Thursday, October 29, 2015

New Standing Appointment

I did a thing this week. And I'm not just talking about actually publishing this update on time.

I was searching the community events board online in order to figure out what time to expect Trick-O-Treaters on Saturday. In the past four years that I've lived in this neighborhood, I've always had to work nights and came home during the tail end of the event, so I really didn't know. While on the site, something else caught my eye. A writing group was meeting at the community library a block from me.

I knew that this was a thing, but I never seemed to either catch when they were meeting, or I would find it out but chicken out in joining in.

As I just explained to both my husband and my mother, I have this awkwardness about my writing and writing groups. Before I go and meet everyone I always have this preconception in my head. These people were assertive enough to start up a writing group and/or attend one for a while before I joined in. This seems a lot more dedicated than me to the craft. This seems more mature than me. So, my mind instantly jumps that they're more skilled than I am.

Given the right atmosphere, that's not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, on Writers’ Huddle. It's a great community in which the more experienced are kind and generous teachers for the others; helping the less-experienced miss the pitfalls they fell into.

However, before I find out whether or not the particular writing group is as kind an environment as WH, I always feel like I don't belong. That comparatively, I'm too amateur an author. I believe the analogy I used is that I feel like an eleven-year-old in high school. Sure, the others haven't mastered the craft either, but they are more skilled at it and more mature about it; more time to hone it.

Even in my thirties, whenever I think about joining a writing group for the first time, I always feel like some preteen tag-along younger sister that everyone groans, rolls their eyes, and reluctantly tolerates.

In all honesty, even with the welcoming environment of WH, I still feel that way in regards to sharing my work. I have still done so a couple of times, and I've always received very gentle constructive criticisms. However, I still get nervous that someone will look at my work as if they're a college professor asked to grade the short story of a middle schooler.

So, even though I'm a fairly brave person, this one point really terrifies me a bit. One of the main reasons I was so grateful that Spink said she'd come too. Part of me believes that I would have been a Nervous Nelly, but gone anyway. Another part of me has a strong feeling that I would have chickened out; purposely lost track of time so I could go “Oh, darn. I missed it. Whoops.”

Knowing that I'd be meeting Spink there really helped encourage me to get my butt over to the library. I couldn't leave her high and dry.

When we got to the meeting room there were two women already there. Very welcoming; about my mother's age, probably a little bit older. The one took the lead at the meetings, and the other self-published the book she wrote during last year's NaNo, and is even doing a book signing for it next week.

Another woman soon joined us. The “resident poet” of the group. The rest of us are all aspiring to write fictional novels. Her poems were really good. Well, honestly, to me poems are like that one art quote: “I may not know art, but I know what I like.” I just don't get poetry. I've tried. The vague imagery and artistic wording just doesn't work for me. However, the woman's poem that she read when we shared samples of our work did evoke a sadness in me. That's a win in my book.

Two more women attended the meeting Tuesday night. One sort of reminds me of an older version of myself. She was very talkative, upbeat, bubbly, encouraging, and seemed genuinely interested in everyone's writing. She marked what everyone's genre of interest was, and was the first to ask the return members how their writing was going.

I was amused that the second woman – the last that joined the meeting – is actually the mom of my husband's Best Man; well, one of them, he chose two since I had a Maid and Matron of Honor. None in my circle of friends seemed to know she wrote; at least, as far as I knew. So that's pretty neat. We were never formally introduced, and so I don't know if she knew who I was, but I picked up who she was fairly quickly. It's going to be fun to get to know her better through these groups and her writing.

Just when we thought this was going to be a “Women's Writing Group”, two college boys snuck in. They both seemed just as shy and unsure as Spink and I, but the woman who played leader Tuesday night was almost giddy at the expansion of the group. They had doubled the return members, which does seem very exciting.

We went around the room introducing ourselves and the genre(s) we enjoyed writing in. Most of the group seems to like to dabble in historical fiction. I did have a nice internal chuckle in regards to one of the two men who joined us. He was listing off the genres he enjoyed writing in, and – I lost count – but I think he has something like five or six Works-in-progress; each it's own genre. He finished off his list with “that's all I have right now.” We all chuckled, and the leading woman joked “Oh, is that it?” I wanted to reassure him that I too have about eight open WIPs, but I was still feeling out the room at the time, and didn't find an opening to talk to him about it once I got comfortable. I'll have to make a mental note to do so.

