Writing Group Dilemma

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bcomet
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Writing Group Dilemma

Post by bcomet » December 30th, 2011, 5:13 pm

Hi All.
I've recently experienced a very sad event in my beloved writing group.
Our group has been together for about four years and has been wonderful. Every writer in the group has grown.
Occasionally, our original organizer (fearless leader) has brought in a new person when the group has lost a member over time.

About six months ago, that happened. The new member was supposed to be "funny" and "outrageous."

Anyway, our group is very eclectic.

Unfortunately, for me, this person has turned out to be a very dark writer. I can't stomach the really dark things she writes about
(getting inside the heads of pedophiles, for example, just for the sake of going there). I seem to be the only person in my group who has trouble with the content as the others can ignore the content and focus on the writing - which is very good writing. I, however, cannot get away from the content. It's just too dark for me.

So, it is coming down to that the group won't work for me with this change. I could come and leave when this other person is "up" but I really don't think that will sustain workability. And now that she's "in" she shouldn't be forced out because of just me. She also insists all her work will be this dark.

I am feeling really down about this change in the flavor of the group. But I am wondering if it's just one of those things where that's just the way the it is and if I need to go, I should just go.

If anything, I think a working ongoing group should be very careful who and what kind of writing they are willing to take in with new members before they do.

Any thoughts?

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Falls Apart
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by Falls Apart » December 30th, 2011, 5:28 pm

What I'd say is something like, "Wow, Person A, you're writing is really life-like--maybe a bit too much for me. You're an amazing author, but I'm not sure if I can take it. Would it offend you if I just bowed out while you read?"

As long as the person isn't hyper-sensitive, something along those lines should work :) Good luck

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Beethovenfan
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by Beethovenfan » December 30th, 2011, 5:29 pm

Bcomet,
First of all, congratulations on your continued recovery! Hope things continue to be positive. As for your dilemma, wow. That's a hard one. But it reminds me of something I have had to deal with. I am a piano teacher and teach mostly kids. I have had some really good students and some real stinkers, but they are all great kids, and I become very attached to them. Some I have had for almost their entire childhood! But inevitably there comes a time when I have to let them go because I feel they have gleaned as much from me as they can and now need a fresh new perspective. I wonder if the forces of the universe are telling you something. Perhaps it is time for you to move on to a new group and get a fresh new perspective. Your current group is familiar and comfortable, but perhaps you will grow to a new plateau having to overcome this obstacle and move on to a new group. Just a thought.
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

bcomet
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by bcomet » December 30th, 2011, 6:06 pm

Hey Fall Apart,
I tried that - and that might work, but it feels awkward and unsustainable. Possibly even rude. I also think that it would just serve to make the whole group uncomfortable.

Hey Beetovanfan!

Thanks! I appreciate that. Along with the tough tough road of recovery, I know how precious life is and don't want to spend a moment that I have to in "anti-life" -which means I am even more sensitive to staying positive and true to myself and what holds my life true than even before -and I have always been what you would call a true-heart person.

And yeah, I've loved and appreciated this group so much that this is hard on me. But I really can't go that dark, don't want to. (The person tried to beautify hideous acts and there is nothing about such behaviors that I can ever agree to find beautiful.)

So I have thought too that maybe the universe is telling me something. And also maybe my group will have to rethink what they want.

I once joined a church that had very liberating ideals. They extended those to include stalkers in the church (stalking other members) because it "was more fair to include everyone." It changed the church and the membership -including mine. I missed the earlier version of the the church, but have to live with upholding my own values.

And, as far as "dark" goes in art, if there is a (damn good) reason to go there, plot-wise, it *sometimes* might make more dramatic sense *overall*, but just to go there for the sake of going there ... too dark for me.

And yes, sometimes, we have to reach out, branch out and grow in our own new directions, holding our own values high.
If that happens here, I will always though be very glad for all the time spent in this group to date that has been so rewarding on so many levels.

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polymath
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by polymath » December 30th, 2011, 9:12 pm

Dark content is for me in and of itself not an issue. I read anything, focus on craft and voice, note conventions of any given genre, and comment accordingly. An issue I see with going dark because a writer can raises several areas for concern. One, the big one for me, what's the agenda? Writing practice? Shock and awe for the sake of unsettling readers? Imposing one's belief system on others just for giggles, power games, button pushing? Passive aggressive conduct? Any of the former are for me unconscionable for a writer group. I don't care for partonizing lecturing or preaching or power-game playing in any form or venue of creative writing discussion.

