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  • Eliza Chan

Writers’ Circles

Today I was asked to give an honest opinion about the GSFWC to someone who was considering joining. It made me think about writers’ circles and why people join them. I’ve been in more than half a dozen writers’ groups, circles, workshops or whatever you want to call them. Some of them do writing exercises. Some of them set homework. Some of them email work in advance and others read on the night. How a writers’ group is run is incredibly important. There are in my opinion, two types:

The Dictatorship

One person sets up, leads and maintains the group. They have the drive and organisation skills to get it going but its success often depends on that person’s abilities. For the experience writer/ critiquer, the leader is actually very good and can passionately push others to work harder. For the wannabe, the other members may soon start undermining the leader’s authority as they realise he/she is out of their depth. In classic rebellion modelling, the group realising they can do without the leader, can question their authority even but this often results in the destruction of the whole group as no-one is willing to take on the responsibility.

The Democracy

Harder to achieve but facilitated by the internet age, this has to be set up by an enthused leader however once the cogs are in place it continues to go. Group members all share contact information and if people cannot make meetings, critiquing can still happen. This only works with a highly motivated and organised group of people, the likes of which I have only seen in one writers’ circle. 

So what about the people who turn up? What are they after, I asked myself. The obvious answer seems to be, to write and be surrounded by other writers’, but the reality is not so simple.

The Procrastinator

The procastinator has a trilogy already planned in his/her head. He may describe it in great length, draw pictures, have compiled a soundtrack and shortlist of actors for when it is turned into a blockbuster film, but rarely writes a word. The procrastinator is too busy drinking/ working/ being busy to write but is just as good, if not better, than those who try.

The Compliment-Seeker

The compliment-seeker doesn’t want a real writers’ circle. He/she wants fawning approval. She models herself on Sylvia Plath and takes stylistic advice from Tolkien. She wants to hear how good her work is, which famous author it is like and shuts down the minute you give constructive criticism because “you just don’t get it”. The compliment-seeker writes but does not edit and is never wrong. The only reason she hasn’t been published is because making money from writing is selling your soul. She writes because she is an artist.

Soaking in the Atmosphere

The person who is soaking in the atmosphere likes the camaraderie of writing. He/she finds it difficult to motivate himself but by surrounding himself with other writers, hopes to motivate himself to do more. Sometimes this can be bursts of writing straight after a meeting which are hard to sustain but sometimes the atmosphere really works and something good happens.

The Old Hand

The old hand is a published author. The good old hand gives sage advice to us youngsters and encourages us along. He/she is a mentor and a friend, encouraging and pushing the youngster soaking in the atmosphere to achieve their true potential. The vain old hand just shows up to reiterate how many stories/ novel she has had published and how little the youngster knows and how far we have still to go.

The Silent Party

The silent party either shows up to one meeting or none at all. Writers’ circles are not for him/her because like the compliment seeker, no-one truly understand him. But he is shyer than the compliment-seeker and afraid of humiliation. Perhaps he secretly the CEO of Harpercollins will appear at his door and published the whole manuscript unedited and therefore never have to go through that ring of fire.

I think that’s all the types I’ve encountered so far, feel free to add more that you’ve met. For me I was/am trying to soak in the atmosphere. I stumbled upon and rejected a few groups because they were full of compliment-seekers. “No, your work reminds me of Joyce. Just as good. I have nothing negative to offer.” I didn’t think they challenged me or themselves and often-time they looked down on genre fiction writing because they were writing literature. In these groups any attempt to provide real critique was shot down by everyone immediately rejecting my comments and looking at me aghast as if I had just dropped grand piano on a baby seal. And then I found the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers’ Circle (GSWFC) this amazing group full of published authors, editors, reviewers and other industry types and enthusiasts. They knew their stuff, they knew the market, they were even on panels at conventions: they knew EVERYTHING! Of course they didn’t actually but it seemed like that at first. It was incredibly intimidating and inspiring at the same time. I was getting so much advice I didn’t know where to begin. And sure, they were not my age and mostly not my gender but they edited and advised my work into a far better state than anywhere else.

The problem is, even with such amazing people around, it is still easy to become a procrastinator and let life get in the way of writing. Only since joining Twitter have I really pushed myself to write regularly and I love it. Reading how other people, all over the world are writing and getting published really made me buck up. I used to aspire to be the only Asian female writing fantasy but now I can see there are hundreds out there and I’m against some stiff competition. There’s no use calling yourself a writer if you don’t write. Perhaps Twitter is my writers’ circle now then. At least it’s giving me the same motivation.

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