submit something for the very next salon, which is in about two weeks. Seating at each meeting is normally RSVP, first come, first served. However those who submit writing for review automatically have a seat reserved for them at the next meeting. So if nothing else I have managed to get a seat at two meetings in a row.
I mentioned before that some of the negatives in a few of the pieces were already brought up by others in the group. That was also true of the positives. While I tried to only share thoughts that had not yet been brought up by others, often something I felt was strong about a piece was also something several others thought was strong. So I didn’t feel as though my tastes and observations were too far out in left field at least. (Or else everyone was out in left field with me.)
I didn’t think all comments at all times were fair, given the samples being read. However that snooty condescension that I think writers groups tend to slide into after a time was not present. I still don’t know these people, but they didn’t give me a reason to not come back. Most of them were able to offer their solutions, questions and comments about a piece without coming off as sounding pompous. This, I feel, is more rare than you might think among writers discussing the work of another. A big plus for the group that it lacked such pretension overall.
All of the submissions were excerpts this week. Two from novels in progress. The other two from short stories in progress.
As an extra on that particular night, one of the gentleman showed us samples of book trailers that (I believe) his company helped produce. We were each given a card to rate on a 1 to 10 scale how effective we found the trailer to be. This was tricky for me because I don’t care for book trailers as a concept. I think they attempt to force a visual into a media that is not at all visual. Or perhaps better to say that trailers for books invade the visuals I want to create in my head, with visuals created by someone else. I like to slowly build in my head what I see when I read a book, not have it explode onto a screen for me.
But from a technical standpoint at least I thought the trailers were well made, and my grades tended to reflect that.
On the whole, I would say the experience was a net positive for me. Given how I’m not all that wild about being in a room full of strangers, as well as my obvious introversion, such a meeting could have gone south for me in a hurry, but it didn’t. I think I have the open mindedness of the group, and the enthusiasm for what we were doing to thank for my general ease.
Also, I think a few of the others were introverts as well, or perhaps shy in some cases. Knowing that not everybody had to be the center of attention made the whole group more tolerable. Worth visits in the future. I just hope the feedback I gave helped at least one of the authors in some small way on Monday. And if not then, in future meetings.
I already have decided what I will submit to the group. It will be a complete short story that has existed in some broad form for a while now. But this week I have been tweaking and polishing it more than it has been in the past to get it ready for the group. I like the story, and hope they do as well, but it is not one that is so personal I will feel crestfallen if they do not.
Will I still feel this hopeful about it once my own work comes into the spotlight of the group? Who can say until then? I feel I will be. I’ll know soon enough.