Writing is a lonely job.
Google those five words and you’ll find dozens of pros penning variations on the theme. It seems everyone from Hemingway to King has weighed in on it, and who are we to dispute the late, great Asimov?
Ironically, and as any writer will attest, we’re rarely alone. Even while we’re engaged in normal things like normal people, our characters are chattering away. Which is all well and good if our current opus is going swimmingly. If not, we’re apt to drown them in a bottle of Chardonnay and tell them to fuck off. But that’s a subject for another blog.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume these Masters of the Manuscript are right, that even as we create worlds outside ourselves, we’re still locked in an isolation chamber of our own design. Ennui is the enemy. Over-caffeinated and underwhelmed, we crave connection with those most likely to empathize, our fellow wordsmiths. And what do we do to fill the void? Many will jump on social media, post some random promos, do the RT/share thing, and when that exercise reaches the stimulus equivalent of interacting with dryer lint, they seek other means to commune with their compadres and flex their literary muscles.
Which brings me to on-line writer groups.
As one who writes across multiple genres and media, I’ve joined — and fled — countless groups in the recent past. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, regardless of the platform there are good ones, bad ones, and those that fall somewhere in between. Am I an authority on what distinguishes the great from the gratuitous? Far from it, but I’ve learned a thing or two, so if you’re thinking of joining one, here are a few things to consider:
1) Define the type of group you’re looking for. Are you an introvert, an extrovert? Do you want a safe haven or a challenge? How much time are you comfortable in allocating? Do you want to connect or are you merely looking for another outlet to promote your books? If your motivation is the latter, choose your content carefully. Nothing is more off-putting to other members than making every comment about you. Show your support for others and their work.
2) Do your homework. Find out all you can about the moderator(s). Chances are, you’ve ‘met’ them through Twitter or Facebook which, in most cases, means you’ve seen their name on a book cover and haven’t a clue who they are. Bios are PR fluff at best. Dig a little deeper and read their blogs or interviews, anything that will help you assess their competency in managing a group. This may seem unimportant, but it’s critical to your enjoyment of the experience. For many organizers, this is their first rodeo and they may not be adept at corralling egos, the kiss of death for a writing group.
3) If the guidelines aren’t posted, ask about them. Are there rules regarding content, reciprocity? Many a potentially good group has fallen by the wayside for lack of a coherent direction.
4) Be a stalker. Before posting, hang out awhile and observe. When you encounter the following members, and you will, take a deep breath and don’t rush headlong for the airlock. There’s at least one of each in every group.
The Eager Beaver — You know that kid you went to grade school with who would levitate out of her chair to wave her hand to grab attention? Yeah, that one. Wildly enthusiastic, this perpetually perky Polly is always in a good mood, in love with everything and everyone, and the first to jump into a thread. Polly is irritating. Don’t be Polly.
The Diva — Like the wind, she’ll blow in and out at will. Her appearances are rare and usually accompanied by a self-serving announcement about her book sales and how busy busy busy she is. Exit stage left.
The Flirt — Don’t feed the flirts. Be grateful it’s an on-line writer group and not free beer and karaoke night at Hooters.
The Den Mother — This one is an authority on everything and will bore your socks if you let her. Curiously, she’s also the self-proclaimed arbiter of good taste and decorum. You know that airlock I mentioned earlier? Use the ball-gag, cuffs, and escort her there post-haste.
The Provocateur — Passive-aggressive by nature, this wily critter will lull you into a false sense of security by pretending to be on your team. It may be weeks or months before you realize he’s stolen your photos, your marketing expertise, and the premise for your next novel. You remember where the airlock is, right?
The Drama Queens — Within every group is a sub-group, a grouplet if you will. Like the average person needs air, the Drama Queens exist on intrigue, and if none is available, they’ll manufacture it. Save yourself. If they try to drag you into it, just say no. It will all blow over soon.
That’s all, folks. If after reading the foregoing, you’re still gung-ho to join a writer group, then by all means do it. A good one is like gold. It can bring out the best in you and introduce you to amazing people you wouldn’t otherwise happen upon. Some of the best people I know I met through two groups, and I love and admire them. May you be as lucky.
And that quote at the beginning? Here’s the rest of it from I, Asimov by Isaac Asimov.
“Writing is a lonely job. Even if a writer socializes regularly, when he gets down to the real business of his life, it is he and his type writer or word processor. No one else is or can be involved in the matter.”