Productivity and Keeping Busy.

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Winter quarter is about three weeks in now. I talked a lot about productivity in my New Year’s post, and how important it was to me last year to at least prove that I can attain professional productivity levels as regards my writing.

I’m in kind of a holding pattern right now, as I wait for a couple of projects to get to the production stage and hold off for just a little while on finishing and editing my project from NaNoWriMo. I have a third project that needs to crystallize a little more before I really start digging into it.

But generally I hope to always be working on something, and I fill my plate with projects at varying stages of completion in order to accomplish that. Classes aren’t pulling a lot of punches this quarter; classes aren’t difficult exactly, but the work load is high and I’m already a little behind because of some personal stuff that had to get taken care of.

But the funny thing is, the busier I get, the more likely I am to make time for writing. To make that time, and to guard it jealously. I was joking with a friend and collaborator last night that I’m less likely to have problems making time in my life for writing, and more likely to have problems making time in my writing for life. And this increases as I become more and more pressed for time.

I guess it’s partly a question of priorities, which is not to say that I’m letting my studies take a back seat to writing. That’s definitely not the case. But my priorities tend to fall like this: School, Work, Writing, and Everything Else if There’s Time. That everything else includes things like socializing and video games and books and eating food and sleeping.

Some of this is elegantly worked around by setting my social landscape up in such a way that my social time does double duty as work time; writer’s groups and collaborative projects, etc.

But I think another aspect of this is that being in school gets my brain fluids all moving around in ways that spurs creativity. I think school, even though it eats up the most time out of all of my obligations, actually causes me to write more, or to think about writing more, which I’m sure I’ve told you before is almost the exact same as writing. There’s some kind of stimulating effect of being back in the classroom that is salutary to all manner of creative endeavors.

It’s kind of a curious impact, having less time making one more and more productive. I mean, I think there are situations that call for a certain quiet of the mind; times when you have to coax the words to come and seek out the particular voice that best contains what you’re trying to say. I think there are times in which that internal sojourning is vital, and I think it can be difficult to get to that point with a busy, cluttered mind.

But I also think that sometimes the way to reach that quiet of the mind is to just sit down and start, no matter what it is that you’re doing. And that sometimes being busy as hell can be a means or an impetus to that start. It can be the noise that borders the path of quiet, and without which that singular path might remain invisible, bordered on all sides by the similar and camouflaged by it.

So I guess instead of assuming that you’re too busy to do this work, maybe we should all experiment with simply hurling ourselves into the teeth of the storm and see what happens.

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I Finally Got a Kindle.

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I know, it seems crazy, right? That a person who writes in part for e-readers would not own one.

I have tried to take part in the ebook revolution, really I have, but without a dedicated reader I have found it nearly impossible. Reading on a cramped phone screen was almost painful, and much too distracting to do for any length of time. Reading at home on my laptop suffered the same distraction problem, except more so, as the laptop is where I do my work, my writing, and my schoolwork.

A few days ago, I finally broke down and ordered a Kindle Paperwhite. I wanted something that wouldn’t be constantly connected and offering the siren’s song of social media and the internet constantly. A kind of walled garden for reading. And, I thought, at $139.99, it would pay for itself in savings on books in no time!

I am delighted by it. It is just small enough that I can (barely) cradle it in one hand, yet large enough that it’s comfortable for someone raised on mass market paperbacks to read; the user interface is so easy to learn that you almost don’t even need the tutorial that appears on startup. The display, with its adjustable backlight, is suitable for any light level and doesn’t cause the kind of eyestrain that a computer screen or a phone can.

In short, I love it.

I can read in bed now, without needing to have a light on. I can read while cooking or eating without having to weigh a book open or (gasp!) break its spine to get it to lay flat.  I can read in the bathtub (the touch screen functions through a ziploc bag even, so I don’t have to worry about ruining it), and perhaps most importantly I can read on the bus to and from classes.

