Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, July 14, 2008

To bail, or not to bail?

That is the question.

Back in my trail-riding days, my motto was “When in doubt, bail out.” I had the emergency dismount down pretty well. Cupcake would act up (which she did a lot in her younger days), and I’d do a quick emergency dismount, land on my feet beside her, and deal with her misbehavior from the ground. I figure I saved myself a lot of trips to the emergency room by getting out of harm's way.

I learned to bail out because I’d had a bad riding accident thirty years ago. If I’d known how to do an emergency dismount back then, I wouldn’t have a couple of permanently cupped vertebrae now. From that mishap, I learned that it’s better if I can choose if and when to bail rather than having the horse make the decision for me.

Now I’m considering bailing out again, but it’s not from a horse’s back. It’s from a writing group I’ve belonged to for eight years.

I’ve been a member of at least one writers group—and often more—since the mid-90s. I think it’s a good idea to join with other writers for support, information, and critiques. When writing groups work, they’re wonderful.

For instance, the crit group I’m in is incredibly helpful. This group consists of four who are writing children’s literature. We can spot each other’s problems and offer solutions. Because we’re concerned with a particular age group, we can be narrow in our focus. We don’t have a leader—or even a name. We don’t need it. Our focus is the members’ WIPs. We might wander off topic, but we always find our way back. We’re a closed group, although an occasional guest can sit in. I come home from these monthly meetings really pumped, inspired, and ready to write. Often, we continue dealing with a Work-In-Progress through e-mail.

The one I’ve attended for eight years also offers support, information, and critiques. This group is mostly retirees who have decided to write after a lifetime of doing something else. Most meetings have a dozen or so (though not always the same dozen). Many of us are self-published; many are actively pursuing commercial publication. Many are friends outside the group. The critiques and input from this group is incredibly helpful. Usually, I leave inspired.

Last Friday, however, I came home from this group feeling angry. For a half hour, one of our members—a gifted and talented individual—spewed venom about people and circumstances in his life. It’s not the first time he’s done this, but perhaps this time was the worst. He’s never published anything he’s read to the group before, so it isn’t likely he’ll submit what he read for publication. He didn’t really want input from the rest of us. We were just a captive audience for foul language, ranting and histrionics.

For instance, he read another member’s published letter to the editor and then read his response which trashed that member’s ideas—while supporting freedom of speech. The other member, who listened quietly to the rant, was a model of restraint and gentlemanliness. Everyone else, I’m sure, was uncomfortable. (At least I was, and so was the person I carpool with. In fact, she doesn’t even want to return.) In the other pieces he read, he loudly trashed members of his family and some other individuals.

This kind of “contribution” to the group is not something I want to hear—being a captive audience member for foul language and vituperation certainly isn’t why I attend a writers group. Perhaps what he read was therapy to help him to deal with his issues, but it was doggone close to emotional abuse for the rest of us who sat quietly and listened.

As I said in a recent post, I don’t want to deal with literary misery. That’s why I’m now thinking about bailing out of this group.

“When in doubt. . . .” And I’m doubting. I just haven’t yet made up my mind.

Do I bail? Or do I take up the reins, dig in my spurs, and ride out the bucks until the problem is solved?

Picky English teacher note: If you’re doubting my use of “writers groups” and think I should have inserted an apostrophe, keep in mind that I’m using the attributive form of the noun writers rather than the possessive form. “A “writers group” means “a group composed of writers” not “a group belonging to writers.” If the group belonged to the writers (instead of the writers belonging to the group), it would be “the writers’ group.” It couldn’t logically be “a writer’s group” unless the writer somehow possessed the other writers in his/her group—which, of course, conjures up an image of a group leader holding the other writers captive. (Or at least attempting to control members with busy work, “writing assignments,” strange rules, and passive-aggressive e-mails.) Oddly, I’ve been in that type of group twice before—and, yeah, I did bail out.




Blogger Liz y Brian said...

I'm sorry about the Venom Spewer - although it sounds as if everyone else will bail with you en bloc, leaping off the horse as one. A canny move, since, when you all land, you'll be a group again, sans VS - who you like, and will come to his simmer down, surely.

But really, I came to offer a cautionary and chilling tale of the cavalier use of plural noun adjuncts. A grim tale of Unbridled Omission!

