If you would have asked me a few years ago about my thoughts on writing groups, I likely would have just shuddered.
See, I tried a group once, awhile back, and didn't have the best of experiences, to say the least. I remember arriving, somewhat nervous and unsure of myself, only to have one of the members glare at me suspiciously and then announce to the others she thought I might be there to steal her erotic vampire poetry. (I wasn't, for the record).
Later, I tentatively read aloud from my then-fledgling newsroom mystery Death on Deadline manuscript as other writers sat in a circle around me, only to be interrupted by a young man with a very harsh voice. "Have you ever even worked in a newsroom?" He sounded so hostile, so Sopranos-like hostile, that I stopped, agog, in mid-sentence. "Yes," I said, somewhat confused. "I'm a reporter."
Still glaring, he sat back in his chair, arms crossed, just staring at me. But at least he was quiet. I decided then, in the back of my mind, that he either wanted to steal my purse or there was a hit out on me and I just didn't know it. I kept reading and nervously tripped over a word. Several people laughed.
"Mean," I thought to myself.
Later, in my car, after I stopped sweating, I decided for absolute sure that I just wasn't a writing group person. It's taken me quite a while to even consider changing my mind.
But writing can be a lonely profession. Sometimes it's nice to just bounce a sentence off someone, to question an idea, to realize that somewhere, somebody else in the world is trying to string together all these lines and squiggles and make sense of them, too.
So after I moved, after I hemmed and hawed for nearly a year, I visited another writers group. And guess what? I don't have a single horror story to tell you. Everyone has been good-natured and helpful. People are laid-back. Everyone is working on a different type of project - some fiction, some non-fiction. There's no reading circle. You can share a few pages, listen, or just ask for writing advice.
And I'm reminded why a good writing group can work.
Enthusiasm is contagious. I love to watch writers talk about their work, see their eyes light up as they explain their characters, their ideas, their plans for future chapters. It makes me happy being around writers who want to improve, who like give-and-take, who are brimming with imagination.
For me, being around other writers is like watching creativity become tangible.
If you're looking for a group, look for those kinds of people - people who inspire you, who make you feel like you can't wait to get started on your next piece. Look for people who make you laugh - or at least make you forget a little of the stress you came in with.
(For the record, if you're in my area, this latest group I've been referring to - the good one - is the Metro Detroit Creative Writers Group. I'm really enjoying it, and it's open to everyone. For more info, shoot an email to Keith at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Groups are personal; you'll know who you connect with and who you don't. But I think the right one can help you move forward, to lift creativity to new levels. And "group" can be a misnomer - even exchanging ideas with another writer over a cup of coffee can get you through a rough patch.
As for me, I think I'm becoming a little more open-minded. Of course, if someone ever starts accusing me of coveting their erotic vampire poetry, I'm gone.