Overcoming a fear of writers’ groups

Last night, with some trepidation, I attended my very first EVER writers’ group.  I’d say it has been nearly two years since I started flirting with the idea of joining such a group, knowing that deep down it would be greatly beneficial to my writing.  But rather than having high ideas of sipping tea with my pinky in the air, smiling coyly as this fictitious group of intellectuals throw their heads back in laughter at my quick witted genius as a writer, I kept terrorising myself with the following hypothetical scenarios:

a) Enter scene.  Group of teenage emos stare back at me (as best as they can considering the matted down hair that covers the majority of their central and peripheral vision), growl slightly under their breath and shift in their tight jeans before continuing their discussion over their latest compilation of pain induced narcissistic poetry.  I spend the meeting acutely aware of not making any sudden movements in fear I might be stabbed with a black biro.

b) Enter scene.  Group of young hip creatives welcome me to their spiritual endeavour to enhance their writing through intense meditation and prayer.  They smile a lot more than could be considered humanly reasonable and offer only encouragement, love and positive energy to every piece of overindulged prose that enters the room.  My short story on death is less than well received and I am assured by said group that as I read, the room became darker and negativity sparked across the walls.  I sit quietly amidst suspicious stares wondering if I’m a diabolical sinner.  I also frown a lot at the lights, cheeky buggers.

c)  Enter scene.  Group of high end novelists, script writers and multi-published authors look me up and down over the rims of their D&G glasses, before resuming talk over their latest book release parties and the celebrity guests that were rude enough not to rsvp.  They scoff impertinently at my lack of writing credentials and squint their eyes at me when I tell them I have not been paid for anything I’ve had published, as if they distrust me and the low end scum I’ve obviously been associating with.  I go home and burn everything I’ve ever written.

As you can see, I was fairly tormented by these visions.  Essentially it came down to wanting to fit into a group of like minded people.  I wanted feedback on my writing, but only positive feedback when it was warranted.  I wanted constructive criticism, but not so much as to be discouraged to never write again.  And I wanted to benefit from a group of people with more experience than me, but also be able to help those with less experience, and share hardships and success with those at a similar stage in their writing endeavours.

So terrorised and all, I grew some proverbial balls and decided that if I was serious about all this writing business, it was time to stop dipping my toes in the water and just dive in.  So I did.  And boy am I lucky I did.  Last night I met some of the most interesting, intelligent and varied group of people/writers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  As we all introduced ourselves I was inspired by their experiences and their success, their sincerity and their enthusiasm.  Everyone was there for a different reason, but all were there to improve their writing, share their experience and be a part of a group of like minded people.  Jess, Ralph, Fiona, Peter, Marjorie, Josie, Penny, Chris, Liz and Ian, thank you for welcoming me to your group with open arms, for the support you offer each other in your writing aspirations, and for firmly squashing my comical fear of joining a writers’ group.  I can’t wait for the next meeting.

If any one is considering joining a writers group I would recommend just giving it a go.  Some of the larger towns have many to choose from, but you can usually (at least in Australia) track them down by joining your state or local Writers’ Centre.  The Tasmanian Writers’ Centre was where I found this little gem of a group listed, and they also send out a valuable fortnightly ecalendar with the various writing activities, workshops, news, competitions and awards happening across the nation.

Tasmanians aren't so scary after all

~storytelling nomad~

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On non-existent plots and an ill-fated writing goal

Day 8 of National Young Writers’ Month and I thought one week in is as good as any for an update.  My 3 goals, as detailed in my earlier post, Go Go Gadget, Write!, were to: Blog every day, join a writers’ group and outline the plot for my novel in preparation for this year’s NaNoWriMo.  Blogging every day: Check.  Join a writers’ group: First meeting tonight – Check.  Outline plot: Big fat FAIL.  I’m struggling something chronic with this goal, and although I’ve made ‘progress’, in a sense, it’s just not turning out how I’d like, which is ultimately discouraging and therefore counter-productive.

