Writing Groups. Are they worth it, and should you join ?

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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.

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The Poem.

Recite

The teacher made his rounds of the classroom as the boys studied and attended to the exercise he had given them. His anger and temper to the fore, as per usual. His sometimes formally normal thinking transformed into anger, paranoia, and victim thinking.  Looking for any, or just one of the boys to step out of line. Silently willing them to break his self imposed rules. Feeling quiet unwell, as a result of the nightly bottle of red wine, which many times had turned into two bottles. Looking forward to the mid morning break, for some badly needed hydration, and rest.

The alcohol helped him ignore, or in his mind deal with his failing marriage,and impending divorce. Life didn’t seem soo bad. Life didn’t seem that serious through the bottom of a wine glass. His throbbing head. Mouth as dry as could be. A sick, queasy feeling in his stomach. He was well used to such physical effects of his increasing alcohol consumption. Never welcomed, but the expected side effect of his over indulgence.

If he was not the coward that he was, he would have challenged a man of his own size and age to a physical altercation. But he was brooding for a row, and the children in his care would suffice. At the very least they would offer little opposition. Just the way he liked it. He walked around the classroom, with his hands behind his back. Peering over the shoulders of the boys as they attend to the exercise he had given them. Peering, but really looking and praying to find some boy stepping out of line. Looking for an adversary, a victim. Someone to unleash his anger on. Someone to castigate, embarrass and shame. Why not. If it would made him feel better as a man. Some small victory in life. In a life where he didn’t feel such a failure.
Much to his satisfaction, it did not take long, He knew from experience there was always one. There would always be one, among the class. The dreamer. The softly spoken. That gentle, innocent child.
He stopped behind the desk of the young blond boy. Whom he had immediately taken a strong dislike to, when he initially saw him in the class at the beginning of term. The boy he had singled out for special , non too pleasant treatment. The soft, innocent and attractive features, and a permanent slight anxiety and fear, evident his features. The perfect victim.
‘What’, he thundered, ‘is this ? ‘, as he held aloft the few lines of poetry the boy had written. His face red with anger, and delight.
‘What nonsense is this you have written, eh boy ?’
The young boy squirmed in his seat. Not wanting to be the centre of attention, as the whole class turned their attention to him.
The boy shock with fear. His face reddened. His breathing quickened. His legs shock. That sickly feeling arose in his stomach, and how he wished he was anywhere but here. In this place, at this time.

‘What are you ? Who are you ?’, the teacher said mockingly. ‘The next Keats or Shelly ?’
‘You think you can write poetry’, he roared. ‘Here ‘ he said, as he hurriedly scribbled some words on a blank sheet of paper. He handed the paper to the boy, and instructed him to stand at the top of the class and recite what was written on the paper.
The young blond haired boy, read the words at his desk, silently, and at the aggressive insistence of the teacher stood at the the front of the class, and began to read from the scribbled paper.

‘I am an idiot and a fool. Most of the times I actually drool
I have the talent of a newt
I am ugly and thick, to boot
I deserve to die, I tell no lie
I am sorry, for actually being alive
Will you forgive me, for being what I am
I am not, and can never be a proper man.

As he read out the words before him, standing in front of the class. The others boys listened, and then the laughter began. The boys laughed. The teacher laughed, as he insisted that the poem be recited over, and over. Having had enough, the young boy ran from the class. Tears streaming down his checks. But as he ran, the image, and words of his Grandfather, from beyond the grave, stood strong in his mind.
‘Do not allow people to make a fool of you. Be strong. Be kind, but take your revenge if necessary’. He ran past the school car park, and slowed down, as his tears subsided. The silent words and images of his Grandfather encouraging his strength and resolve. With the area near enough deserted, he reached into his pocket and retrieved the penknife his Grandfather had given him before he had passed away. The wooden carved handle, and the sharpened blade. Which he regularly sharpened , and kept pristine and clean. Looking about him, he slipped under the teachers white jeep. Easily recognizable. He began to cut the plastic, mastic covered tubes, and hose’s underneath the engine. Not knowing really what he was cutting. But the act of cutting and hopefully causing some damage to the car and teacher, more than satisfying. He began to snigger softly, underneath the engine. Then he began to laugh aloud. Picturing his Grandpa encouraging and praising his bravery and actions. Feeling and hearing his words and spirit.

Satisfied that he had done enough, He slid out from underneath the jeep, and moved to the edge of the car park. He watched from beneath the tree’s in the late afternoon sunshine as the arrogant teacher sat into the white jeep, started the engine and slowly drove away. He noted the trail of dripping liquid following the jeep, as it exited the school and onto the highway, and he smiled.

Never Settle…..

Never Settle

Never settle,you can do better,anybody can tell you that
He ain’t no good,she could be better looking
How can they even say that
But what do they know of my life,as it is
These people offering such sage wisdom and advice

What gives them the right to interfere in my life
As they do so night after night
I don’t want your damn advice,so keep it wrapped up real tight
In that small little mind of yours,I’d really,really love to clamp in a vice
My God you drive me insane,and your such a drain

I mean for goodness sake,I’m just saying
Go mind you own,and live your own life
Not be so interfering,causing other people such strife
I gotta get away from you,and others of your ilk
Those who pontificate,and castigate,I’d love to wrap up in silk
Post them off to outer space,so I can have some peace

I don’t cast my views on people and the lives they are living
I don’t want that foolish advise,that your determined to keep on giving
Go away and leave me be,so I can find peace of mind
Get a life of your own,and leave me alone
Or one of these days,you may find you don’t exist no more
Done and dusted,with a little help and out the door

So you take care now,but don’t you people dare now
Come offering unwanted advice,at all times of the day and night
Regarding what you believe is right for my life
And what it is that I should settle for.

This poem is a response to a photo prompt seen here : http://creativewriting.ie/writing-prompts/