After years of creative writing grad school, I’m not jumping on the chance to join a creative writing group. It’s because both class workshops and group discussions have THIS in common.
My interest is sparked when I see the words creative writing. It’s probably the euphoria wearing off from years of undergrad and grad school when I thought I could be a successful author after writing a first draft of anything simply because I wanted to be.
Or it could be from my middle school days when I’d flip through the piles of empty notebooks, some bought, some received, dreaming up what I could write but never picking up a pen.
And I’ve come across the words creative writing lately. I’m still new to my city and I’m always looking for a new group or event to attend so that I can boost my friendship numbers up.
It’s a slow process.
Among the wine tasting and knitting circle events, I can quickly spot the creative writing groups, and my heart is lifted. For only a beat.
I’d like to join a creative writing group that discusses topics like publishing, author promotion, editing vs. revising, plot structure, and industry trends. Like looking for a unicorn, I’m overly hopeful that I’ll find one in my neck of the woods.
Instead, I find a creative writing group or two that focuses on sharing work and critiquing it. While it’s only a short drive away, I won’t be attending any of these meetings.
There’s nothing wrong that these groups exist. They just don’t work for me.
You’d think after years of workshopping my work that I’d want to get back in the writer circle game. But I don’t. In fact, it’s the biggest reason I don’t miss my undergrad years.
Ask my sister. That list is long.
The reason why I don’t attend creative writing groups is because the writing workshop method simply doesn’t work.
At least, not for me.
Say that I did go. I (hypothetically) read five pages of chapter seven from my novel-in-progress and the group gives me “I like” and “I dislike” feedback.
And I could go all day telling you my opinion on feedback.
There are many things wrong with this scenario, but I’ll only list two:
- I don’t care whether or not my audience likes or dislikes something. I care whether or not what is happening in the writing works.
- How can an audience judge a piece of writing that is only a segment of a larger work? That’s like handing an book publishing editor five pages and expecting them to give big-picture strategy on the entire novel.
The only way this group could constructively work is if I brought in a five-page story to analyze. That way, the audience has all the writing to critique.
But it’s still a critique session. It’s not a let’s-brainstorm-together-a-better-way-to-strengthen-your-story session. We’re still using “I dislike” statements with demands on how to change it (sorry, I think we say “giving advice” here) without collaborating on solutions.
The concept is very negative and leaves the writer depleted. Chances are, the writer discontinues revising the work and shoves that story in an already-cluttered drawer.
It’s also not a fun experience as a member of the editorial audience. My legitimate questions about the piece (not my personal reading preference) get drowned out by “I don’t like this” and “I don’t like that.”
There is still hope. That is, if the creative writing group is willing to change their method.
Instead of bombarding the writer with your personal opinions, make the workshop about the work. Make it a brainstorm session. Ask questions about the characters, the plot, the scenery, the motives. Ban “I like” and “I dislike” statements.
Only then is it really a group. We join groups because we want to be part of a team, but we can only be a team if we feel like all the players have good intent. If we stop the judging and pump up the collaboration, the creative writing group could be quite a beautiful thing.
What do you think? Do you agree with the creative writing group method? Share your opinions below.