After a two-week absence, seeing old friends, I logged onto my online writers’ circle, the San Francisco Writers Workshop. It has a long history, it’s free, and since Covid, it meets live on Tuesdays in SF and Wednesdays nationwide thru Zoom. I miss live talk and drinking afterwards, but I don’t miss the drive to the city.
A very wide range of styles & talents, mostly all narrative prose—memoir, short story, novel, essay—ranging from a vampire tale to sci-fi to romance to me at my weirdest. While I’m in the second draft of a novel, i’ve found that presenting very short stuff is most useful right now. Is the voice right? Is the character real? Does it flow sentence-to-sentence? Does it hit any glitches? I don’t ask these questions directly, but I listen.
Very rarely does anyone show-boat or fall into abuse. If you have nothing to say, you don’t say it. If you think your comment might be helpful, you do. As a reader you may not get the praise you want, and a comment may be far off the mark, but that’s for you to decide the next time you hunch over your keyboard.
Oddly, one rule to me seems responsible for the absence of horror tales I’ve heard from other writers staggering away, blood dripping down, from critique groups. When you present your pages, you’re not allowed to reply to comments. You come into the circle unarmed: you can’t shoot back.
Pacifism may not stop a Hitler, but it seems to work here. It puts full responsibility on the writer: take it or leave it. If nothing flows from a comment, no one will ever know, as you’re not allowed to present revisions. For me, the comment is only like a symptom, perhaps requiring surgery, perhaps an ignoring, perhaps a slight chiropractic adjustment to bring it into alignment. It’s not about whether I get into Heaven.
That may not be the main cause: there’s a wide age range, so it may be that there’s less of an impulse to strike a blow to purge literature of all folly. But I just want to note that we can come together, driven by the urge to help one another—which is mildly revolutionary.