Friday, July 25, 2008

The Writing Life: The Cold Hard Truth About Writing Groups

by Kemble Scott

I started my journey as an author by writing short stories about the weird events I'd seen after moving to San Francisco. I was living in the South of Market neighborhood, before the high-rise condos and beautiful ballpark. Dot-com was in its infancy. The streets were full of mischief, much of it x-rated.

Those tales would later inspire me to write my debut novel SoMa. But back then I really needed feedback to know if I was succeeding as a writer. I found a writing group and presented my stories.

One woman was so appalled, she created a scene by sticking her fingers in her ears whenever I read.

Nice, huh? That wasn't exactly constructive criticism. If I'd taken her response to heart I probably would have given up. I left that group and tried a couple others, until I found one that was a match for me.

It's a cruel fact that some people use writers groups as a platform for attacking the work of other writers. According to her son, author Anne Rice once attended a writing group in San Francisco. She was rebuked for wasting the group's time with her stories about vampires. Rice moved to New Orleans, where she apparently found a more supportive environment, and published Interview with the Vampire. She has millions of fans and has inspired countless writers.

So how do you find a writers group that will help, rather than hurt?

Try the San Francisco Writers Workshop. It's held each Tuesday night at 7 p.m. sharp in the basement of the Meridian Gallery near Union Square in San Francisco. Map.

The workshop is free and open to anyone. Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry – maybe even that book proposal you've been working on. Writers read their work aloud, up to six pages double-spaced, and get instant reaction from their fellow writers.

The group is facilitated by Tamim Ansary, the acclaimed author of the memoir West of Kabul, East of New York, which just got the honor as San Francisco’s One City One Book selection. He manages to keep the discussion helpful.

The list of authors who have put their books through the workshop is impressive. Just to name a few: David Henry Sterry, author of Chicken - Joe Quirk, author of The Ultimate Rush - Erika Mailman, author of The Witch's Trinity - Khaled Hosseini, author The Kite Runner - Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard - Melodie Bowsher, author of My Lost and Found Life.

Those are just some of the most recent crop. What makes the workshop especially amazing is that it's been meeting continuously since 1946!

You don't need to sign up in advance. No one takes attendance. You decide your commitment level.

Then after each session the writers gather at a nearby bar and mingle. Many great friendships have been forged here. I met authors who helped me when I first started, giving me the inside advice that led me on the path to publication.

There's another great resource for meeting other authors, some of them world famous. I'll give you the key to a treasure trove of advice in my next, final installment in this series.

1 comment:

joshua said...

writers groups often take on their own, albeit unconscious, "editorial policy". as with any social group the main goal of its participants is not often self betterment, but upgrading their standing within the group itself. though i attend the above mentioned group sporadically i struggle to see how my writing has improved when i'm sitting in front of my computer wondering what a particular group may criticize about a latest endeavor. writing is about self expression first- relaying thoughts or experiences in the writer's unique way- the way others relate to it is where the beauty in art comes full circle. i don't believe its possible to create something like that when trying to filter through group think.