Photo Credit : https://pixabay.com/en/startup-start-up-people-593341/
That is a question I am currently pondering. Like anything in life they have both advantages and disadvantages. But obviously when it’s leaning too far in one direction, then it may be time to reconsider your options and choices.
While they may be good for the social interaction, if you choose the right group, and you fit in, and they can certainly be good fun. Helpful in getting one into the discipline of writing. To continue that chapter, to come up with fresh ideas for the next week’s meeting.
As to whether they help one improve as a writer. I don’t think so. If you want to improve your writing, I suggest you read a lot, listen to a lot of radio drama, particularly BBC radio drama. Watch a lot of films. The Homeland series on Netflix, which is a fine example of exemplary writing, although I believe written by a team of writers, but still very well written and entertaining. I for one have absolutely no idea where the plot in going to move from one scene to the next, and that’s what makes it so interesting and engaging. That is why, I like many millions of other have watched and enjoyed it. These are the places I spend time, and find inspiration from.
The whole idea in a writing group, is everybody reads what they have written, and receives feedback from the other members, which is good and bad. It’s enjoyable if people are complimentary about what you have written, but uncomfortable, not too nice, it the others start finding holes in your work. I like to think all the words I write, are precious, and angelic, and for someone to suggest that perhaps they should be dropped from the piece. Well I find that a bit hurtful, to suggest that about my babies, my children, as I see them.
Perhaps others who write also feel the same. I suspect that many do. although the ethos of many writing groups is that they are open to and welcome to honest criticism. I find that is not really true, at all. I don’t like to be criticized about my writing, or anything at all, really. and when I criticize, or shall we say give my view. In a way I like to believe is gentle and encouraging, many don’t like it. Which is fair enough. But if you put your work in the public arena, and ask for feedback, do not be too surprised at what comes back at you.
Some are going honest, which I believe is the right way. Some will enjoy your writing, and other’s are going to be vocal in the dislike of it. But if I am bored by someone’s writing, and find it as interesting as a plank of wood, I will tell them. As much as I would tell someone I was speaking to, that I find their conversation and chosen topics, uninteresting beyond belief.
In that way generally, people can become more interesting and entertaining, because others will call them out on their ‘dullness’. Make it clear to them, they are not a modern day Gore Vidal, or Peter Ustinov, in terms of being interesting and entertaining company. In this way I am helping them. Same as when I tell an off colour joke in company, and no one laughs or smiles. I learn pretty quickly not what to do next time in that company. In that respect honest feedback is helpful, if you can learn from it.
Writing groups unlike some other types of groups can be a magnet for the wounded and traumatized. Why do so many write, but to unburden their soul, there traumatic ,and difficult past. To unleash the emotions, and memories that they have kept hidden and suppressed for so long. They can be released and unburdened through the stories and characters they write. An inexpensive form of psychotherapy I find, and that is what I have used it for in the past and currently. Not on purpose, it’s just when I write, I write from the depths of my soul, and whatever is in there, will find its way into a piece, or a poem, or words of some description.
Events and emotions that I’d could not, and would rather not share with others openly, can be dispersed quiet easily and anonymously through my characters, or my sometimes strange views on the world. Or through a factual pieces of writing I may produce. So in that way, from a psychological perspective, a writing group is helpful, if your willing to be truthful and let it all flow. The hurt, anger, bewilderment, deception, and all the other pleasantness of life ! that we have all experienced at one time or another in our dealings with others.
But a writing group, even for the most normal of people, can give our sadistic side free reign. An opportunity to offload our anger, bitterness, disappointments, and general unhappiness. A psychological cleansing. Even better than a steam and a sauna. Affording such a sense of joy, peace and relaxation and ease. For the truly psychologically traumatized, sadistic and toxic, it can be paradise on earth. An invitation to find fault and criticize another human beings work, which can mean, secretly criticizing them as a person. To watch and enjoy, as they squirm and shudder, under the weight of your caustic words. Like devastating cruel weapons, further traumatize and destroy them before your very eyes. That could continue over weeks and months. All in the name of helpful criticism. That can be the hidden agenda. All in the name of ‘helping’ another person become a better writer.
For myself, I don’t like to criticize others, to find fault. It’s not a nice way to be. Whats the damn point in destroying anthers person fragile soul. Which most of us are, underneath our sometimes harsh exterior. ‘Cut me, and I bleed to’, as someone once said, somewhere.
Throughout my school years, like most I witnessed and was on the receiving end of criticism and fault finding among my fellow classmates. Not to the extent of bullying. But I never enjoyed it, neither indulging in it, or watching others being on the receiving end of it. Even though it was cloaked under the banner of rough banter and young’s boys humor. It was never anything more than cruel.
When I left school and moved on the world, I found I much more enjoyed being in the company of people who are gentle, kind encouraging, supportive. Happy for your success. These are the characteristics I would look to embody in my own personality. Rather than the others, who still like the school mates of my youth, even as adults like to criticise, cut down and destroy others. They have never really moved on from the school yard. Or perhaps life has lead them down a more traumatic path. Who knows.
If being in a writing group, and the willingness and ability to offer criticism, seems to be a key to entry. To ‘help’ other writers become better. I don’t think I want to become that kind of person. nor part of such a group. Who needs that. Ain’t life hard enough already for people. To become that type of person, I don’t think helps anybody.
It took me many years to move away from being the type of person, with a quick and witty remark, to a perceived vocal threat. An absolute necessary skill that was honed to perfection in my school days. Without that form of mental self defense, one’s school days would have being miserable beyond belief. Which was the outcome for many of the less quick witted, and those who lacked the ability to respond fast, with a clever repoist required to survive in such a jungle.
I have no wish, nor right to criticize another when they are only trying to improve themselves, and their creativity. Although I will happily criticize and castigate the wrong doer’s. The cruel and unkind. Those who treat others badly, and criminally.
So as to whether writing groups are a good idea. Maybe helpful for your ego, at times. But when the entry and requirement seems to be a willing and ability to criticize another, no matter how gently it is done. I don’t think its for me.