It was a dark and stormy night, but through the gloom we were appalled to see that signage in the UK is rife with what has resulted, I'm sure, from dimly understood noun adjunct usage (and a shocking decline in sixth-form graduation since the war, I was told). As a result, everywhere, from gracious village greens and their "Womens Room" (wrong because "women" is already plural) to greasy East End street neon declaring shamefacedly through really bad teeth: "Chippies Open" and the pitiful, Trying-to-Cover-All-the-Bases: "All Good's for Your Babies' Needs!"

Even now, like a Norwegian rat scrabbling in a fetid hold, grammatical indifference has made its way across The Pond and is with us already in Northern Virginia's "Daniels Run Elementary School" and "Kings Park" and innumerable housing developments called Wolfs Run, Mills Creek, and (gasp!) Foxs Den.

Don't let it happen to us! Embrace the sturdy little apostrophe!

"Cherries Jubilee" of course, "Meeting Manager" perhaps, but face it, without an apostrophe, "Girls Club" and "Writers Group" are statements.

I really admire your blog, by the way. Thanks for it. I found it through the Virginia Writer's Club web site.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Amy Hanek said...

I am sorry to see you waste your time with such negativity. Bailing out doesn't equal giving up.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

What?! You're quitting before I even get there? That doesn't seem like you.

Sometimes writers groups needs rules. Sounds like it's time that one gets some.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

It hurts my feelings for you, because I know you're a loyal and dedicated writer and friend. You don't deserve this and I hope you can settle it soon for your own piece of mind.

7:39 PM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

I have left groups before because of one person. It becomes nothing but a major frustration and it sucks all the life out of it. Those groups have always failed and fallen apart after I left - not because I left, of course, but because of the negativity and the lack of productivity such people cause.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Claudia Condiff said...

Well said.
I don't believe that leaving the group is 'bailing' out. I chose to join the group recently and our venom spewer had been a member long before I chose to join. That would lead me to think that what he adds to the group has been accepted. I don't accept it, and so I choose not to listen to his 'contributions'. If most members feel as we do, then something should be done as a group, but I'm afraid I would still feel like I started a fire. Maybe that is why I found the group, it is possible that the group needed a 'spark'.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Les Berkley said...

When I rode, 'bail out' was NOT in my vocabulary. Had a couple of runaways too, but I stayed on.

I am, however, thinking of leaving my critique group (notice how I artfully avoid the point of contention)because some of its members seem uninterested in selling their work. Critiques, for me, are an enormous investment of time and energy. Why ask this of me if you do not intend to _use_ it?

Best wishes,

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Mad Max said...

I too am part of this writers group and I too was horrified at what went on last Friday. Our angry member fluctuates between being Papa Hemingway (in looks, but not in talent) and Alan Ginsberg on acid. I recently read a novel he wrote -- but will never submit for publication -- and was deeply disturbed by it. If the story wasn't autobiographical, you could fool me. I've been watching his behavior for a year and see him in every negative action his protagonist takes. I personally think he's somewhere between Cujo and a rabid Lassie.

Last Friday may have been the last straw. He lit into one of our members, one of the gentlest Virginia gentlemen you will ever meet. Think Shelby Foote on Ken Burns' Civil War. He ridiculed a letter our gentleman had written to the editor of our local rag and then proceeded to read a response. Our angry writer has no guts to submit the response as editorial comment to the paper. From what I saw, his purposes were to show us how clever he was (I think collectively we would disagree) and to ridicule our colleague.

Now having read his novel cover to cover, I am more than a little afraid of his behavior. I can ignore rants about race and ethnicity, diatribes against political positions or religion to which he does not agree, and liberal use of the F-bomb. What I can't tolerate is the willful tearing down of others in our writers group who are serious about improving our craft.

After knocking around other groups in the past, I thought I had found a home here. I found friendship, support, encourage, constructive criticism and a fellowship of writers who want to do their best. Not so our angry member. He doesn't want to improve. In fact, he ridicules all attempts to make his writing better. I'm glad I don't have his ego, because his position is to close to his ego. If his position goes, so goes the ego.

I'm seriously thinking about looking for a different writers group. Before I take such draconian measures, however, I suggest that we vote him off the island.

10:18 AM  

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