This is the real game-changer for me. As I’ve gotten busier I’ve noticed my recreational reading time dropping off precipitously, and as a writer, continuing to read is vital. You learn craft from reading books; sometimes you learn what to do, sometimes you learn what not to do, but it’s all learning, and it’s all necessary. So turning the thirty to forty minutes that I spend on the bus every weekday into productive time is the perfect way to get my reading back.

I can carry dozens of books with me wherever I go on this one slim little device. It fits in my purse, and it fits in my jacket pocket. I will be able to take it traveling with me, and when camping I will no longer need to waste headlamp batteries on reading before bed. Wouldn’t want those batteries to run out on a trip to the latrine, after all.

And speaking of batteries, the battery on this thing lasts literally for days. I don’t even have to think about charging it, which is a revelation for someone who frets constantly about her phone battery.

I started out my Kindle adventure by re-reading Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and if the reading suffered at all for having been on a screen, I didn’t notice. I chewed through the novel in chunks of thirty or forty minutes at a time over the course of a few days; slow for me, but much more than I’d been reading pre-Kindle.

I still prefer paper books, don’t get me wrong. The feel of them, and the beauty of them (the flexibility demanded by the ebook format reduces your opportunities to create beautiful books) still charm me in a way that ebooks just can’t yet. But this experience has mostly cemented my vision of the reading future as one that includes both e-reading and paper books… but now, I can leave my paper books at home, and still read to my little heart’s content no matter where I am. The sheer convenience offered by ebooks isn’t something that paper books can match, and isn’t going to just go away.

I have always been astounded by claims that ebooks are declining (they aren’t) in popularity; owning a Kindle only makes such claims more obviously ridiculous than they seemed in the past.

And if you haven’t yet, my friends, join the ebook revolution. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

About That MFA Article.

So there’s this article that’s been making some ripples in corners of the internet lately. It’s titled, “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One.”  I posted it to my writer’s group recently and it got a range of responses, from the ambivalent to the negative.

Noted writer and blogger Chuck Wendig ripped the article a new asshole over on Terrible Minds, and he had a very different take on the whole thing than I did.  Which is fine, I’m a great admirer of Mr. Wendig; in face he’s just “Chuck” in my writer’s group because we share so many of his posts around.  And the fact that he saw the whole thing very differently than I did doesn’t mean that I disagree with him; quite the opposite.  I think he made some great points, and some of the stuff he said I really agree with. I think it’s not just possible for two people to come away with different messages from one piece of writing, but indeed common, and beautiful.

In the first section of the MFA article, the writer asserts that you need talent to be a good writer.  I actually agree with this… I believe that some people, for whatever reason, have a greater capacity toward creation, storytelling, and verbal expression than other people.  All the evidence that I base that belief on is anecdotal, of course. My younger brother is a more than capable writer, he had to be to get through his degree and certification program. But he thinks that what I do when I write a book is some kind of incomprehensible magic. I don’t know what the difference is; I don’t know if it’s some part of the brain that just works better in me than it does in him. But there is a difference, and that difference is what we call “talent.”

Chuck addresses the talent portion here in greater depth, and I agree with a lot of what he says. I agree that in believing themselves somehow uniquely talented, writers can make themselves lazy and incompetent. Talent is only part of the equation; being good at writing requires work and practice, even when one has a natural inclination.  I also agree that the concept of talent has been used to exclude minority voices and support elitist structures in probably every facet of the arts world. The problem with talent is also the problem with how we view the arts; there’s this idea that some people can do it and other people can’t.  What other field do we see that in? Math and science, maybe? Nobody avoids going into accounting because they don’t have a talent for it, though. Nobody needs to exhibit a specific aptitude to learn any number of technical skills, and our failure to regard the arts (including writing) as a trade also leads to our demand that they be gods and martyrs.

The next section of the MFA article states that if you weren’t serious about writing by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.  I feel like I understand what the author is trying to say here, but I don’t know what “taking writing seriously” means, especially to a teenager.  I started writing short fiction when I was around twelve, but I was such a fucked up teenager that the only thing that I can honestly say I took seriously was suicidal ideation.  I get it, though, because you see all these forty-year-old rich white ladies who think they’re going to write the next great american novel, or an award winning memoir, and yeah, those people probably don’t have what it takes to make a living out of writing, and that’s okay. That’s probably not what they’re looking for.

