I don't regret leaving Deviant Art. It's been great for my procrastination. But it did leave a hole in my life. So I recently joined a writers group. I did this once before. That was six years ago and it was so horrible that I never wanted anything to do wither writers groups again. This group is different though. It's made up of people I already know an am friends with, all with varying skill and experience as writers. Also, it's primarily done online, so we can fit it around all our schedules. There's also a policy of anonymity, so the work we share and the work we review is not attached to any person in particular. I guess the idea is that it is easier to give and take criticism if you don't know exactly who it's coming from. We're also all adults, so that should help. Anyway. It's a unique approach to a writer's group. We have our own private little forum space on the internet to share and communicate. The only reason I dared to join again is because it is made up of people I already know and form my day to day social circle.
I'll let you know how it goes in the future.
But now let me tell you about the last group I was a part of. This was the writer's group from hell.
So let me set the scene. It is the hottest part of summer here in Sydney, Australia. That means we're in the low 40 degrees celcius range and the humidity could drown you. It's around eight in the morning and I have the biggest hang over of my life and all of about four hours of sleep. That right there should be enough reason to kill myself rather than go anywhere on this morning, but I agreed (the night before) to go along to this writer's group that a friend of mine has just joined (thanks to another friend of hers). So there's the connection. A friend of a friend of mine is part of a writer's group. My friend has been once before and now I'm going along.
The writers group meets at a little cafe in the inner-west, about an hour's drive from my quaint little suburban home. Normally I'd get the train and it'd be a smooth, air conditioned ride with lots of space to spread out because nobody travels that early on a weekend morning, unless there's something big happening. That weekend there wasn't, so the train would be a comfortable way to travel.
But we're not going by train.
My friend, we'll call her Jessy, has arranged with her friend, we'll call her Lillith, Queen of the Demons, to pick us up and drive us there. This won't cut much time out of the journey but it will get us close to the door of where we're going. Sounds good. So I meet Jessy at the appointed meeting place and Lillith, Queen of the Demons arrives to pick us up in her car. Her old, old, old, old, probably has a horse powered steam engine, badly in need of replacing, doesn't work car. This car does not really have working windows and the air conditioning isn't so much an air conditioner as it is a set of sporadically working fans. It's all pleather interior and was made in the days before they tinted windows to stop the sun from smiling its murderous smile down upon you. So the car is hot and sticky and uncomfortable and I am hating every waking moment of my life.
But Jessy and I climb about Lillith, Queen of the Demons' carriage to hell and we set off. Lillith, Queen of the Demons introduces herself to me and asks how I am and tells me that normally people coming to the writer's group bring a story to show off and talk about and everyone exchanges criticisms. The usual stuff you'd expect. She says because it is my first time, they wouldn't expect me to bring anything. I did bring something, but I don't say that just yet. I don't say anything, really. Me saying something would require a pause in the conversation and I am not afforded any such luxuries.
And then Lillith, Queen of the Demons starts talking to Jessy. And she talks the whole drive to the cafe.
We arrive at the cafe an eternity later. There's already some people there with a table for us. It doesn't take long before we've all arrived, we're all sitting down and we've ordered breakfast. Some people open up their bags and take out their writing pieces for this week's meeting. One woman doesn't take out any writing, but she does take out a notebook she bought and she starts showing it off. Everyone here, of course, also has a notebook that they can compare it to and talk about. They all agree that having a notebook is great and useful and it's what all the professionals do.
So I'm going to skip ahead a bit now. This is because, over the next hour and a half, a number of things happen.
1. Breakfast does not come.
2. Nobody talks about writing.
3. Lillith, Queen of the Demons does not stop talking.
In fact, Lillith, Queen of the Demons hasn't stopped talking since I met her. The moment we got in the car with her, she began talking and she does not stop. Eventually she runs out of opinions and anecdotes and I hear her begin again from the beginning, talking about the things she spoke about in the car. It's like she's on some kind of loop. A loop designed to make me suffer. It is now I realised that I have given myself alcohol poisoning and I am dead. I am dead and this is hell.
No. This can't be hell. Firstly because their are too many cute waitresses in denim hotpants for this to be hell. Secondly because nobody is deserving of this kind of hell. No god would be so cruel. No, this kind of suffering can only happen in our living, mortal realm. Only humans no how to create torture this horrible. Death and a swift deliverance unto hell would be a release at this point. There the devil and I could commiserate on my drawn out suffering.
But eventually breakfast comes. A bacon and egg sandwich that would have gone so well with my coke if I hadn't already finished it. I'm too hung over to taste the greasy goodness of my breakfast, but not so hung over that I can't feel it when it burns the roof of my mouth.
The clock ticks by and I see that we've been there for two hours now. That's in addition to the hour it took us to get there. I am no less uncomfortable or hung over but I hate everything a little more with each passing second. I begin to wish I could somehow harness the ticking of my watch and create some kind of watch ticking death ray that I could use to kill everybody around me.
