Friday, November 10, 2006

Writing Group Moderator Blues

When I originally set out to form a writer's group, I didn't expect I'd have difficulty recruiting other well-read, skilled, and dedicated fiction writers. Over the years, it's been anything but. My earliest attempt to form a writer's group was a mixed genre of aspiring fiction, playwrights, and people who didn't quite have a handle on screenwriting.

We alternated meetings in our apartments in the various boroughs, except Staten Island and the Bronx. Mainly because none of the assembled lived in either place, and I personally wouldn't have trekked over to Staten Island (sorry to the Joeys and Veronicas over there).

Those early meetings were filled with neophytes and people who will most likely not publish because they had too much going on in their lives. People with razor sharp tongues ready to rip fellow writers apart, and their manuscripts fit for lining my cat's litter box.

I cooled on the idea of writing groups and concentrated on full time work. Perhaps writing groups weren't for me. So I enrolled in a writing correspondence course to work one-on-one with a writing mentor/editor to shape my novel in progress. That felt sterile and distant. I wanted to sit in the same space with a person discussing my writing and see their face, not climb the stairs, trying to imagine the sound of their voice. I needed a human interaction. Not the USPS as an intermediary.

I think my need for human interaction is borne out of my having grown up in a large southern family. I trace all my strengths and shortcomings to these origins. Aren't most things a double-edged sword? Too much of something can be bad, too little, not enough. Or honing in on me specifically, I'm an oldest child, raised to take care of my younger brothers in my mother's absence when she returned to work.

When I couldn't contain myself anymore, I created a name, bylaws, rules, and structure. I would create a writing group that would last more than three or four months. I would create a writing community that would be the envy of other writing groups. I grew up in Texas, one of the beauty pageant capitals of the south, I knew how to smile and wave. My god-sister had won more beauty pageants in a twenty mile radius, so I knew a thing or two about public relations and winning people over. But a New York crowd. Yankees.

Four years ago Morningside Writers Group was born. Back then, a website was but a glimmer in my eye, as was a screenwriting division. The graphic novel division is new as well.

Along the way, I've met lackluster people who couldn't get out of their own way. I have been publicly attacked from online postings, or after someone has applied to the group and wasn't accepted, they return to the original place of the posting and post a tirade: Who they think they are? I have an MFA! My response. But you can't write your way out of a corner. Your writing is hackneyed, and your personality during the two-way interview was foul and superior.

I've met my share of good people with bad timing. Not exactly salt-of-the earth, but good intentions to write and improve. It can be a gamble bringing five strangers together to workshop fiction, screenplays, or graphic novels. I only moderate/participate in the fiction and screenwriting groups. Someone else has the job of sheriff in the graphic novel group.

My chief complaint is that I'd like to find and build a community of serious writers in the New York City area, not transients, hobbyists, or people with secret agendas.

There are several competing ads online for writing groups, which doesn't frighten me, I know
who we are as a group, and what we offer. Bring on the competition. What concerns me is that I've become a father or caretaker to adults, sometimes foregoing things that I want or need to do to ensure the smooth operation of the group. I didn't set out to be a wet nurse. Only to coordinate the meeting places and times, workshop, improve, and get published and produced.

Time to find my way back to my original goal. Time to cut the umbilical cords, separate the baby from the bathwater and allow nature to take its course.

1 comment:

Richard said...

if you build it, they will come... or will they? i feel your frustration, man. but slowly but surely a community will be built. i am sure of it.