01 November 2013

The Lonely Writer

...and so it goes.

"Strike Two" in my search for a writing group in MS that fulfills my desire "to become a better writer and support other writers toward achieving the same goal."

In the Holly Springs Writer's Circle that I launched earlier this year, I kept repeating "I don't want to lead a group" and "I'm here to become a better writer and I want to sit with other writers who want to become better writers." I believed that coming together, submitting our work for critical review and candid feedback and revisiting (and revising) our work in the light of (hopefully) valuable review/feedback, would constitute a honing of craft that would result in producing better writing.

It took me awhile to hear what the other writers were saying:  we're here because we want someone to read what we write; I write for myself because I like to write; and, (though this was never stated explicitly) this Circle provides a pleasing social outlet. Our objectives were at variance. I stopped scheduling meetings and, so far, no one has stepped up to take on that task.

In the last days of the Holly Springs Circle, I was invited to join a trio of women writers in Oxford whose fourth member had recently left the group. I was mildly disappointed that they met only once a month; and I questioned their belief that an essential proof of "good" writing is that it stands up to being read aloud. But I decided "what the hell?" and accepted the invitation.

At the first meeting, I shook things up by inquiring of a writer whose reading had included repetitions of the phrase "the N word" whether it was a substitution for the word "nigger," employed for today's reading or appeared as such in the actual work. Visibly upset by my question, she explained she was being polite on my behalf -- the lone woman of color among three women of pallor -- and, of course, she used "the real word" in her novel.

We never recovered from this incident. It was as though I'd set our boat a-rocking into an undulating rhythm that, by the laws of physics, would ripple with diminishing intensity for a long time. The writer in question, apparently the founder of the group, sent me an email the next week with an attachment outlining guidelines for group etiquette, established at the group's beginning. "I'm not calling this a 'Christian group' exactly," she stated, "but surely we can all follow the same basic courtesies as Christian people."

In retrospect it is clear that I was, again, not listening. The "time for you to get out of here" light was on but I was still focused on the "become a better writer in the company of other writers who want the same thing" light.

After an especially rewarding revision process, I decided to submit the script for "In the Silence" (my well-received piece from last year's Santa Cruz Fringe Festival) for the second meeting. This work was written expressly to be "read" aloud so I was a little excited about the possibility of calming the social waters I'd disturbed at the first meeting by sharing a beautiful piece of writing...

alas, the piece was judged to be "too long" for reading at the next gathering.

My feedback to one of the other pieces submitted that day ran along the lines of "I felt teased by this piece -- it struck lightly at a wide range of universal topics and themes rich with the  potential to connect with a reader but never opened up and showed it's heart about any of them..."

I know. Rough language. It was received as such. The leader indirectly admonished me a few minutes later by reminding "everyone" to remember that "kindness" is the first rule when giving feedback to a work.

My mild disappointment about not being allowed to read, coupled with the pain I experienced trying to find kind, constructive feedback to offer two of the writers, and receiving the following email from the leader a few days after the second meeting --

Hi Alex,

Are you going to be in Oxford anytime in the next couple of weeks? There is no agenda, I just think spending time with one another would help us relax with each other and we would better know where the other is coming from when we are in our meetings.

I went back and read the two emails I sent you - one an attachment. I want you to know I didn't say "nice" or "sweet" even one time!  So you can rest easy on that.

I did say things like humility, sensitivity, respect, and kindness, just the way we should be with people anyway. Basic social skills.

I think you can manage that don't you? If not, perhaps we could set up some cues when one of us (probably me) needs the critique tone to be gentler. People can say the truth and be calm at the same time. This is assertiveness. Assertiveness is good. Aggressiveness is speaking and acting as if one is unconcerned about how one is coming across to the receiver. This can lead to intimidation on the part of the hearer and defenses go up and critique cannot be heard. 

If this is new to you, I think practicing this group etiquette will serve you well in your other social encounters.

Right now I think you're saying, "Is she for real?"  Well, yes I am, and I can be fun and friendly,too.

I'll treat for coffee and we can see where it goes and laugh and have fun.



Write me!!!!

prompted me to write what is for me a very kind and polite and nice note today, thanking them for the generous permission to attend two of their meetings and respectfully withdrawing from the group in light of the evident "bad fit".

And so it goes....   Perhaps third time will be charmed?