Thursday, August 29, 2013

MY FIRST IN-PERSON WRITING GROUP MEETING

In my last post, I discussed my anxiety in regard to this subject. Obviously I did survive to tell the tale. :) Here's how it went:

I'd headed out well in advance, in case I hit traffic or had trouble finding the place, and ended up arriving about half an hour early. I thought that might leave me waiting awhile for anyone else to show up, but several other participants had arrived even earlier and already had the meeting area set up. Our space was easy to find--the venue isn't overly large and no other area would have allowed enough room, so I didn't experience any Is this it? No? Is that it? issues. Those situations can make me a little anxious as well, that feeling that maybe I'm not in the right place at all, or I've screwed up the meeting time/date and arrived a day late and a dollar short. (If you're a day early do you get an extra dollar? If so, I need to start going everywhere early and collecting all those extra dollars.)

The group organizer had his list of attendees at hand and already knew my name without my having to provide it. That surprised me. I assumed that he'd keep up with the number of expected attendees in order to ensure having enough space for everyone, but I didn't anticipate that he'd have an actual list. Maybe that's standard procedure, but since I'm a newbie, I wouldn't know. It seemed more formal than I'd envisioned, more like an actual meeting that would be "called to order" once all the participants arrived rather than an entirely informal coffee klatch sort of thing.

Everyone was friendly and welcoming from the onset, introducing themselves and asking "get to know you" sorts of questions. How long had I lived in the area, where had I lived before, what sorts of things did I like to write. Members who knew each other well talked between themselves about more personal matters, but not to the point that I felt excluded. Attendees were of all ages, with diverse backgrounds and writing experience. Some came from the non-fiction side of the writing fence (ad copy, journalism, etc.) and were looking to cross over. Some were on the creative non-fiction side and planned to stay there. For the fiction writers, genres ran the gamut from horror to historical. Some had published novels, some hadn't published anything at all.

The meeting was essentially "called to order" at the appropriate starting time. First, we went around the table officially introducing ourselves and giving our answers to the questions of what inspired us to start writing and what we were currently reading. The second question was of course easy enough to answer, but the first, not so much, since I've been writing almost as far back as I can remember. I've always been an avid reader and enjoyed losing myself in the world of a story, so when I'd run out of reading material, I just made up my own. To me, that seems like it would come across as an odd reason (maybe even a non-reason), but I didn't feel so out of place once a few other people said similar things.

After that, everyone shared their stories. Some were inspired by the provided prompt (as mine was), more were whatever appropriate-length piece that particular member chose to share. This group doesn't do in-depth critiques. How the piece works overall, general areas where clarification or fleshing out might be needed, obvious inconsistencies--no breaking it down and going over it line by line. Given the length of the meeting and the number of people sharing work, detailed analysis of every piece just isn't feasible. I didn't ask, but got the impression that at least some members would be open to swapping in-depth critiques off the clock, so the option could be available.

Despite the overall friendliness and the fact that no one said "this sucks" or anything close to it, I was still petrified when it came my turn to read. As I said in my last post, speaking in public scares me. My heart was racing, hands were shaking, I couldn't stop fidgeting...


But I muddled my way through, and it turned out that my story was well-received. I've considered the possibility that it could've been the result of being given a newbie pass, but while the group didn't strike me as the type to be overly harsh, it also didn't strike me as the type to be shy about pointing out any issues they had with a piece, even if it did come from a newcomer.

After we'd all read, the group organizer gave a brief recap of the meeting and there was a short discussion about the prompt for the next meeting. There was next to no lingering afterward, at least among the vast majority of the group. A few might have stayed later, but most left. I got the impression that by arriving early I'd participated in "socialization time", and would need to continue arriving early in order to do so in the future.

That isn't a complaint; people only have so much time to devote, and if the time prior is more convenient, their preference, whatever, nothing wrong with that.

By and large, my fears turned out to be unwarranted, and my issues with speaking in public are my own--the group did nothing to exacerbate them, and those fears exist for me regardless of the group I'm speaking to.

I enjoyed meeting and connecting with other writers and hearing their stories. I can't say that I truly enjoyed sharing mine, but I did feel a sense of accomplishment in being able to go through with it, and appreciated the opportunity to receive feedback.

For this newbie, my first writing group meeting was a positive experience. For any writers with plans to join a group, I hope you have a positive experience as well, but a quick Google search will tell you that some writers have had negative experiences, sometimes extremely so. Do whatever research you can beforehand. Read any reviews of the group that are available. Read the group's mission statement, if they have one. Email the group contact person and ask whatever questions you might have. Ask local writer friends if they've heard anything about the group you're considering. And of course, always be cautious about sharing personal information and meeting up with anyone encountered online.

Here's a good blog post by Holly Lisle about the general ins and outs of writing groups.

Good luck and happy writing!

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