The next few sections cover concepts that anyone who’s at all familiar with the indie landscape should already know… you need to make time to write; you need to read; memoirs are mostly terrible.  I have some concern with the wording used in the third section, because wishing pain and abuse on the already abused was just not something that needed to be included to make the author’s point and was unnecessarily cruel.

The sixth point is that the author can’t help you get published, and that nobody knows what the hell is going on in the industry these days.  This seems pretty spot on to me… the industry is changing.  People are talking about content gluts and the ebook market stabilizing, but all that means is that the rate of change has slowed enough now that it’s no longer buffeting us.  Yes, you can still get traditionally published, and yes, there are still some advantages to that.  But you absolutely do not need an in with the industry to get published.  In the last portion of this paragraph, the author encourages people to “to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other’s work as much as possible,” and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Seventh paragraph states that it’s not important that people think you’re smart, and that’s true.  This is not a thing you can do for ego gratification… you have to do it because you love it.  Nobody gives a shit about you unless you give them good stories to read. The ego serves the art; the art doesn’t serve the ego.

And the final paragraph, which I thought was pretty weak to end on, personally, was about the importance of woodshedding, which is to say practicing. Yes. This is true. Practicing is important. It is possible to succeed with your first novel. I didn’t, I needed two novels practice before I produced anything I thought would be worth polishing.

Now I want to say right now that I do feel that the rhetoric used in the MFA article is hyperbolic and shitty. I think I overlooked that because I’m used to seeking out the inspiration hidden in the manure pile. I think I overlooked it because I, too, am a bit of an asshole. I’ll openly admit that the writers I want to spend time around aren’t the sort who wish they spent less time writing; they’re all the kind who wish they spent more time writing. Lord knows if I had a choice I’d write full time and attend classes and go to work when I could fit it in.

What I took away from the article was that this work isn’t for people with the money and resources to pursue an MFA.  It is specifically for the people with the brains, the heart, and the sand to do the work. Not for people with fancy degrees. Not for people who insist that art serve their ego. And I found that to be an inspirational message.

The Mausoleum, Part 3.

Part 3 of the short fiction series, The Mausoleum.

Cassie followed behind and just slightly to the left of Cody.  He was tall, but young.  She thought he was maybe just out of high school, and still awkwardly thin and lanky from teenage growth spurts.  She wondered briefly how one chose a job like this, or what qualifications were sought by the Mausoleum.

They were walking down a corridor that seemed to be separated from the Hall of Remembrance by a sturdy wall.  The floor gleamed.  The hallway was softly lit from hidden sconces.  The effect was dim, without seeming dingy.  Rather, the lighting felt comforting. The walls hosted a number of potted plants along their length.   There were no windows, and she wondered how the plants lived back here.  Maybe the Mausoleum paid someone to come and switch them around every day so that they all got exposure to the sunlight, and none had to spend more than a day or so in the dimness of the hallway.

“If you’ll follow me through here,” he said, gesturing her through a door, “I’ll show you around our control room.”

Cassie stepped through the door, into a room that was even quieter than the rest of the center was.  She looked around.  It wasn’t a large space, but it was full of keyboards and monitors and buttons.  One entire wall was taken up by row upon row of numbered switches.  In one corner, on a raised platform, was a single wheeled office chair.

“What is this?” She asked quietly.

“This,” Cody said with a pride that seemed genuine, “is the brains of the Mausoleum.  This is where we control the computers that make all of this possible.”

“Make what possible?”

“Oh, the digital memorialization of our loved ones that have passed.”

Cassie peered over a rack of black plastic toggles, with her hands safely clasped behind her back.  “I guess I still don’t know what exactly you do here.  I’ve never been inside before.”