Two, ultimately, writing is writing for an audience, no matter how small nor whether for purposes of exposure to the discernment of fellow travelers on the poet's journey. If it's dark to no artful end, literally and figuratively, and it's not a good fit for the group as a whole or individually, the writer should be courteously and firmly asked to reconsider the material content presented to the group.

In the same vein, there is artful dark and there's dark that just goes artlessly there because it's there, like climbing Mt. Everest. If the plot, settings, theme, characters, events, and voice substantiate the dark, perhaps. Otherwise, huh-uh. Like Faustus' dramatic complication can only work if Faustus redeems his soul. Hannibal Lecter can only be redeemed if he makes a significant noble sacrifice. Chigurh only works as a villain who receives some degree of satisfactory punishment for his misdeeds. Noble sacrifice is big for artful dark. The poetic justice principle of good rewarded, evil punished is at work in dark or light drama.

Plot stands large in dark. From bad fortune to good fortune, or the classic Greek comedy drama. From good fortune to bad or bad to worse, or the classic Greek tragedy drama. A third and comparatively modern drama is when a protagonist doesn't, per se, experience a transformation in fortunes but experiences a change in personal moral or psychological condition, though, again, from good to bad, bad to worse, or bad to good, with perhaps inspirational revelation: bildungsroman. The transformation feature of plot provides closure. A plot is incomplete without a transformation: denouement. Audience, again, expects closure.

The Realism literary movement went dark, as did Naturalism, both intent on telling the grim and miserable truth of existence in all its blunt reality. Problem with both was a tendency to close without closure. Postmodernism largely attempts a reawakening of Realism's reporting true existence with a self-aware questioning and challenging presupposed notions of the appropriate good and evil, right and wrong existence duality, but also oftentimes falls flat from lacking satisfying closure.

Three, sympathy for the devil doesn't appeal to audiences very frequently or very comfortably. Maybe when visionary or mystic, again, artfully.

Recommend considering: Option one, use the opportunity to dig in, see if the dark serves an artful purpose, address its artful or artless uses, and respond accordingly.

Option two, perhaps the group feels the same way though not as strongly. Broach the subject couched in terms of audience appeal directly with the dark writer before the group. If it doesn't go over well, C'est la vie d'escritur: It is the life of writing. It's time to move on. If it does go over well, Barb's your aunt.

Option two(a), perhaps a discrete discussion with the group moderator could be productive, especially if it's couched as a supportable concern, not merely a sensibility issue, and no ultimatums force unpleasant decisions.

I've had the best results with the first option, for my writing, and eventually for the open-minded writers whose works I comment on.
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Ryan
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by Ryan » January 1st, 2012, 1:25 pm

Glad to hear you are well.

Go with the gut. Maybe you are supposed to expand and meet more writers.

Seems like you could work something out though if you value the feedback of the group so much. Maybe you get the pass on that particular person's work. Someone has to write Silence of the Lambs stuff for the rest of us to cringe over...

Cheers
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CharleeVale
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by CharleeVale » January 1st, 2012, 3:17 pm

Do you guys read aloud, Or submit the writing to each other before hand?

If you're currently reading aloud, maybe you could suggest that you change to submitting beforehand? That way they can still give comments on the writing, you you don't have to read it if you don't want to?

CV

bcomet
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by bcomet » January 1st, 2012, 5:25 pm

Polymath,
I really appreciate your comments. They would mean even more, as a directive or set of considerations to explore, if I (or anyone else in this group ) were a teacher or leader or monitor of a writing workshop/class/etc. or an editor.

But this is not the case. It is a group of equals with the one exception that the organizer has been the one to bring in new people. For all the diversity of that, it has always been, up to this newest member (for me anyway), a valuable addition.
Polymath said:

Shock and awe for the sake of unsettling readers? Imposing one's belief system on others just for giggles, power games, button pushing? Passive aggressive conduct? Any of the former are for me unconscionable for a writer group. I don't care for patronizing lecturing or preaching or power-game playing in any form or venue of creative writing discussion.
It's my personal opinion that this is what's going on with that writer.

