It's that time of year again. I've been asked to write about writing group etiquette.
First point - I'm from the North, I'm proud of the fact I call a spade a spade. I never say anything behind anyone's back that I wouldn't say to their face. I find accepting criticism easier than receiving praise. I like to thank people, and easily get narked when people forget their p and q's. I tell the same rabbling stories over and over again when I'm feeling stressed, and tend to be the person who needs to break the silence with a joke. I love helping people, but hate being taken advantage of. I'm a hard worker, but I hate editing. My biggest problem with writing is grammar and proof reading.
Why have I started with this? Before you start looking at your writing group, take a look at yourself. What do you like? What do you dislike? Is the problem with the group or with yourself?
When I first moved to Hampshire I went to two writing groups before I settled. I'm not comfortable in small clicks - welcoming new people is important to me. I went to one group which was unfriendly. When no one invited me to sit with them during coffee, I left during the break.
Here is my basic list of points when attending a writing group. I found most of these points in emails complaints over the last five years of running a group.
1. When you turn up, don't expect to be able to spend twenty minutes talking about yourself and/or your project, while describing what YOU want from the group. Like any club, it has its own ways of doing things, it's never a good idea to want to come in and change everything to suit you on day one. Likewise,
'I have just self published a book, I have never been to this group, and I will never come again, but I came this morning expecting you all to buy my book for £9,'
tends to annoy people!
2.If you want to catch up with people, come early and have a chat in the kitchen, use the breaks, go for lunch afterwards. Most people want to read and get something back.
3. Everyone is late sometimes or needs to leave early. But is it fair to interrupt someone else reading, with the story of your lost keys or annoying husband? Or get upset because everyone didn't stop their writing exercise to shout hello? If you're late come in sit down and say hello at break. If you need to go, get up and go, leave your mug and go out quietly.
4. Now this is one I personally struggle with. Someone reads, it prompts a story in your head and you need to share. You can't cut this out completely or the groups becomes as dry as toast. But it's not great to be clock watching while you are waiting for YOUR turn, and then you decide it's time for a massive chat while others are waiting to read. I'm proud of the fact that even when we had twenty people - everyone who wanted to read got a turn at The Writers @ Lovedean.
5. Try and not sort out your papers and fidget when someone else's reads. Especially if the organiser is an ex special needs teachers - I pounce.
6. Once you decide to share your work you have given up ownership. Could you cope if someone turned around and said, 'I hate it?' If the answer is 'no' think about the hundreds of places you can send your work and receive written feedback. There is always someone in a group who won't like it.
7. Pick who you receive criticism from. If you read romance and write romance, who in the group do you take advice from? The woman your age who also reads romance novels who suggests you spice things up a bit? Or the military expert who thinks your novel would work better if you rewrote it in the Second World War, add a spy, and a Nazi?
8. Another one I personally struggle with - despite what writers say - most of them would prefer you to be kind rather than honest. I have no problems being told that my hero eating his love would not be suitable for People's Friend, and is 'weird even for me.' Most people aren't. Be kind with your comments, remember you are critiquing the story not the person.
9. Being over sensitive. You have asked for feedback!
10. Going around saying please proof read my novel for free, but when asked to read someone else's work you are busy. This will get writers gnashing their teeth. Just remember most writers have worked out the perfect murder! Sometimes when I read I print out copies, and ask people to spot the mistakes. It can be off putting because it feels like Bingo while you're reading. Or go for a coffee with other writers and swop stories. That way you are both proof reading at the same time.
11. The long ramble when it's your turn to read comes up a lot in the top ten of complaints of every single group I've belong to. 'Which one should I read?' 'It's no good.' Not only are you eating into your reading time, but usually there is someone next to you waiting to read. It's normal to have those thoughts, and everyone uses the 'it's a first draft,' occasionally - but not every week.
12. Not paying your way. It's interesting, but this happens in every club and organisation I've been a member of. I remember a massive feud in a staff room caused by someone frequently not contributing to the coffee club, and taking cookies out of the charity box without paying. Normally laid back people can become incredibly touchy on this one. If someone gives you a lift at least offer to pay towards the parking and petrol. If you don't want to buy a drink for someone, say no when they offer to buy you one. Writing groups are not the place to describe how broke you are.
13. At the end of the day - it's a writing group. Keep things in perspective and chill. Not everyone is going to share your views on religion, politics, education, child rearing, work, laws, illegal immigrants etc. That's not the writers group problem. People have different views on life.
Remember the wise words,
"There's nought(nowt) so queer as folk" which means " There is nothing as strange/weird as people"
(This saying has nothing to do with a persons sexuality)