Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Leaving a writing group

I've been in a great local writing group for almost a year now, and these fellow critters have been essential in improving my writing, calling out my faults and lazy shortcomings, and encouraging me to continue on with my writing even when it feels like I've just word vomited on the page. I am a better writer because of them, and I can't imagine my writing life without their continued support and input.

So imagine my surprise when our founding member, the critter who brought the group together in the first place, emailed over the weekend to let us know he would be stepping out of the group. (Yeah, you thought it was going to be me, didn't you?) As the person who was the driving force behind the group for so many months, it was a shock to see him bow out now. It was (what I suspect are) the usual reasons for leaving a group - balancing family time and writing time. And I can hardly blame him for his reasons, since the closest thing I have to a kid is the partner-in-crime and our trusty sidekick, The Dog.

Still, it was a big disappointment for me. He'd brought us all together, weathered the storms of our growing pains while we figured out meeting times and submission deadlines and new member rules. As the only male in the group he gave invaluable feedback on the male characters and male voices in our pieces, and helped us determine what would appeal to boys in our writing. His own writing had grown by leaps and bounds in the group, and the last piece he submitted was so many miles above the first draft that we saw that I experienced a profound sense of pride in how far he'd come, and how much the group had helped him.

While I hope he continues to write and finds other outlets for his creativity, I worry. I worry because I know how lost I would be without their feedback. I worry because I know how much I would let my self-imposed deadlines slip if there were no one else to hold me accountable. I worry because writing is a lonely enough endeavor that if you don't have an outlet to discuss it you might find yourself wondering why you're pursuing it at all. I worry because I know how much my own life gets in the way of writing, and I don't even have kids to keep up with.

I worry because I can't help but feel like we've lost another writer in the world.

It's a hard pursuit, I know that, but I think it's worth it. The stories we tell, the joy we bring, for me it's worth the late nights and the early mornings and the longing looks outside when it's beautiful and you're stuck inside with a synopsis to write. It's worth the rejection and the wait and the agonizing edits and the overwhelming fear that you might get it wrong (or you might get it right). Because I still remember what it felt like to stay up until four in the morning hiding in the bathroom finishing a book because I Just. Couldn't. Put. It. Down. And if I can inspire just one person to such nocturnal fevers, it will be worth it.

Have you ever lost a critique partner? How did you feel when they left? Was there ever a partner you wished you could have talked out of their exit?


Laurel Garver said...

Aw, that is sad. It's pretty normal, though, I have to say. Both writing groups I'm involved in have had a fair amount of attrition.

With more avenues opening up to get work into the world--more e-zines, small presses and the ease of self publishing, the wall that all of us face isn't quite so insurmountable. But when it comes down to it, writing does not fit every phase of life well. Sometimes stepping away for a few months or a decade will naturally happen. Stay in touch with your friend, let him know you appreciate him and perhaps he'll still be willing to beta read once in a while (esp. if you throw some babysitting money his way).

Dianne K. Salerni said...

The "balancing writing time and family time" part makes me sad. Some writers have supportive families/spouses -- and some don't. I've seen both. I think it IS possible to do it, but if the spouse resents the time spent on writing, then no time is a good time to write. :(

Maybe the compromise was that the writing group had to go -- but not the actual writing. That's still a bit of a handicap, since the group was a valuable resource. Let's hope he still gets to write. Let's hope.

This story makes me appreciate afresh how much my family supports me!

Lola Sharp said...

There really is a high attrition rate with writers and especially within writer's groups/critique groups. Family and kids to take up a lot of time. (and you don't always know what's really going on...maybe there are problems in his marriage or one of his parents needs care or any number of things) Also, not everyone can handle receiving critique and not everyone gives good critique, so sometimes people leave to move on to other groups that fit them better or perhaps stop all group.CP work because they can't handle any feedback. There are just so many reasons people leave groups. But, at least he had the courtesy of letting you all know. :)
And, YES, there have been CPs I wish I could have talked out of leaving writing. They had so much talent and they were wonderful to work with. Conversely, there have been others I have been glad to see leave, due to their poor attitudes and/or lack if giving and only wanting to receive.

When you do find people you can trust and respect and give good quality feedback, it's a gift, a pleasure and a blessing I try to always be grateful for.

I'm sorry for your loss of a good CP. Perhaps you will hear from him again someday. *hugs*