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Monday, March 10, 2014

Is Face to Face Out of Style?

When it comes to writing, the best teachers are not always the folks standing at the front of a classroom. The best teachers are the writers who sit down at their desks everyday and struggle to find just the right word, the perfect phrase and the twist that makes it all worthwhile. They hope and dream, deal with defeat and get up the next day and do it again.

Many years ago, I joined a writer’s group. It was the smartest thing I ever did to advance my writing and learn the value of a thick skin. Was it hard the first evening I took my place as the newbie amongst the other five writers in the group? Absolutely. It was right up there with laying down my heart in the middle of the floor and hoping it didn’t get stepped on or standing naked in a busy intersection. It was as vulnerable as I’ve ever felt. But no one becomes better at what they do without feedback, not the athlete or the chef, or the parent, or the teacher. We need each other and writers are no exception. Even though I savor the solitude of writing, I have also learned to savor the advice, suggestions and critique of people I trust and those who know more than I do. (Which as it turns out, are quite a few.)

Once past the knee-jerk defensiveness, most of the time I realized their suggestions were right. They had the distance from the work that I didn’t and could see what I could not. Critiques aren’t cruel they’re immensely helpful. The tough part is getting over our own defensiveness so we can hear them. That’s where an intimate, trusted writing group comes in. My co-writers supported me in taking my craft seriously, but their humor and friendship insured that I didn’t take myself too seriously. And that little lesson made all the difference.

So, here is my question (and dilemma). A few years ago, due to my husband’s employment, we had to move from Maine to southern New Hampshire. For a while I did consider the two-hour commute to get to my group, but soon accepted that all good things must end and I started searching for a new, local group. I’m still looking.

With all of the on-line groups and blogs and emails and texts, have we lost the need to meet face to face? Has the impersonal persona of the Internet replaced the intimacy of sharing hard copy with a group? It’s a lot faster to hit “send” and shoot your latest chapter off into cyber-space for someone’s critique than to print it, make copies and drive to a group, but at what cost?

I occasionally check Craigslist for local writing groups or the website of NH writer’s organizations, but still haven’t found a good (old-fashioned?) writer’s group. There’s one that meets for drinks once a month and I might give it a try to see where that leads, but I haven’t yet. It’s not that I’m against discussing writing over a good bottle of Pinot Noir, but it’s the intimate circle in front of a fireplace, sharing writing, advice, laughs and occasionally tears with carefully chosen like-minded, writers that I want.

So what do you think? Am I showing my age thinking that these types of groups still exist amidst 2014 technology? Tell me what you do. Do you have a trusted group? Or do you simply hit “send”?

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Anne Marie Becker said...

I hadn't thought of checking Craigslist. :)

I meet with a fellow writer a couple times a week, just to write, but we don't usually read each others' stuff. It's more for the energy boost. However, our local RWA chapter has one meeting a year where people can submit a few pages for a critique during the meeting, and that's always a very popular workshop.

Rita said...

Pat this is something that eats at me constantly. When I first started, having those meetings was heaven to me. But, I found the chapter was geared to a certain genre and publisher and I didn’t fit the mold. Plus the drive was an hour and twenty minutes each way. I gave it up in favor of online groups and private writer’s loops. I occasionally speak with a peep on the phone. I’ve visited a couple of critique groups but I need to be challenged and pushed and these groups would not do that. My last book, no one read the whole thing but my agent and editor. I think about before we had the internet and writers organizations writers got along but it was a bitch. Sigh.

Toni Anderson said...

I've never really pursued writers' groups. I should do. It's a shame you can't find someone closer, Pat. Have you searched for other writers in your genre who might live in your area? Maybe you could approach them and see if they know of any groups?

J Wachowski said...

I read a book once called "Group Portrait" by Nick Delblanco. He talked about how clusters of writers can lift each other up--by reading each others work and by supporting and connecting each other to different aspects of the business. I think it's really true.
So I say, get out and find yourself a group! Check with your local library or junior college, maybe? I found my first group that way. Synchronicity will bring the people you need into your circle....

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