GETTING MY GROUP ON
Initially, the very idea of a writer's group terrified me. I pictured a bunch of ponces sitting around a table, some in sweater vests, some peering at me over reading spectacles, all of them shaking their heads at my amateurish scribblings, searching their overeducated brains for tactful ways to tell me that my work, in fact, sucked balls.
I had been hammering away at my novel for over a year, a year that--as luck would have it--provided me with more than enough romantic angst to feed my creative process and keep my butt firmly planted in the desk chair, pounding away at my keyboard, planning, plotting, fleshing out characters and scenes to make up roughly two-thirds of my novel. But I knew that I still had a long road ahead of me, and that merely reading books on writing would only improve my work up to a certain point.
At the time I was working at the Indianapolis Art Center, (any similarities to the Art Guild of Thanks, That Was Fun are purely coincidental, natch) which was affiliated with
The Writer's Center of Indiana . I had taken a one-day workshop there on character development and felt that it had helped my writing a great deal. It was at the Writer's Center that I saw a flyer for an upcoming weekend-long writer's retreat featuring--holy shit--Dan fucking Wakefield, Indianapolis native and author of Going All the Way, a novel I loved so much I immediately started reading it again after I finished it the first time. I scraped together the fee for the retreat and signed up, ecstatic at the chance to meet Dan Wakefield and hoping to connect with other writers.
The retreat was awesome. Held at a hotel in downtown Indy, it was an intense weekend of lectures, Q&A's, and writing exercises. I not only met Dan Wakefield and had him sign my copy of Going All the Way, I got to attend one of his classes and had him critique my writing exercise. It was, for me, akin to getting a guitar lesson from Jimi Hendrix. I don't think I stopped grinning the entire weekend.
While I was at the retreat I met a young woman called Shahnaz, who was looking to start a writer's group. I said I was keen on joining and gave her my name and phone number. I'd been pleasantly surprised by the diverse crowd of writing enthusiasts I'd encountered at the retreat, and was beginning to warm to the idea of attending a writer's group on a regular basis, even though I still found the idea of sharing my writing with strangers a bit terrifying.
A few weeks later Shahnaz called me and said it was on; she'd managed to assemble a group of interested writers she'd met at the retreat and our brand new writer's group would be meeting at the Writer's Center the following Tuesday evening. I was excited and scared. I combed through my work, pondering which excerpts to bring in.
The first chapter of my book was so chock full of breasts, oral sex, and bodily fluid that I was too embarrassed to foist that on the group our first time out. I ended up selecting a section from what would become chapter three of the novel: the scene with Jordan, Iris and Genna at the art opening. I was looking forward to meeting the other people in the group and sharing my work, at the same time hoping that they wouldn't have problems with my copious deployment of F-bombs, or the description of the giant stone vagina that Genna and Jordan encounter at the art gallery in the same scene.
I showed up for the first meeting, eager but apprehensive, clutching a stack of carefully proofread copies of the art exhibition/stone vagina scene. It was a delight to meet the other members of the group; along with myself and Shahnaz there was Freddie, Reva, Rebecca and Jenny. They were writers from all walks of life, friendly, gregarious, and eager to share their work and receive feedback from like-minded creative types.
We all took turns reading our work out loud, and I was both impressed and a bit intimidated by the quality of everyone's writing. I read my stuff last, then, upon finishing, looked apprehensively around the table, trying to ascertain if anyone was put off by the content or skill-level of my work. To my relief, they all loved the scene and the characters (Iris was an immediate hit), and they were full of positive and constructive comments on what was good about the scene and what needed improvement. I needn't have worried about anyone being squeamish about the scene's language and imagery. The best comment that night came from Reva, who said, "I love the idea of a giant stone vagina, but I think this Genna character is too prudish to call it a 'pussy.'"
I knew then that I had found the right group.
Next time: more writing, more group, and The Big Move.