For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write. I took what I thought was a sensible detour and concentrated on teaching for a while, but every career change brought me closer to what I really wanted to do. Today, I make my living writing non-fiction, and I have managed to publish a few poems and stories – although admittedly fewer than I would prefer. However, one thing I have never done is join a writer’s group online or in-person.
I could do so easily enough, if I cared to. A whole industry exists to tell wannabe writers how to write, and many wannabes seem to enjoy hanging out with like-minded people. With a single phone call or email, I could probably wrangle at least an invitation to some sort of writer’s group.
Yet somehow, I never have. Although I have no trouble writing in a crowded coffee shop, for me writing is a solitary activity. By contrast, joining a group is a social activity, and the connection between writing and a writers’ group has never been clear to me. I’m not about to tell somebody else that they shouldn’t join a writers’ group, but the idea simply doesn’t attract me.
I know that I could get plenty of feedback if I did join a group. However, just because someone is a wannabe doesn’t mean that their criticism is worth hearing. The number of people who are useful as first readers is small in any group, and from occasional interactions with wannabes, I see no reason to think they would be an exception.
If anything, I suspect that assorted insecurities would make most members of a writer’s group somewhat worse first readers than the random assortment of friends and relatives I occasionally go to for an opinion now. More often than not, what I would hear is not how to improve a passage, but how the wannabe would write it, and why their suggestion was better than my implementation. If I did find some members of a writers’ group whose opinion was useful to me, I would still have to sit patiently through the criticisms from others that were no help.
More importantly, ever since I encountered a poet’s cafe when I was in high school, I’ve had the shrewd idea that writers’ groups are less about writing than the idea of being a writer. The groups do seem to produce more published writers than any random sampling, but they do appear to be places where people talk about writing more often than they produce a manuscript. Story ideas, hints about finding an agent, overcoming writer’s block, the latest software – the conversation continually circles writing, but only occasionally focuses on it.
Rightly or wrongly, I get the impression that wannabes are unconsciously hoping to find the shortcut that will turn them into writers overnight. Failing that, they want the support of like-minded people to reinforce their fantasy that they are moving closer to becoming writers. Yet at best, having writing ambitions is a hobby that justifies socializing and attending conferences.
This attitude clearly gives them pleasure, and I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong as such with living in the community of wannabe writers. Without any sarcasm, I’m sure that community can be very comforting at times. I just think that the fantasy is always threatening to become more important than having pages to send off for publication
For myself, I don’t have time for most of their activities. I don’t have time to talk about what I’m going to write, because I am too busy researching it, I can’t agonize over writers’ block, because I have deadlines. I suspect, too, that I will learn more about writing analyzing a novel that I admire and trying the techniques I observe that reading yet another article of tips.
Maybe other people have had different experiences of writers’ groups, and find them worthwhile. All I can say is that, for me, they seem too unconnected to writing to be a serious temptation.