I have been in various writing groups over the past twenty-five years. Some have been very helpful while others have hurt my writing and probably my feelings too which almost made me lose my motivation to continue.
I am lucky I am a person who will hang in and try to see if the group can work for me imperfectly. I’d ask myself what would I get out of it, not what I thought I need. Let’s try it that way for awhile. For instance, I joined in with group of long-term male writers whom I had admired for their activist work with good meaningful subjects in their work. In the group were some men who wrote in an organized linear way. It worked for them and I liked their work too. However, I knew ways I could help them improve if they wanted that feedback. I started carefully and built up to that in a matter of weeks. My goal was to make their writing even better. I don’t feel it was done as a criticism. I felt in the act of serving the work. I know enough through experience to let their voice be their voice and join in, bringing my out side perspective in a way that might strengthen their plot or characters but not interfering with their voice. For instance, comments on places the action or character is left too soon perhaps or when the characters actions doesn’t make sense.
For me, however, I knew how to do a plot driving, action work and wanted to try something else. I had been experimenting writing from an associated thinking, feeling, humorous way. What I needed was to have them leave my style or form alone and help me make it better. It didn’t help when the two men red penciled the pages I gave to them and wanted me to do it differently so they could better understand it. No, I have a loose narrative and I wanted it that way. Remember Joyce, think of John Ashby but from a more feeling level. I asked for no use of red pencils. I listened and stayed because what they could do was tell me when something was very awkward and I couldn’t see it. Not immediately clear, ok, but awkward, let’s fix. They also could help with tenses and proofing. Ok good. We could do reading as a group at a local library and art gallery.
I stayed for a year or so, got to know their work well, and left to find a good that would be less linear and more flexible. They might have been relieved. I know I was because I was discouraged by their constant feedback and yet stubborn enough to continue. I left at just the right time for my work. I was asked into another writing group two weeks later of really good poets, poets doing linear work and prose poetry, many poems as memoir. The variety helped and their value in the written word itself was a relief from the constant need to publish.
This group is new and one man has trouble with my work and wants me to line it and n0t have it be prose poetry. I’ll let you know in time.