It pisses me off because I think it intimidates other members who think they need to respond no matter what and because it changes the climate of the group. But for me - I have been around the block with "shock and awe" art students and I know how to -as a teacher- hold the teaching line. But here, I am not a teacher, just an equal member and the most I can do is object to it on the merits of my own choice not to participate or indulge with this kind of member participation. I can hope that my objection, stepping away from this kind of writing, might have an affect on the other members, but I cannot insist that does.
Polymath said:


Two, ultimately, writing is writing for an audience, no matter how small nor whether for purposes of exposure to the discernment of fellow travelers on the poet's journey. If it's dark to no artful end, literally and figuratively, and it's not a good fit for the group as a whole or individually, the writer should be courteously and firmly asked to reconsider the material content presented to the group.

In the same vein, there is artful dark and there's dark that just goes artlessly there because it's there, like climbing Mt. Everest. If the plot, settings, theme, characters, events, and voice substantiate the dark, perhaps. Otherwise, huh-uh. Like Faustus' dramatic complication can only work if Faustus redeems his soul. Hannibal Lecter can only be redeemed if he makes a significant noble sacrifice. Chigurh only works as a villain who receives some degree of satisfactory punishment for his misdeeds. Noble sacrifice is big for artful dark. The poetic justice principle of good rewarded, evil punished is at work in dark or light drama.

Plot stands large in dark. From bad fortune to good fortune, or the classic Greek comedy drama. From good fortune to bad or bad to worse, or the classic Greek tragedy drama. A third and comparatively modern drama is when a protagonist doesn't, per se, experience a transformation in fortunes but experiences a change in personal moral or psychological condition, though, again, from good to bad, bad to worse, or bad to good, with perhaps inspirational revelation: bildungsroman. The transformation feature of plot provides closure. A plot is incomplete without a transformation: denouement. Audience, again, expects closure.

The Realism literary movement went dark, as did Naturalism, both intent on telling the grim and miserable truth of existence in all its blunt reality. Problem with both was a tendency to close without closure. Postmodernism largely attempts a reawakening of Realism's reporting true existence with a self-aware questioning and challenging presupposed notions of the appropriate good and evil, right and wrong existence duality, but also oftentimes falls flat from lacking satisfying closure.

Three, sympathy for the devil doesn't appeal to audiences very frequently or very comfortably. Maybe when visionary or mystic, again, artfully.
I could not have said this more eloquently. Thank you for putting this so beautifully complete.
Ryan said:

Glad to hear you are well.

Go with the gut. Maybe you are supposed to expand and meet more writers.

Seems like you could work something out though if you value the feedback of the group so much. Maybe you get the pass on that particular person's work. Someone has to write Silence of the Lambs stuff for the rest of us to cringe over...

Cheers
Thanks Ryan. It is VERY nice to be back amongst the living.

Yeah, my gut says "listen" too. Maybe, like you and others have said, this is the universe speaking and time to move on. But, at the very bottom, to hold onto my standards. (No one else can be expected to.)

So, as of this juncture, I plan to opt out of that writers' work and see if it is too uncomfortable for the group -or me- to continue with that.
And, above all, to appreciate and value the enormous good that has come to me from being lucky enough to have been part of such a long enduring creatively helpful group.

I also know that this kind of group is hard to find and so good for each writer in it that it is HARD to leave if the climate changes. However, my ideals and values as a writer (and perhaps also as a human) also need to be held equally as high. Sometimes that means, it's time to change or go a ways alone for awhile. But it should never mean to give up one's values or convictions in order to hold on to something that has had its value and then morphed into something else. I suppose it will be interesting to watch how the group adapts to this new element.

Charleevale,

Yes, in this group we do send on ahead, so I can more easily opt out of being exposed to this writer's material as well as opt out of meetings around this writer's work.

It feels important to and for me to hold my ground. But respectfully, that the other members have the full right, and my respect as well, to choose for themselves whether to participate as they wish to, even if I don't.

Again, all, I really appreciate and benefit from your feedback and thoughts. Thank you.

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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by Collectonian » January 1st, 2012, 6:33 pm

Out of curiosity...you mentioned in your first post that the author's work is dark and does things "just for the sake of going there", and that her work is dark just to be shock and awe. What has led you to feel that it is just the author being shocky and excessive, versus it being relevant or in-keeping with the overall work?

