Writing in a group

We had the second meeting of our newly expanded writing group yesterday. The last time I got involved in a writing group, it was tetchy. One woman corrected my grammar and punctuation, and then asked me why would anyone want to read about family. I became aggressively polite in the way I used to in the face of super irritating bookstore customers. Looking back it seems clear that she felt threatened by me. We have similar backgrounds, only I was a better writer. She couldn’t play the sharp, funny, [ethnicity redacted] card with me.

My poetry group dissolved after many years in a stew of issues that were unrelated to poetry. It was sad and difficult. Then a writing group started up at work. It was low-key, just a few of us, meeting on my dinner break. This year we decided to expand it to include other people at the school. We are at all different levels of experience, writing wise.

One woman wrote a poem for the first time. She is usually a fiction writer. And, between you and me, the poems weren’t very good. But whose first poems are? She was receptive to feedback, and understood what we were saying, so I predict that her poems are going to improve soon. And somehow it worked. The vibe was supportive yet interesting. Everyone had different opinions, but we all agreed on the good stuff, even if it was for different reasons. You can’t buy good rapport.

Afterward I went to coffee with one of the writers. We talked for two hours about writing, students, teaching, adjuncting, schools, and how to make a living doing what we do. I was raised in an academic family. I know what I was doing was important. We were talking shop, making connections. And yet, as a freelancer, that was four hours where I wasn’t getting paid. I’m not complaining, because I know I am privileged not to work in a fucking mine or an office where the kitchen gossip is about whether men are gay if they pee sitting down.

But a certain amount of freelancing is guilt management. I use guilt to motivate me to get to work. But sometimes, I need to be able to go out and talk shop and not feel guilty about it. One cannot copyedit all the time. I believe in making connections, and I believe in professional development, however you define it. Also I need to take my work (editing or writing) seriously. And if I have to give pompous words to a couple hours in a coffeeshop to gain respect (my own or others’), I will. It was a hell of a lot more productive than some production meetings I’ve been to.

What’s your professional development?


9 responses to “Writing in a group

  1. I’m of two minds about writing groups. I prefer to keep my stuff really private until it’s almost finished, so I don’t think I’d be a good member of the group or find it all that helpful. On the other hand, I really would love to be more connected, three-dimensionally, to other writers. I did attend one meeting last year, of a social group made up of writers. I thought it was going to be a beer-and-jalapeno-poppers sort of thing, but it turned out to be a potluck at somebody’s house, with people reading some of the godawfulest prose I’ve ever heard.

    I dunno. It’s hard to find the tribe.

  2. I was in a bad face-to-face group a while back.

    Now I have a sort of loose online support network of writer/reader friends that works much better.

    And it makes it easier to distract freelancers from their paying gigs, so bonus!

  3. I love my writing group, but there’s a woman who’s been absent for a couple of years and she’s coming back. Next week. And she sounds like a total pain in the ass prima donna. We shall see.

    As to the guilt etc…. I was reading this post and when I got the part where you know you’re “privileged not to work in a mine,” I started screaming in my head. It reminded me of Averil’s post the other day about whether writing is “work.” Our work is our work —– we could, after all, just lounge around all day eating Cheerios and watching soaps and reading cookbooks, BUT WE DON’T. My mother in law made some recent comments about her son, my husband, that went something like this: “He doesn’t mow his own grass anymore,” and “Did you see how soft his hands are?” She’s convinced that because he doesn’t mow (we don’t have a yard!!!) and his hands aren’t covered in grease, he’s lesser than. He works his ass off. Why can’t she just be proud of him? Why can’t we all be at least a little more proud of ourselves???

    • I just spent two 6-hour days in the car listening to bluegrass, including quite a bit of coal-mining, dying of silicosis, the sun comes up at ten in the morning and the sun goes down at 3 in the day. 🙂

      I mostly feel guilty complaining when my friends sit in offices all day. DP reminds me that we both designed our lives so as to not sit in a cubicle farm. But still. I do think I work.

      Thanks for yelling at me in your head tho. I appreciate it.

      • Can he design one of those for me? When the time came, I didn’t know it was an option. And now, well, if he builds it, I will come!

    • II don’t think “guilt” is the right word. Guilt never got anyone anywhere. But, remembering the privilege of my position is worthwhile. I am not working in a mine. I am working. and, I am not hungry.

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