Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Writer's Life

Writers can be a lazy bunch. A few years ago, I co-founded and participated in a mixed genre critique group that met in member homes throughout the five boroughs. This group was ripe with competition, envy, and discontent. There were prolific writers skilled in basic and advanced writing techniques, who provided pinpoint feedback, and others who were limited by their reliance on pop culture and media. The twain never met.

Writing is a solitary craft. Writing is a solitary art. No matter which side of the argument, whether writing is natural or learned, writing groups require unlimited patience, social skills, and a thick skin. Writers seek to impress each other within a group - who knows whom, who knows what, and who’s read the latest literary or commercial bestseller. Often times the meetings stalled due to disagreements on writing techniques, or lack thereof, or the critique style of a member. I did not expect the group would last as long as it did. I was not offended by the lack of commitment from some in the group, but it did bother me that some did not have the maturity to step aside and allow the group to prosper. Why would an egotistical hack screenwriter support a successful playwright when the gap between their talent and potential is immeasurable?

When I first happened upon the idea to create a critique group, I had no experience organizing and moderating. I operated on the premise that there were other solitary writers in need of an encouraging, supportive environment, yet did not know where to look. I posted flyers and spread the word among friends and colleagues to recruit and build a writer’s nirvana. Back then, I did not have a questionnaire and screening process. Come one, come all! Let’s create a modern literary movement!

I was the de facto leader of the group, the idealistic artist who knew I stumbled upon something that no one else had or would. Soon after the first blowup, reality set in. I did not create a mobile haven for writers; I brought together people who did not like each other, and took potshots whenever possible. I brought together people who set about derailing critique sessions with personal agendas and sidebars. The assembled arrived famished, ready to devour available sustenance. I brought together people who confused fiction with personal or political manifestoes, devotees of screenwriting teachers and famous film directors, and a few people who knew they would never publish or produce any of their work, yet were along for the ride. The end was swift and painful, hastened by my poor handling of a situation involving the egotistical screenwriting hack and the prolific playwright.

Critique Group Redux

Where are the writers in New York City hiding?

I waited two years before resurfacing from my self-imposed writer’s underground, during which time I wrote in solitude. Writers need other writers to read, critique, and help shape their work. I interviewed aspiring and published fiction and screenwriters to build two biweekly critique groups that I organized and moderate. Prior to the interviews, I placed various ads online and asked friends to spread the word for my membership drive. Certain times it is obvious that a writer will not fit within the revamped fee-based group based on their personal biography and writing sample.

Others do not make it beyond an initial personal interview due to the intensity, focus, or discipline of the groups. A select few crash and burn due to direct personality conflicts. Free groups are a challenge to maintain. Some people regard groups as a burden or perhaps groups overwhelm. I have still to wrap my brain around this riddle. My experiences as a member of writing groups and the dual role of moderator/member are opposite tangents.

Fear of success is unknown to me. I had a brief bout with fear of flying prior to my first international flight to Spain. Fear of commitment crops up each time a member bails on the group, and I reflect on their advertised personal and professional writing goals from the original interview. I do not understand why these people apply, attend an informational interview, and those who make the cut, accept membership.

I do not understand people who sit across the table from me professing their love of writing, alleged commitment of improving their writing skills, only to bow out a few weeks or months later with lame excuses. The group or the moderator is the culprit for departures. Competing priorities never figured in their minds leading up to their departure. Creative groups in large cities are akin to group therapy sessions at a community center when they begin to falter; it’s everyone’s fault except the person at the center of the maelstrom.

Fear of commitment manifests itself in some aspiring writers as fatigue, confusion, anger, or disruptive behavior. Some aspiring writers suffer from fear of commitment because success would bring out more fears. A successful writer has a new set of concerns not shared by the unpublished. An unpublished writer can remain in obscurity with dreams of fame and notoriety. There’s an inherent responsibility to readers when a writer publishes, regardless of genre. Achieving success opens a writer to other possibilities and potential setbacks. One door opens, and through that door, three unopened doors are visible.

Some aspiring writers seek an easy entry into an elusive club - fame and notoriety, but few want to work on their craft. Those of us who make weekly pilgrimages to bookstores can attest to the adrenaline rush experienced entering the door. The enormous amount of books and magazines arranged on shelves and tabletops call out for attention.

Who will pick up the gauntlet next as a published author? Do most who seek publication understand why people read books? People read to escape, to learn, to experience people and worlds similar and unfamiliar to their lives. Writers flip through books for motivation - all those printed words on the page, bound in a cover with the author’s name. I look forward to the time in my life when my novels and short story collections are available under “W” in the fiction section of bookstores.

1 comment:

the lady said...

Refreshing to come upon your blog. The "next blog" button was turning up a whole lot of crap, then I landed here. Blogger redemption.