“Well, for a long time, we’ve buried our deceased friends and family in the ground at places called cemeteries…”

“I know what cemeteries are.”  Cassie had been to a cemetery once, on a trip with her parents.  It was an old historical site, no longer in active use, but still maintained by the city that owned it in order to preserve a piece of a long-ago era.

“… yes, well, there are problems with using cemeteries.  They become full, they take up what would otherwise be usable land, and there were sometimes problems with ground pollution.  The Mausoleums are intended to help alleviate those issues by replacing the old custom with something similar, but new.”

“So do the dead people end up here?” She asked.

“No.  They’re cremated at a separate facility.”

“So how is this similar to a cemetery?”

“Well, when someone dies, and when we have enough advance warning, we have the technology now to scan the brain of the person dying.”

“You scan their brains?”

“Yes, we need to in order to create the digital memorials.  It has to be done before or immediately after death.  The structure of the brain changes irreparably after death, and the information cannot be recovered after that happens.”

“What do you… record? Store?”

“It might be more accurate to think of it in terms of storage.  Recording is so static.  We target pieces of information to help make the memorial richer and more detailed.  Associations, memories, things like that.  We store them and use a piece of software to use that data to create the memorial.”

Cassie thought back to the moving images on the screens in the Hall of Remembrance.  “So it’s like a video of the person’s life?”  She thought that didn’t quite make sense, because Sam’s father wouldn’t have memories of his own face staring, like had been pictured on the screen.

“No, it’s a dynamic likeness.  Videos can only show the same things over and over again.  The software produces a sort of a simulation, with more autonomy than a video.”

“Why?”

“Because using this technology, we can produce a memorial that is more vibrant than visiting a headstone in a cemetery.  People often seem comforted by having the opportunity to see the deceased as they were in life.  It’s a far better option than wasting time and resources preserving the body.  You are in essence celebrating the living memory, rather than mourning a death.”

“What’s this?” Cassie asked, running a finger along the big wall of switches, carefully, in between the rows.

“Look with your eyes, please, miss.”

Cassie jerked her hand away and clasped it behind her back again.

“This,” he continued, “is where we control the monitors in the Hall of Remembrance.  When you come in, we get you checked in at the front, and you’re assigned a monitor. Then we use the control room to call up the stored data, and the switches help us direct the program to the assigned monitor.”

“Why are there so many switches for each one?”

“Well, one is for the video, and one is for the sound, and…”

Cassie interrupted him.  “These have sound?”

“… well, yes, but we largely leave the sound off.  It can make the Hall of Remembrance quite noisy, so to be fair to everyone we just leave it off.”

“I see.”

“Do you have any more questions about how the center is run?”

“I don’t think so.”

Cody clapped his hands together, seeming pleased that he had done his job.  “Wonderful.  If you’ll follow me back into the hall and to the right, I’ll show you where we keep all the data.  It’s amazing!”

Cassie followed behind Cody.  She had the oddest feeling that things just didn’t add up.

The Mausoleum, Part 2

Cassie sat still in the living room of Sam’s house, trying not to be a bother while he freshened up and while his mother got Rebbekah tidied up for the trip to the mausoleum.  Sam’s mother was pretty and harried, and Cassie thought this elemental state perhaps made her all the more lovely.  Sam’s father had died many years ago; Cassie didn’t remember ever meeting him, and she knew that looking after both Sam and Rebbekah must be time consuming.  She admired Sam’s mom, and tried to help out whenever she could, even coming over to help Sam babysit his younger sister, who admitted herself that she could be quite a handful.

The small family came into the room, Rebbekah in a fresh dress, with her hair tied back, and Sam in slacks and a button-down shirt.  Cassie felt suddenly self-conscious about her own clothes.

“Mrs. Jacobsen, I’m sorry…” she trailed off, looking down at her overalls.

“Don’t you worry about it, Cassandra, I wouldn’t change you for all the tea in China,” she said, with a reassuring smile.