The ladies that were return members then read off the writing prompt they had last week, and then read what they wrote based on that prompt. I had a feeling we were going to be doing something like this, which is why I wanted to prepare before going. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, and so I didn't know what to bring. Thankfully, the library has free wifi, and so I was able to jump on GoogleDocs to find something to share. Same with Spink and the two guys. Future Me made sure to point out something she liked about everyone's share, which is nice.

However, I later joked with my husband that I feel I should be a bit concerned for my writing. Since I usually write such large pieces, I decided to share one of the assignments from MasterClass. I explained to the group what the class was, and then I explained the prompt. I finally prefaced my reading by stating that it was purposely incomplete. I then shared the Devon/Trish suspenseful scene that I shared here last week. Difference is that I read the entire page leading up to it too.

Future Me commented that she really loved the imagery of Trish's hair falling in her face, as well as Devon's note that with all the gasoline one spark would have “the whole thing go up like a Michael Bay set”. I told her I was a bit concerned that the drop of humor there relieves too much of the suspense that I built up. She responded that a sprinkle of humor throughout is a good thing to make sure it's not too intense. I'm still skeptical.

Anyway, with the comment about my imagery and reassurance that my humor wasn't misplaced, no one asked to know what happens next. No one seemed to want more. I don't know if that's simply because the name of the game with their prompts was to leave the reader hanging, and so it didn't occur to them to comment about the cliffhanger. Or is it because my suspense wasn't large enough that they cared to know?

After everyone read off their samples, the woman who self-published wanted people's opinions on a query letter that she wrote for her second novella. This was pretty cool for me since I just learned about query letters in the MasterClass. Seeing one first hand was a bit exciting for me.

As a cold-reader who knew a little bit about query letters, I was sort of the Devil's Advocate. I deduced that if I had questions or issues after reading the letter, that the agent might have the same ones. The ladies that were regulars obviously knew this woman's story because they must have talked about it in their meetings. They didn't see the issues I did because they knew the answer, and so it was a bit rough going as they became sort of defensive of the woman's work. However, the leader of this meeting did chime in with a bunch of “that's a good point” and tried to mediate between me and the author. In the end, I'm really hoping that my critiques help her sell her book. I really do. In all honesty, it sounds like something that would be right up my mom's alley.

We finished off the meeting by coming up with a new writing prompt. No one had one in mind – I was going to offer up the burning house one from MasterClass since I still need to do it anyway – and so it was suggested that we make custom ones up. It was still randomized, though. Each of us were to write a person – not necessarily a proper noun – a place – same deal – and a mystery of some sort. I wrote down “A workaholic who just got laid off”, “A city penthouse”, and “The smell of the main character's lover lingers in the new house purchased after the death.” We then put our suggestions into their proper piles, and then chose one at random. I ended up with “Salesman/woman”, “New York City”, and “Where is the time capsule?”

Frankly, I was stumped. What does a salesman have to do with a time capsule? And why would it matter that it was missing? And “salesman/woman” is so vague. What do they sell? Stocks? Retail? Grocery? Airtime? Street vendor? Everyone else was using the last ten minutes of the meeting writing away, and all I came up with is question after question.

Thankfully, I have two weeks before the next meeting, and so hopefully I'll have something by then. Which means my goal for this week is to FINALLY stop dragging my feet, and write the assignment for the “Co-author” lesson. Then, next week – if I haven't been inspired before hand – will be dedicated to figuring out this prompt.

Spink had to run home early, and so it was suggested that I give her the same prompt I got. I did, and she already knows exactly what she wants to do with it. Lucky.

I have an idea brewing in my head, and Hubby gave me a complete Left-Field idea that I kind of like too. I might have to try both. Should be easy enough, the prompts are supposed to run about a page or two long. They won't stop you from writing more if you're inspired to, but a page or two is easiest to read aloud to the group without taking up too much time. Writing short stories is a real struggle for me, but I might be able to do something similar to my MasterClass assignments. Writing two stories shouldn't be too difficult either if they're each so short.

My biggest issue will be closing the stories. With something so short I always want to leave the story open-ended for me to keep going, but I feel I need to lock an ending down on them for these exercises. We'll see how it goes.

Maybe I'll have something new for you next week. Hopefully, I'll have something new at least every other week as I continue with this writing group. We'll see where they take me.

Have a happy and safe Halloween, All Saints Day, All Hallow's Day/Eve, Dia de los Muertos, or however you celebrate this weekend. I'll be off enjoying my favorite holiday!

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