Twice a month I moderate a writers’ group for men and women writing in diverse genres. This isn’t the first group I’ve worked in, and probably won’t be the last.
Two people make a group, which means the novel I wrote in college was the topic of a group consisting of me and the typist and sometimes me and my boyfriend. But the first group whose intent was to bring its members’ work to publication was one I joined in 1989, and attended regularly for several years.
I’ve been thinking about groups and their purposes lately because even though I’ve been moderating the current group for several years, I rarely contribute. This one began as a walk-in opportunity for library patrons, but with the advent of the pandemic, we switched to zoom, and over the last several months, using a private (not library) zoom account, we have decided to become a private group, freezing the membership to its present number.
We are here for different reasons. Most groups are organized around a single goal that every participant agrees to. The group focuses on a certain genre, for example. A writer I knew back in the 1990s wanted to start a group for those working on crime fiction set in foreign lands. Since I wasn’t yet writing the Anita Ray series, I was out. The group fizzled. Another group was for established writers, those who had published at least one book in any category and now wanted to work on mysteries. That was fine until the woman who assumed the role of moderator invited writers she met and liked, which changed the dynamic. The unwritten rule that the group decided on whether or not to send an invitation to join after meeting the writer was buried and forgotten. The group of professionals helping others develop their work morphed into an entirely different series of sessions.
Other groups popped up over the years. I enjoyed one that included four people, including a moderator who gave lots of advice and then checked up on us to see if we followed it. I didn’t last long. In another we got assigned pages to read and comment on, which felt like work in addition to what I was writing.
I have enjoyed and learned from every one of these groups, but probably not what the group organizers were expecting. First, the more diverse the genres the better. A poet among mystery writers will teach about language and the rhythm of language. Writers of fantasy among literary fiction writers will challenge others’ imagination. Writers of nonfiction in a group of novelists will challenge us to describe reality, settings, physical details with greater precision.
But mostly, groups of any kind of diversity will teach us about human nature. I still look back on some of the earlier groups to pluck out humorous or unexpected quirks for a fictional character. There’s nothing like watching writers grapple with different points of view on something intensely personal to them to see an emotional range in human behavior. The more diverse the group, also, the wider and more free-flowing the discussion, something I always enjoy.
Every writers’ group I’ve ever been in has been a terrific learning experience for which I’m grateful—the good will, the insight, the language skills, the thoughtfulness, the overall support. Writers are generous people, always ready to help their colleagues. I may not get (or ask for) help with a specific piece, but I gain every time I listen and learn.