Monday, May 14, 2007

Healthy Writing Groups

One of the words I don't like to use or hear in a critique session is should. I feel that it takes ownership away from the writer's work under consideration.

When I hear should I stop listening because it crosses a personal boundary for me as a writer and workshop member. A person bandying about the word obviously has forgotten that the first rule of a workshop -- everyone has an opinion. At the end of a workshop, I take what works and discard the rest.

It's not only in writing workshops, but in life, too, that I reject the word should.

I look forward to the time in my writing life that I have less to say about personal e-mail and attacks against my writing workshops by writers who want to project their rigid views on me and others.

Sidebar: What makes one a writer? Is it solely to commit words to an electronic document or the printed page? Must one earn a living writing words? Or are hobbyists considered writers as well? Does publishing a book make one a writer if said person will only have one book in print over the course of a lifetime?

A healthy writing group is one where writers come to share their personal opinions. Everyone knows that the world is fodder for those of us who write. Unfortunately, nothing is sacred. Just take a stroll through your local bookstore or browse the magazine rack. Anyone who believes that there are original ideas in the world is woefully mistaken. What separates my essay, short story, or novel is my personal background, tastes, prejudices, questions, and viewpoint.

Writers in a community must open themselves to criticism, harsh in some cases if a writer isn't quite getting that their submission is stuck in neutral. Writers who invest the time and energy in being supportive must at times administer tough love to fellow community members. I'd rather a writer show his/her true colors sooner than later to save time, energy, and Xerox copies of tips and tools.

Writing groups, if they are to survive, need focus, structure, and a tireless and fearless leader to weather the comings and goings of people unable to grasp what makes a group work. Check the online listings for writing groups to see for yourself just how many don't work, and then get back to me with your findings.

As moderator of a writing group, I must make decisions for the group that individual members can't or don't understand because they only see their involvement, not the survival of the group.

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