How to make a Writers Group an unhelpful waste of time (in one easy step)



My need to write creative fiction overtakes my ability to invent it, so there’s usually been a blog or a typed diary on the go, so I can write creative non-fiction instead. It’s more for catharsis than anything. But sometimes, after enough time has passed, it can also been for curious self-investigation.

What was I blogging about five years ago? Well, it turns out…nothing. Apparently I was between blogs at that stage.

What about six years ago, then? Was I blogging then?

I waded into the records with intrigue. Yes, yes, here was something from September six years ago. I wondered how different it would sound. Would it still seem like me? How much of a person’s mental flavour can change in only six years? Cracking open my dusty digital diary, I began to read:

Our home has become more, well, like a home — less like a wallpapered cave with nothing but a few mismatched chairs. I am now fixated on getting rid of the cigarette smell left by the revolting previous tenant. Theoretically this is a non-smoker property, but the last tenant was so vile with nicotine she oozed it out of her aura in between outdoor light-ups. She now lives in a cave, guarding piles of treasure.

Heh heh. Piles of treasure. Clever. Does it count as laughing at your own jokes, if it’s six years after the fact?

Anyway, to the point of this post: I went to a Writer’s Workshop on Friday. One of the supervisors came back upstairs to see us after she’d taken a break, and she made a comment about how she could really feel the industrious air of the room. 

“You can actually feel it, coming up the stairs!” she said with emphatic delight.

“I think you’ll find that’s heat, rising,” I responded, before I could stop it… 

So my acerbity is at least six years old, too, then. It seems a constant character fixture.

…One of the ladies at the workshop had just recently arrived to the area, and was wanting to start a Writer’s Group, similar to one she’d been part of in the United States. Apparently it won’t have any formal goals or activities — just a meeting of people who enjoy writing and want to work at it in like-minded company. I plan to go, but don’t know what to hope for yet. The jury’s out.

Witty. Acerbic. Skeptical. So far I like this person very much. She amuses me.

Past-Me’s narrative continued the next day:

The Writer’s Group leader had the look of someone who took her craft very seriously. She came with piles of poetry books, bright post-it notes sticking out from between their pages, and was prepared with several pens (in case all-but-one simultaneously stopped working, I guess), reams of paper, and her mouth set with tight determined lips. This woman was ready to run things. She’d even brought two vases of flowers to set on the tables, to ‘inspire our creativity’.

She would read us a phrase, or a word, and we’d have 5 or 10 minutes to write something about it, or inspired by it. When the time was up, we’d each read aloud what we’d written. 

She had an unusual rule: no commenting. We would read our work, and then the next person would read theirs. We couldn’t ask for, or give, any comments. Apparently, even laughing and clapping is a comment, because she did that after someone read a particularly clever piece of work, then immediately apologised for breaking her own rule. She said that rule was there to keep the group doing what it was meeting to do: to write. She said her last Writer’s Group wasted so much time just commenting back and forth, there wasn’t much writing.

As nice as it was to not have to fear negative critique, I didn’t like that we didn’t even have the option to ask for it. Isn’t that the whole point of a Writer’s Group? Writing itself is something we don’t need everyone else to be there for — we can write at home. Having other people there with the same interest is an opportunity to get feedback and encouragement. At least, that’s what I thought. But apparently the group founder doesn’t. So we just turn up and write. Weird.

Unsurprisingly, Past-Me didn’t stick around. Not with constraints like that. I understand and agree. We’re too pragmatic for nonsense like that. Past-Me is apparently more patient than Today-Me, though. She kept going for four months. The following February she picked up on the Writer’s Group again:

When I announced I was unable to continue coming, there were many expressions of disappointment. One lady (whom I reverently forget the name of) was particularly sad to hear I wouldn’t be back, and said that my kind of writing was her favourite from among the group.

This was surprising to me. I was keenly aware my writing was different from everyone else’s in the group, but I’d seen this as an embarrassing thing, and a contributing reason to my discomfort and dissatisfaction to be part of it. I felt like I wasn’t fitting in, and wasn’t doing it right.

An example of how my writing would differ from the rest was illustrated particularly keenly by the topic trigger, ‘summer fruit’. 

Everyone else wrote about the delectable colours, the delicious flesh, the sweet juices, the fanciful blah-blah, etcetera. 

Mine mused on how fruit and I have a mutual antagonistic relationship. I wrote of how strawberries are the only fruit I like, but if a fruit is defined by its having seeds on the inside then perhaps strawberries aren’t actually a fruit, and wouldn’t that just be ironic?

At least something’s expanded in the last six years. I can add fresh pineapple to my approved fruit census, now.

Another trigger was, ‘My favourite human attribute is…’, and everyone else wrote about kindness, honesty, reliability, and humour. 

My favourite attribute was the ability to know when to stop. When to realise you’re taking too long to get to a punchline and to speed up or shut up. When to gauge when your audience really has had enough of you talking, and to let someone else have a turn. When to know that, although the blind stupidity of an opposing opinion is worth derisive comment, other people don’t always share your sentiment, or are happy to hear you express it so bullishly.

(Meta-moment: I find it amusing that this blog post is already over 1000 words, at the point of saying that.)

Their writing is hippy sunshine. Mine is negative. Mine is satirical. Mine is throwing stones in funky wrapping paper.

I’d been feeling embarrassed about my incessant Eeyore tendencies. I was sure that I was just bringing the joy of the group down. I tried to write something positive from a given trigger once — something more like what everyone else was writing — but it sounded more like a parody than a successful blend into the majority ethos.

So, yes, I was certainly surprised to hear that my writing was being appreciated for the very thing I was ashamed of. Thanking them for their appreciation and well-wishes, I assured them I’d come by every now and then with a wet blanket and a rain cloud, to balance them all out.

I remember that I never did. Summer Fruit soliloquies and obstinate optimism are things I can only take in spaced doses.

Spaces that need to be at least six years apart.


(3) Comments

  • Rachel
    23 Sep 2016

    I remember going to a writing group with you. The leader took our writing and photos and was going to print them together. I never saw any of it again. That cramps things a bit too.

    • Eve
      23 Sep 2016

      That was the workshop, I’m pretty sure.

  • Deborah Makarios
    23 Sep 2016

    If you’re not going to have comments, why read the results aloud? Odd.
    Personally, I get irked by being asked to write on a particular topic, whether it resonates or not. I’ve got enough topics to last me into my mad old age, it’s making the time to write that I struggle with. Which is possibly why writing groups and I don’t overlap.
    P.S. I love the idea of throwing rocks in wrapping paper. Shows you’ve put thought into your stoning 🙂

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