Writing groups are not necessarily sources of inspiration. Of course, that’s what we writers wish for, but seldom find. Usually, there’s a lot of agony and angst, exhaustion and wear-and-tear, as well as hard work. However, I had a revelation recently working with my new group that shook up my assumptions permanently, affecting my daily living as well as my writing life.
That’s one of the happy things writers get used to—the residual benefits from lessons learned when we write. Without them, the inspiration gets stuck in the sludge filling our heads and slowing down the circulation of new ideas.
I think of the deadlines and pressures of life as a kind of creative artery-clogging process, cholesterol that can end up killing the artistic flow as well as us. There are many magic bullets I’ve found useful in combating this condition, but my latest discovery came during a session with my new group, and was an artistic statin for the mind and heart.
I’ve been reviewing writing group dynamics ever since I first started forming workshops 7 years ago, and I worried recently that my current group might not fit parameters for success. My former groups have been very big or small, and everything in between. But the most productive was the smallest and most recent one. Not only were the writers of star quality in every way, but the size of the group gave us the flexibility to submit long, detailed chapters in narrative order, thereby easing us into each other’s books until we were so thoroughly immersed we could hardly tell whose was whose. How could I ever adjust to any other system now that I’d experienced “the best”?
My new group is a little larger than the penultimate success story, thereby necessitating smaller submissions clipped from the heart of writing we’ve already done as well as work in progress. We don’t know each other yet, and to put it mildly, we’ve been jumping all over the place to perfect the art of critiquing before we go any further. I could hear the shrieks of some of my former colleagues at the suggestion that we could get or give adequate feedback when all we had to go on is a two-page submission taken entirely out of context.
Most writers find they must read the end of the chapter they’ve completed before they pick it up again with a fresh start. Sometimes they have to read a lot more than just the last few pages to get into the rhythm, and often, if the layover has been protracted, they can’t even remember where the characters are or how to spell their names. It’s an embarrassing truth, a dirty little secret we writers confess to among ourselves, laughing ruefully with a telltale blush rising up our cheeks. Undoubtedly, we fear we’ve exposed our fraudulent credentials after all.