My problem is this.  I have an idea.  I think it’s a pretty good idea. I have my character, a special ‘ability’ and a world to create around her.  But I have no plot.  No rising action.  No climax.  No falling action.  No conflict.  I can see my character in this world and the things around her, I know she’s special, but I don’t know what she’s fighting for.  Is this a sign I should give up now? Let it go? Start afresh with something new?

I understand the conventions of a good fantasy – characters going from ordinary to extraordinary, good vs evil, the anti hero, destinies, prophecies, isolation.  And the fantasies I love most are the ones with multi layered plots, a universal theme, an underlying task to achieve as well as smaller tasks to carry the protagonist through, individual character agendas, secrets and surprises.  I love endings, god how I love good endings.  So, naturally, this is what I want my book to read like too.   Did J.K. Rowling, she who ties everything together superbly over a massive seven books, did she work out these things before she began writing or just start with a boy finding out he’s a wizard, and work out the rest as she went?

Perhaps I could just start by writing my character in a scene and see where she takes me.  Or do I need to have some resemblance of the nitty gritty figured out before I dive in?  Do I need to know the evil, need to know my Voldemort before I can start writing?  I’ve read that people will often scrap a large majority of their drafts before they get to the final masterpiece.  Is this the reason why? Because they are fleshing out the story as they go and don’t really know where it will end up when they begin?

These are the questions I ask myself today.  Perhaps they are also questions that I will ask at the writers’ group tonight.  In the meantime, I’m going to sit here and panic, possibly bang my head against the wall a few times, and hope that my good idea will not be stuck inside my head forever without the plot to let it shine.

~storytelling nomad~

“Blackout” writing exercise

This exercise is loads of fun.  As part of National Young Writers’ Month, an email was sent around today to those signed up, encouraging us to get in the writer’s headspace and check out the Friday Writing Workshop: Blackouts! on their blog.  The gist is this:

All you need is a writing device (sharpies work pretty well) and a newspaper, book or something along those lines. Then start circling words or letters you want and crossing out the ones you don’t to make something new and, hopefully, awesome.

Here’s my first attempt, although I’m sure there are opportunities out there to do much, much better – and I know you’re a creative crowd worthy of the task! Anyone care to share their Blackouts?

~storytelling nomad~

Go Go Gadget, Write!

Today marks the first day of the National Young Writer’s Month, with the idea to set yourself a writing goal and reach that goal with the support of the NaYoWriMo community.  I’ve set myself three goals, which I think are pretty reasonable – I hate disappointing myself with unrealistic goals.  Number 2 is going to be the troublesome middle child.

  1. Join a local writers’ group – As much as I love the online writing community, I think it would be a good idea to extend that to actual living people, like, in the flesh…you know?  I’ve found one locally which meets next week.  This will be my first writers’ group and I’m quite nervous about it. I’ve read a lot of horror stories about these types of meetings, so I hope this won’t be one of them.

  2. Write a plot outline for my novel in preparation for NaNoWriMo – This is going to be the little rascal that looks all sweet and innocent and relatively simple to achieve, but will slyly evade me each day in the shadows until the deadline arrives and I realise another month has gone by and I just haven’t done it.  NaNoWriMo is the kind of motivational push (translation: violent shove) I need to just get the major project on its way, but this goal is so that when November 1st comes around, I don’t find myself sitting for hours chewing my pencil with a confused look on my face as I watch my fellow NaNoWriMo participants overtake me at great speed.

  3. Continue my daily blogging prowess – I have so far managed to write a post a day *applause*, hopefully not boring the pants off anyone too much…not yet anyway.  However, I have it under good authority that no post is better than a piece of garbage post that results in comments such as “yawn” or, “There’s two minutes of my life I’ll never get back”.  I’m too fragile to deal with such a tragedy, and so I’m willing to waver this goal if artistic absence demands it.

Anyone else have any writing goals for National Young Writers Month?  Registration is free on their website http://www.expressmedia.org.au/nywm/.

~storytelling nomad~