Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Group

I've belonged to an SCBWI writer's group for almost two years now.  I joined eagerly, driven by a wish to talk to and know other writers.  I got more than I expected, in ways both good and bad.  Chit-chat with other writers over coffee? Delightful.  Listening to actual criticism of my sacred words?  Oh, yeah, that. 
It's been a learning curve.
For all the eagerness with which I joined, I had, and have, a dark secret -- deep-seated, competitive, seven-deadly-sin kind of envy of other writers.  Mean stuff.  Bad stuff.  Sitting still, listening to them, listening to their criticism (which was, I should point out, usually constructive) of my work, was and is an ordeal.  I'm a better person and a better writer for having done it, but I still sometimes have to force myself to bring work to the meetings. 
One of the saving graces of SCBWI is the fact that the groups include illustrators.  The artists in my group are fantanstic, and the fact that I didn't feel competitive towards them gave me some breathing room and just a tiny bit of a beginning in appreciating the other people in my group for who they were.  A lot of my more snobbish and childish beliefs have fallen by the wayside.
I'm a pretty faithful member, partly because I lead a fairly predictable life, and so in nearly two years I've witnessed some interesting aspects of the group dynamic.  There are, for instance, people who come regularly, for a month or two, bringing pieces of a novel with a good basic idea and multiple chapters planned, plotted and written.  Then one day they vanish and never return.  Months go by.  "Whatever happened to...?" "Do you ever hear from...?"  "Oh, she got busy and isn't doing much writing right now." Another member was always bringing in new projects and new ideas, and when we asked her about previous ones she would say, "oh, I'll get back to that eventually."  Eventually she left the group altogether and went into another genre.  (I later learned she had migrated over to us from another genre.)  A third, who had a really lovely Irish mythology story she was seeing through a first draft, got discouraged (I think) by an adverse critique at a conference.  Some encounters were even more fleeting, leaving me to wonder, did we do something wrong?  Were we not welcoming?  Or did it just come down to not being able to stand the scrutiny of outsiders?
The path to being a successful writer has many stages and maybe groups aren't for everyone.  I'm glad I have mine, though.

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