The Mausoleum was a short drive from Sam’s house, in the civic complex downtown.  It was a large rectangle, faced in black glass, and looked anachronistic nestled between the library and the courthouse.  The technology the Mausoleums used was relatively new, but over the last decade they had been going in all over the country, first in smaller towns, where it was less expensive to build them, but also in larger cities.  The bigger cities usually needed several, just like old fashioned graveyards.

Cassie had never been to the Mausoleum before, and she found the sleek facade intimidating.  She held back behind Sam and his mom, holding Rebbekah’s hand as much for her own comfort as for the child’s. She couldn’t turn back now, though… to do so would be to allow her fear to limit her curiosity. She had a burning need to know, to understand, a need that would smolder in the back of her brain until she satisfied it.  Such curiosities sometimes kept her up nights, lying in bed in her dark bedroom, turning things over in her head again and again.

The doors were near-silent as they opened to admit the family and their hanger-on, and Sam’s mother checked them in at the front counter.  Inside the lobby it was much brighter than Cassie had expected, given the dark color of the glass from the outside.  It was a peaceful place, with comfortable chairs for waiting in, a discrete fountain burbling in the corner, and potted plants growing in any unobtrusive spot.  Everything was decorated in dark neutral tones, and the lobby had a complete lack of electronic screens.  There were signs on the wall every so often reminding visitors to be respectful of those who were there to see dead loved ones.

They all had visitor badges pinned neatly to their clothes, even tiny Rebbekah, and they were escorted back.  The staff member guided them to a screen labeled “231,” and told them to wait.  Cassie could see that the wall hosted similar screens all down the length of the visitor’s hall, some dark, and some casting their blue glow over the faces of attendant family and friends.  They sat in the provided chairs and waited.  It was only a few minutes before the screen brightened.

The image resolved into an image of Sam’s father.  It was a face she’d seen in family photos. She thought the image was moving, and as she watched she was proven correct.  The eyebrows, the eyes themselves quivered in the way that living things do, never still, always moving.

“Hello, Jim,” Sam’s mom said, with an expression on her face that spoke of both sadness and happiness.

The lips on the screen moved, but there was no sound, and Cassie couldn’t interpret the movements into anything sensible.  The entire visitor’s hall was strangely quiet… there was the occasional hiss of a whisper, and somewhere the soft clatter of something accidentally falling to the floor.

Cassie quietly got up and slipped away from the family.  She walked back out to the lobby and up to the desk.

“Excuse me,” she said politely to the woman at the desk, standing on her toes in an effort to seem older than she was, “I have some questions about the Mausoleum.”

The woman smiled.  “Yes, of course.  We have an informational pamphlet here, and I can also have a guide show you around.”

Cassie reached out and took the pamphlet.  The woman had bright red nails.  “I think I’d like a guide as well, please.”

“If you’ll have a seat for just a moment, I’ll have someone right out for you.”

Cassie took her pamphlet and sat in one of the chairs in the lobby.  The copy filling the glossy pages was intended for mourning families, and took pains to emphasize that the services offered by the Mausoleum were “tasteful” and “respectful.”  The photos that accompanied the copy were of beautiful model families, a husband and wife and two kids, a boy and a girl, all neatly dressed and all smiling, but not smiling too much; no distasteful displays of happiness to disturb grieving clients.

“Hello, miss?”

She looked up from the pamphlet to see a young man in well tailored slacks and a button down shirt.

“Oh hello,” she said.

“I understand that you requested a guide,” he said with a smile.  “My name’s Cody, and I’d be happy to show you around.”

The Mausoleum.

Cassie and Sam walked along the tree-lined lane toward the elementary school, just as they did every afternoon.  It was Sam’s responsibility to pick up his younger sister, Rebbekah, from school each afternoon, and Cassie, as his best friend, accompanied him on the task.

Cassie couldn’t sort out how or why they were best friends, it had always just kind of been that way.  They had met in class four years ago, before Rebbekah had even been in school, and it had just stuck.  They understood each other in ways nobody else seemed to, and trusted one another in a way that they could not even trust their respective parents.  It was the way things were, and perhaps on some level, the way things had always been destined to be.  It felt like that to Cassie, some days… there was a rightness to being around Sam that was comforting, that brought her peace even among the most chaotic teenage tantrums.

