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What Sort of Writer Do You Want to Be?

I run a writing group, and I have for a number of years now. It wasn’t an easy decision to start one, wasn’t something that I really wanted to do. I did however realize that I had to do it.

See, the problem is that most writing groups you visit are homes to ego and self-inflation, first and foremost.

I call them ‘Golf-Clap-Groups’.

Imagine a group of people watching golf. The putt is made, it slides into the hole and, quietly, respectably, people clap in soft, pretend amazement.

Writers can be like that.

Well, bad writers can be like that.

See these golf-clappers show up once a month, dutifully wait their turn and then step up to the podium or microphone. The beret is tilted jauntily, the black scarf tossed over the shoulder, ok, maybe they are not wearing either but you get my drift, and then they begin.

“Little ducky, walking along the road, your yellowy,yellowness worn like an orchids trousers….”

They read….I suffer.

At this point I want to throw myself through a window, run screaming from the room, buy an unabridged OED and throw it at them, anything. Most of all I want to ask what their plan is to proceed, to improve as a writer. I want to start a round table critique where everyone can explain, nicely but truthfully what the problems and potentials are.

You see, writing is not just about putting words on paper. Writing is about putting good words on paper, on improving your style and abilities. Writing is about getting critiqued and cut up. It is about seeing how terribly you did something and realizing that you can do it so much better.

Writing is not about the first draft, it is about the final copy.

And this brings me back to my own group.

I have 112 members, we meet weekly, everyone brings their current work in progress, everyone shares.

Now you may be doing some quick math in your head and thinking,
“By Zeus’s nipples! The meeting must go on for hours, days even!”

But it doesn’t. Most nights we are gone by eleven or so. Everyone has participated, everyone has commented both on the good and the bad. Everyone, by and large is happy with the evenings progress.

See, I have a secret, dastardly thing I do whenever a new member arrives.

They are welcomed, they get to sit and watch and listen. They can read and comment and joke as we all do. There is no room for pretension, no room for the posing artist, this is a writers group, for real writers.

Sure your mom or spouse or bestie might have told you that you are wonderful and amazing. Maybe you won Miss Kowalski’s eighth grade story contest. I still know the one phrase that keeps my one-hundred-and-twelve member group down to a manageable level.

And I use this phrase. All the time. I use it and they smile and nod and blanch and leave and never come back. I mutter it and the icy tendrils of yellowy ducks march down their spines. These few words, this incantation from a darker place tells them the one thing they never, ever want to know, and never ever want to do.

I look up, smiling, friendly. I look them straight in the eyes and I say….

“You know, writing is a lot of hard work. Rewarding, amazing when it comes together, but a lot of hard work. You may be years and years writing a story before you have it right.”

They don’t want that. They want an easy answer, a quick and polite golf clap that tells them they are wonderful.

Your decision is what sort of writer do you want to be.

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