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polymath
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by polymath » January 1st, 2012, 6:40 pm

I appreciate, bcomet, that writing groups tend to have limited oversight. When they do have oversight, the oversight tends to be as hands-off as possible and only when circumstances require.

I recently completed two six-month seminars where no one knew anyone else, sixteen contentious writers each, including the moderators and me, different degrees of conscientious oversight, genres across the gamut, audience age and topical content, one each fiction and nonfiction. I start another six-month fiction seminar next week, one more six-month fiction seminar slated for late next summer into fall and expect the cicrumstances will be the same. However, my writing is clicking and enjoying more approval than disapproval as a result. Two factors more than any others have made the difference: appreciating audience appeal and developing productive revision strategies to evaluate content, organization, structure, and expression.
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bcomet
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by bcomet » January 3rd, 2012, 1:50 am

Collectonian,

The work has no plot, no character growth, no arc, no movement. They are all static pieces, like description pieces of still-life sets, (sorry to be gross) but more like a very dirty toilet.

The writer has expressed delight and goals for shocking readers. She insists that this is where all her own interests as a writer lies, in the dark and macabre.

I know the argument(s) for postmodernism, etc.

But, as Nathan has blogged about in the past, even with literary fiction, there must be a plot.

~~

Polymath,

Sounds like rich experiences for you. I would love to know more about where or how these course are offered. If you care to share or pm me, I would enjoy hearing more. A recomendation from you carries a lot of respect around this forum.

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polymath
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by polymath » January 3rd, 2012, 12:23 pm

bcomet wrote: Polymath,

Sounds like rich experiences for you. I would love to know more about where or how these course are offered. If you care to share or pm me, I would enjoy hearing more. A recomendation from you carries a lot of respect around this forum.
Thank you for the ringing endorsement, bcomet.

I'm moving through a third-tier university graduate creative writing program (Babel U). It's barely affordable though it suits my needs, because for me it's not about the who or the where reputation and prestige. It's about what I put in and what I get out of it and experiencing a broad exposure to varying writing principle positions. I've long passed any resistance or refusal to do the hard work and just get by and long past creative closed mindedness and self-limiting sensibilities. The opposite extreme plagues me now, that of too broad a field of choices. My next several semesters' goal is narrowing focus. My thesis project is on a specialized area of folklore, the tall tale, particularly, fish house liar tales, a dying form because the fish houses are dying. Preliminary audience responses are tentative yet generally approving.

The greatest benefit for me from writing venues is gauging audience appeal for a discerning, eclectic, fickle, and diverse group. I do wish seminar or workshop, or other, participants were as dedicated and insightful as I strive to be. I'd love to engage in dynamic discussions of the subtler points of creative writing with a peer level cohort. I begin to wonder if there is such a thing. Too many consensus reality differences impede communication, from which when effective I learn most. Unfortunately, personal politics, artistic jealousy, and peevish pettiness invariably raise their ugly green fiddleheads and get in the way of free and open and dynamic exchanges of ideas.

I couch my comments conscientiously, yet exceptions are taken no matter how approving or insightful.This time around, though, three or four actually got it and adjusted accordingly. Lo and behold, their writing skills grew appreciably. Narrative distance was a bombshell for most of the participants. Static voice went over like a deflated lead balloon, except for the moderators who noted what I mean but nonetheless took exception to the label, not the concept. Author surrogacy initially flew over everyone's heads. One fellow traveler did ask probing questions about it and got it after a few months' reflection. There was much resistance to considering audience appeal. I've yet to broach SPICED or DIANE'S SECRET or participation mystique, reader surrogate, or attitude holder.
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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by bcomet » January 4th, 2012, 2:12 pm

Polymath,

I know how deeply heartfelt your commitment is to writing and to writers you work with, both as equals and as editor. It shows from your comments all over this forum. You strive to move forward on issues always respectful of the writer as well as the writing. And you listen deeply to the feedback others offer.

You sound like the ideal writing group participant to me.

If you'd ever like to identify Babel U, please pm me. I'd love to know.

I also agree strongly that you can apply your own passion to a study just about anywhere and get more out of it than even attending the most prestigious institution and not applying that passion.

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Re: Writing Group Dilemma

Post by writer » January 5th, 2012, 11:57 pm

If you say something, just make sure they don't take it personally, and you should be okay. If they're still relatively new to the group who knows, maybe that's just a part of their writing niche.
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