“I heard your writers group is awesome!” a friend exclaimed at dinner one night last week.
“We are!” I can’t help but gush about us. As I’ve written about before, we’ve been together for more than a year and a half—longer than any other group I’ve worked with. We’re talented and eclectic—on any given night, we might read a novel excerpt, a short story, and pages from a screenplay. And we ♥ each other.
But the last couple of weeks have been tumultuous ones for our little band.
It all started last week when we were (i.e., I was) particularly lax in turning in our work on time, and one of our members cancelled at the last minute (totally understandably—after a summer of nonstop travel and out-of-town guests, she was nearing exhaustion). Rather than meet without her, we considered postponing, and our “band mom”—who’s male, by the way—emailed a frank (and hilarious) pep talk/scolding that has since caused us to reevaluate what it is we want from the group.
Now, at this point we were in no danger of dissolving. As the email acknowledged, life happens. But this kind of vigilance is exactly why we’ve lasted as long as we have. If we postpone one week, pretty soon it becomes two, and eventually we’re meeting less than even once a month.
More to the point, however, was his last paragraph:
“I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people to make this more of a priority than it is now. And I don’t just mean blocking out, say, Wednesday nights [when we meet]. I mean setting aside time to write. Specifically, time that isn’t a day or two past the already-extended deadline to submit.”
Our meetings last for hours, two-thirds of which is spent just catching up. When you like hanging out with your fellow members so much, you risk your writers group turning into solely a social event. But we always come prepared, and we always eventually get down to business.
Our band mom, though, was asking more of us. He called for a greater commitment—not just to scrape together a submission each week or to provide thorough and thoughtful critiques (which we do, consistently), but to write. He called for a commitment not to the group but to the writing.
He called us out, and his point was well taken. I now include a commitment to writing outside of a writers group as an important contributor to the success of that group.
Taking a Break
But sometimes fatigue sets in. Some of us, to different levels and for different reasons, just weren’t producing. There are times to push through, and there are times to take a breather.
Our perpetual traveler/host decided she needed the latter. With her first novel written, edited, and out to agents, she is starting her second book. She’s working at it diligently, but that doesn’t mean words are necessarily being produced, especially, as is the case with nascent ideas, words that she’s ready to share. With another trip on her schedule, she took a hiatus from the group for the month of August.
The question for the rest of us has become whether we meet without her. Our band mom, who called us to task in the first place, is of the mind that we should push through:
“I hate to say it, but I really do think that if we all take a month-plus off, the odds of being able to start up again are not good. At all. And yes, I know sometimes long shots can pay off—just ask whatever engineer it was who said, ‘You know what? We can probably get away with not protecting that one tiny shaft in the Death Star. Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen?’ But we are not a scraggly band of rebels with Sir Alec Guinness on our side … I think.”
(See what I mean about hilarious? This led to a thread in which we were all to choose which Star Wars characters we wanted to be, which led to another thread inspired by Spaceballs.)
I see the merit in pushing through this rather stagnant patch. But I also think there is a strong argument for taking a break and taking time to retrench, refresh, and refocus. With the caveat that we take our band mom’s mandate to heart and use the time to write.
We’ve decided to meet, but without writing, to discuss our goals—both for ourselves and for the group. Reassess, restrategize, reboot. I’ll let you know how it goes.