Headline: Man in subdued rage kills everybody in Newtown cafe, including himself, with bizarre watch weapon.
Headline: Newspaper forgets how to make snappy headlines.
Finally somebody suggests they talk about writing.
Oh thank God.
I've already read everbody's contribution at this point. Several times, in fact. I'll go through them one by one.
First was my friend Jessy's. It was twilight fanfiction starring herself. Actually, that's not quite right. It wasn't Twilight fan fiction because that has some level of self-awareness and uses the Twilight setting. She had just rewritten Twilight, but instead of being about Bella, she had written it about herself. Instead of it being set in school, it was set in her workplace. I point this out to her and she explains to me that it can't be any kind of Twilight fanfiction because the main character, totally not her, is reading Twilight in the story.
Headline: Man uses amateur writer's work to make an oragami knife and commit seppuku
The next piece to come around is the work of Lillith, Queen of the Demons herself. It's not actually a story. It is an outline of a story. Actually, it is an outline of a scene. There is no beginning, middle or end, here. At the very most, this piece would be a flash fiction. It is not a major effort. Oh and it's also about her. It's some kind of auto-biographical memoir of her sad memories of being a childhood. I'm sure it's very cathartic for her to write. Or rather, I'm sure it would be very cathartic for her to write if she had actually written it. Instead she wrote a page long outline for what would be a page long story. Why? And she had a whole week to work on this! I know all about busy schedules but it's not like this writer's meeting snuck up on her! She knew this was coming! She could have written a draft of this the night before. Hell, if she'd taken the train, she could have written it on the train over.
Finally, we come to the last piece. That's right, only three people brought work to contribute. I don't remember the exact numbers for this meet up but including myself, there were at least six people. I think there were more but it was so long ago, I can't be sure. That means that, excluding the new guy (me) there were five regular members of this group and slightly more than half had written anything. In fact, one of them had only written half of something so it sort of balances out to being 2.5 out of 5 pieces that there should have been.
It's a writers group.
AS IN YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO WRITE SOMETHING!!!
Anyway. This last guy is an American and the only other male in the group besides me. I'm not making a point about Americans, I just need to refer to him as something and "The American" will do. To his credit, the American has gone to some effort to write something. It's about six pages long. Six pages double spaced in size 14 font but still six pages. And it is an essay. Sort of. It's not really a formal essay in any way, it doesn't put forth any arguments, introduce them, explore them, provide argument or evidence for them and conclude on anything. So maybe we won't call it an essay. It's a monologue. It's his train of thought. It is the American thinking onto the page and typing it out. It's about time. He has gotten all waxing philosophical about time and what it is and how we define it and how it affects us and if it is real or if it is a construct. All very interesting ideas worthy of consideration and examination. You could do a whole thesis on the way time is perceived in a social and cultural sense.
Well, maybe you could. I probably couldn't.
The American couldn't either. Instead, he just waffles on for six pages and then stops abruptly having gone nowhere, accomplished nothing and said very little, creating no insight and reaching no depth.
Now I don't remember what anybody else said about the other work or what they thought about each other's contributions or lack-there-of. To be honest, I wasn't listening. But I do remember what everyone said about the American's piece.
"You should submit that."
He should submit it? He should submit that? To WHO!? It's not fiction, it's not an article, it's not an essay. It's baring coherent! This offers nothing to an audience! Nobody wants to read this. I don't even want to read it and I read it three times! He should submit that?
And no, they don't say where he should submit it to. There's no details. No suggestion of magazine or website or journal. He should just "submit that."
Shortly after, we wrapped up and everyone went their separate ways. Jessy apologised for inviting me along and said she'd never go back either. This is why I'm friends with her and not Lillith, Queen of the Demons. Twilight addiction aside, she's got some sense in her. I never went back either and, fortunately, Lillith, Queen of the Demons had other places to be and couldn't give either Jessy or I a lift back to our neighbourhood. So we caught the train and it was a smooth, breezey ride all the way home.
This whole experience, which I lovingly refer to as my journey to hell and back, turned me off the idea of writers groups for a long time. Forever, really. I would never have joined one again unless I knew every person in it. I occasionally tell this story to entertain people. It makes a good little party anecdote. But I don't do it to make fun of the people in the writer's group. I want to make that absolutely clear. They all were enjoying themselves and they all liked writing and sharing their writing with each other and talking about being writers. In my experience, these people are the standard. This is what your average amateur hobbyist writer looks like. They like to sit around, encourage each other, share their work when they occasionally get around to producing some. They stare dreamy eyed at this big world of professional writers that they want to emulate but never dare to think they could really be part of it. It's just a pleasant day dream on the morning commute, while they think about the fantastic books they'll write if they can just find the time. They're more interested in being a writer than in doing any writing. I don't begrudge or judge them their pleasure in any way.
But it's not for me. When I get together with a bunch of writers to talk about writing, I'd like to actually talk about writing. It's not a lot to ask.
So I joined a writers group. I'll let you know how it goes.