It took me a long time to become willing to be part of a writers’ group. Frankly, I’d heard some fairly awful things about them. I had heard such groups could be competitive and repetitive. That some groups were more in love with the idea of writing than getting anything done and that those meetings sounded more like a roomful of angsty teens than a bunch of grown-up word nerds trying to help one another improve.
Whenever I’m trying to get better at something, I seek out people who are striving to improve a similar skill set or someone who is far more accomplished and willing to share expertise. And, while I always hope to find people with a passion for improvement and excellence, I loathe the expression “like-minded.” When I’m trying to learn new skills, or I’ve backed myself into a corner, I can be impatient or hard on myself. I don’t want or need a mind like mine. I need fresh eyes, different experiences, humor, and compassion. I need my very own word nerds. The ones who love me and have got my back.
I made some false starts before finding my group. I attended some critiques that bordered on mean and others that appear to have been fueled by lollipops and rainbows. I’ve been asked questions by (usually male) newbies who proceeded to argue and mansplain my answers away or treated like a kindergartener by a facilitator. And there were groups that didn’t recognize my genre and people who believe that “real” writers limit themselves to longhand, legal pads and lead.
A year or so ago, a mentor of mine questioned me about my efforts to find a writers’ group. His experience had been wonderful and, not only did he want to understand my tenderness around the topic, he also wanted me to experience the growth that can come from participating in a good group.
I decided to pursue a new genre and joined a group as the member with the least experience with that sort of work. After attending a few meetings, they asked me to read. To my amazement, they listened attentively, respected my boundaries about the kind of feedback I wanted and encouraged me to keep going.
Today’s meeting was inconvenient. I hadn’t read the facilitator’s materials or found a segment of my work to bring for critique. Early this morning, I did a public presentation on an unrelated topic. My husband is hours away from some big, disruptive travel, and my son’s home decided to develop “issues” while he is somewhere at the other end of the country. I was hungry, over-tired, unprepared, it was raining again… and I was shocked. I couldn’t wait to get there.
As it turns out, everyone who showed up was in the same boat for different reasons: grant deadlines without cooperation from grantees, house construction delays, family member illnesses, returned-to-the nest adult children. Stuff.
So we tossed the agenda and talked about our stuff. Then we talked about some new and exciting projects. And awards we had applied for and conferences we were attending. And, eventually, after having each experienced one? We talked about character arc. And we laughed.