Cassie didn’t keep a lot of friends.  She found that in middle school, it was difficult to know for sure who to trust.  The other girls looked askance at her anyway, at her baggy overalls and dirty fingernails.  They watched her trapping bugs in old pickle jars and walked away, giving her the eye and tittering among themselves.  They were disgusted by her swearing and unimpressed by her short, untidy hair.  That was fine; Cassie didn’t pay them no never mind.  Cassie broke rules, and to those girls, that made her a threat. Because maybe, just maybe, her refusal to be bound by those rules meant that the game they’d been raised to play just didn’t really exist.

Sam, on the other hand, wavered between fascination and amusement at her use of crude language, and while he had no interest himself in catching bugs in old pickle jars, he had no problem waiting a few minutes while she did so.  Sam had been there two years ago when she’d broken her arm climbing the big oak tree behind the school.  Her parents couldn’t fathom why she’d do something so dangerous when there was an enrichment gym on the corner, complete with a tree analogue and plenty of safety features.  They didn’t understand that it was different somehow to climb a real live tree than to scramble up an aluminum and foam structure that was built for climbing.  One was the simple human use of a human tool; the other was a triumph over adversity.

Her arm had been in a cast and a sling for the rest of that summer.

“Do you want to come over for dinner tonight?” She asked him.

“Nah, I can’t.  We have to go to the mausoleum tonight to see Dad.”

“Oh,” Cassie replied, stung suddenly with curiosity.  She had no deceased loved ones, and had never had a reason to visit the mausoleum.  She wondered what it was like.

Sam glanced down at her.  This was a recent thing, this looking down.  Prior to his most recent growth spurt, they had been the same height, more or less. “What, you want to come?”

She shook her head. “I wouldn’t impose on something that personal,” she answered.

“No, it’s not a big deal.  Just let me check with my mom.”

“Okay.”

Sam paused to dial his mother, but Cassie kept walking a few paces, and then stood, digging idly in the dirt along the sidewalk with the toe of her shoe.  She never liked listening in on other people’s conversations, so much so that she preferred that it not even look like that was the case.  She had grown up without any brothers or sisters, so it seemed strange to share space so closely with people that one couldn’t even have a conversation in private.  So that one didn’t even expect to have a conversation in private.

“Hey,” Sam said, walking up to her.  “Mom says it’s okay.  So we’ll get the kid, and then head to my place?”

“Sure!”

“Have you ever been there before?”

“No,” Cassie admitted.  “What’s it like? Is it sad?  Is it scary?”

“It’s not bad.  It’s just lots of screens with people on them.”

“So why do you go?”

“My mom says that it’s a nicer way to remember dead people than visiting a pile of old bones in the ground.  I don’t know, you can’t talk to them, they’re not really there.  Mom seems to like it, though.”

“It sounds weird.”

“Yeah.  I don’t know.  I mostly go for mom’s sake.”

They had reached the elementary school, and Rebbekah came bounding up the driveway, a whirlwind of sticky hands and light brown curls.

“Sam! Sam! Sam!” She yelled as she ran, excited to see her older brother.  She threw her arms around him and hugged his waist.

“Hello, Bekkah,” he said, “you’re going to have to get cleaned up before we visit dad tonight.”

Rebbekah sported grass stains on her dress, and dirt smeared across the white toes of her shoes.

“Why?  He doesn’t care.”

“Because if you don’t, you’ll just fight with mom all evening and I don’t want to wait on you.”

She wormed her little hand into his, and Sam rolled his eyes, but didn’t pull his hand away.  They were only a few blocks from the house, it was a small concession for him to make to his younger sister.

“Cass, you too!” she called out, thrusting her empty hand out to the side.  Cassie obligingly switched sides, and took Rebbekah’s hand for the remainder of the walk home.

