Saturday, August 14, 2010

An Ideal Writing Workshop Member

All art is connected on some level. All humans, too, are connected in minute and major ways if only we pay attention to each other. My initial goal was to unite creative writers in my living room who'd form a loose literary chain gang, with the sole purpose of nurturing and uplifting the person sitting next to them.

I've written on this blog about how I formed Morningside Writers Group, so need to revisit it. This post is to lay bare the disappointment and in other instances, anger, I feel after a workshop participant bails on the group ceremoniously or whimpers out like a deflated balloon. Past members have had to choose between their spouses, family, or friends who didn't believe in and support their creative journey toward personal fulfillment, or prior to the ease and prevalence of POD publishers, navigating the traditional obstacle course of agents, editors, and mainstream book publishers that might result in publishing a short story collection or novel.

Writing workshops are for mature, responsible individuals who need a creative community to lean on, learn from, to co-teach, and be held accountable. Writing workshops aren't for clich├ęd people who believe they'll find publishing success, dead or alive, at the bottom of a shot glass or beer bottle. Drunken and drugged out artists and writers are wretched stereotypes.

Writing workshops aren't social or civic clubs. Writing is an individual pursuit, even when collaborating with others. In those instances, each team member has to know who they are, what they're writing, and most important - why they're writing. If it's for instant fame and celebrity, that fool will soon be disillusioned. Writing workshops aren't group therapy sessions or places to idle away free time after work or on the weekends. 

Before applying to a writing workshop, not a how-to writing class, a person should have a body of work as would a photographer, painter, or sculptor.

Writers create and recreate worlds on the page and screen, similar to a photographer closing a camera's shutter at the right moment to capture an image that existed then. Writing is a snapshot, a moment when an individual is open to the invisible and seemingly impossible.


An ideal writing workshop member is an avid reader across several genres who specializes in at least one. S/he is an expert or soon becomes on the inner workings and window dressings of literary or commercial fiction, screenwriting, or personal essays. My on-the-job training and process as founder and moderator, while not perfect, has worked for the last seven years. I strive weekly to improve and strengthen the mission statement so that Morningside Writers Group remains relevant for those seriously pursuing publication and production.

I'm hopeful each time I read a promising application, optimistic during the first few weeks of a new member's acceptance and joining, and temporarily saddened when a participant (a) flakes out (b) stops producing quality writing (c) habitually late submitting work for discussion (d) disrespect others in the group or (e) realizes s/he lacks the discipline and drive to publish.

It angers me when a participant in a cowardly move, sends an e-mail resignation rather than have the decency to (a) discuss concerns in person or on the phone or (b) try to negotiate realistic changes if need be. This strikes at my core and goes against the foundation of the workshop. Despite the mistaken notion that a departure isn't personal, it is. I wonder if the person's  telling the truth for their resignation, and if there was anything I could have done to salvage the membership. I know that everyone doesn't feel the same about the workshop as I do, but please have respect for fellow workshop members who've invested countless hours reading, marking-up, and preparing discussion notes for a submission. The defector is bailing on the entire workshop roster, not just me. I'm the glue that holds everything together. I've developed a thicker skin in latter years and am able to rebound faster than some others.

No self-respecting person wants to have coffee, send submissions for feedback, or hangout after such cowardice. Wasn't that the initial reason you applied for and later joined the writing workshop?

A workshop is in service of the majority, not one or two misguided snobs who want the majority to tailor to their whims. I've never done well with cliques, and abhor prejudice and discrimination. My creative DNA is comprised of inclusion, not exclusion based on different writing genres or creative outlets. Why then would I create an elitist workshop, application requirements notwithstanding?

I'm overdue to step off the merry-go-round and devote more time to writing and submitting, and less as a wet-nurse to those that are careless and insensitive. My biggest challenge is that I'm a mentor and rescuer, but I must modify my behavior to ensure I that I, too, achieve my multi-book publishing goals. Family and friends have warned me that I'm a glutton for punishment, taking in doe-eyed strays I'd be better off passing by. I've been told I need to become a bit selfish, and put my creative writing and directing pursuits first, and everyone would follow my lead. I'm not currently built that way. I must find a healthy compromise.

How do you deal with the crazymakers in your creative life? I'd love to hear from you in the comment section below.