Fame and Fortune

December 9, 2014

Tags: writers' groups

Years ago, when I decided to start my own professional writers’ group, I sent out an email blast to colleagues at two schools where I was teaching. I had numerous replies because writers are always grateful when someone else organizes a group. I culled the replies to a manageable twenty and then down to a short-list of ten. I wanted the group to be gender balanced and experience/publication balanced. I didn’t want any editors in the group, or writers who worked in PR or broadcasting. Editors cannot resist the red pencil, and if they are frustrated writers, they take liberties with the text that can be either intimidating or infuriating to the author. Public relations gadflies learn to homogenize and spin. In my experience, they lose perspective on what is authentic and what isn’t authentic. In an effort to reconnect with their own voice and subject, they are hyper-critical of everyone else and, ultimately, themselves.

It was my prerogative to be choosy; I was gathering the group. So I chose six people, all strangers, who I thought would work well together. Of course, I was wrong.

At first, everything went smoothly. We met once a month and had deep discussions about our work. We rotated round everyone’s house—another criteria—and agreed that there should be no food and drink to distract us; only water was served. Eventually we loosened up on the food and drink. We brought cookies, snacks and wine. Maybe that was the beginning of the end.

I was writing a lot of short stories in those days and the occasional poem. One month, I decided to submit an almost epic-length poem to the group. What was it about? I can hardly remember now.

Our last meeting was at my house where I felt—at home. I was very relaxed and eager for the arrival of my writer peers. After a year, they were beginning to feel like writer friends. Except for one thing: a feeling of competition between two of the writers who were hungry for fame. In fact, they were out of control hungry for fame. Fame and fortune. Such an intense appetite may or may not be good for the writing; it’s definitely not good for a writers’ group. Mea culpa, I hadn’t picked up this affliction during my phone interviews. Or, perhaps, I hadn’t even considered it.

So here we were at what turned out to be our last meeting. The critique began and it became uncivil in five minutes. I interrupted and said we needed to remind ourselves of the rules: A critique is not criticism. It is not personal. It is about the work.

I offered to be the next up to calm the tornado that had hit, and distributed my epic poem. After I read it aloud, I excused myself for a minute to go to the restroom. I could hear a churning sound, like a boiler about to explode, but when I returned to the living room, everyone had gone quiet. A copy of my epic poem was on the table face down. “It’s not even worth discussing,” one of hungry for fame and fortune women said.

“And I would like you to leave right now,” I said.

Which she did.

The group disbanded after that, not surprisingly, and I began another soon after which was much more congenial and successful.

Comments

  1. December 10, 2014 12:03 PM EST
    I would be curious to know what made the second writers group more successful than the first. What did you do differently?
    - Cameron

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