The Politics of Writers Groups
Writers are human beings, so unfortunately when three or more are gathered together they will break into at least two factions. I know this because I belonged to a writers group for a few years.
It was an exciting time. Most of the group were younger than me and eager, and all of them were good writers. We shared successes and failures, brutally honest critiques, and we even encouraged one another to compete in the same short story contests. We became friends, attended weddings, and went on road trips to parties and conferences.
Then one day the fun ended. I was pulled aside by one member and gently informed that a clique had decided that another member should be evicted from the group. He wasn’t writing enough. Someone didn’t like his critiques. His worst crime seemed to be that he nodded off to sleep a couple of times during an excessively long critique (not of his story.)
This left me in a quandary. I had nearly fallen asleep a couple of times myself during that critique, but apparently I had been better at hiding it. Would I be the next writer forced to walk the plank?
I suggested a better solution would be to limit the length of critiques to five minutes. Only a few weeks before, one member had a valid complaint about one technical point in my story, but she went on about it for twenty minutes. I had it solved in my head in two minutes, but the rules of our group were that I had to keep my mouth shut until she was done. Surely a time limit would solve everything.
Nope. Unlimited critique lengths were required.
Now I could have polled the other members of the group and put it to a vote. I could have approached one or another member, using backroom politics to get my way, sort of what I saw going on already. Instead I resigned from the group. If I want politics I’ll pick up a paper.
It’s been years, but I miss my writers group. We bonded over a common cause, shared the same dreams, and they understood me better than many of my university friends. Most of us are still friends, of course, but its not the same as meeting once a month, bracing yourself for the round of criticism that will be unleashed on you in the politest manner. I even miss the dreaded “but” as in, “This was a great story, but…”
So I have to ask myself: would I join another writers group? I think there is always more to learn, but I’ve never been much of a group person. Even traveling I developed a preference early in my adulthood of venturing to very strange places by myself. I’m not a loner, but I’m not a team player. I like running, but not runners groups. I like writing, and for a time I liked my writers group.
Perhaps that’s it. Start a writers group with an expiration date, say one year. Just enough time to get to know one another but not enough time for factions to develop.
After all, we’re only human.