A Love Letter to my Writers Group.

I always considered myself kind of a lone critter.  I’ve never enjoyed group work, and I find it difficult to work without privacy… either the privacy of an empty apartment, or the privacy sometimes afforded to us in public places.  It’s one of the primary reasons I now prefer to live alone, and possibly one of the reasons that I preferred for so long to live with roommates.

But if the only voice you listen to is your own, your work steadily becomes more and more self-referential, and eventually ceases to add to the cultural dialogue.  This makes us creatively obsolete.  What becomes obvious is that we cannot work in continuous solitude, a tortured soul hammering at a typewriter beneath the bare, swinging lightbulb of our own desperate inspiration.

Creativity exists not in the generation of ideas, but in the synthesis of disparate parts into new wholes.  One must gather the parts, and one does this through a deliberate choice to participate in society.  On the production end, it’s vital for us to understand that our ideas, narratives, and sentences do not spring fully formed and beautiful from our brains.  Rather they stagger forth from our skulls like chicks from the egg, sticky, weak, clumsy, and weirdly ugly, but showing a kind of promise.

They need help.  If you leave that little bird on its own, it will get cold and die.  If you nurture it, however, it will have a chance to grow wings.

So we must enlist help from the outside.

The first group I tried was not a good cultural fit.  Only two of the group of five got through the submission I provided.  Some claimed it was too long, but it was the same length as the other submissions, and followed submission guidelines for the group.  They weren’t interested in anything other than strict genre-based fiction.

The next group was a mistake altogether… they weren’t workshopping at all, just drinking wine and reading aloud what they’d written to a round of polite applause.

I was about to give up, when an idea came to me.  I got in touch with a friend and colleague and asked:

Why don’t we start out own?

And we did.

And it’s perfect.

That’s one of the great things about writers groups, is they’re by nature small, because at some point the volume of work the group must get through in each session becomes impractical.  That means your town or city can support as many of these groups as it needs.

So here are some of the things my writers group does for me, and your writers group should do for you:

They will help you workshop your writing.  My group has literally had the punishing task of going through a novel of mine chapter by chapter, providing notes throughout each step.  They will help you to realize that that sentence that you loved just doesn’t work and was never as pretty as you thought it was.  They will tell you in glowing terms what part of what you’ve written really does work.

They will share in your frustrations and in your triumphs.  They have either been there, or are all too aware that they will have been there at some point in their lives.

They are uniquely capable of understanding the trials of being a writer.  When I was all fired up about a project, I tried talking to some of my civilian friends about it. I thought, these people are smart, they read, they’ll get it.

No.  Nobody who isn’t a fiction writer is interested in hearing anything about your book until it’s finished and available for purchase.  They don’t want to hear about character dynamics, or the structure of the narrative.  It’s not that they’re not smart, good people, it’s that this is a conversation that they cannot participate in with you as equals. They cannot perform literary analysis on a book that they haven’t read.  Moreover, they do not care, and honestly, they shouldn’t.

But your writers group will be interested.  Or they’ll at least pretend to be, because the next time they leap from bed scrambling for a pad of paper to write a new idea down on, they’re going to need someone to talk to about it.

They will help you refine ideas before the first draft is even started.  The writers group is a crack team of people who have experience creating stories, and if you go to them saying, “I want to do x, but I have a problem with y,” they will help you brainstorm a solution.

They are capable of the kind of brutal honesty that in strictly social circles would be considered rude.  They will tell you if what you’re working on is a dead end, and they will tell you if what you see as a particularly clever conceit is just a tired cliche.  They can see what you’ve produced without the rosy fog that sometimes clouds your own vision, and they will use that ability to help you.

Their most important role, however, is arguably that they will never tell you to stop.  No matter how much mediocrity you put in front of them, they will encourage you to try again and try again until things are working.

So to those in my writers group, who have taught me more then the entirety of my formal education, I say thank you.  And to anyone out there struggling in the directionless sea, I say, find yourself a good writers group.  Or hell, just make one yourself.