J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."


September 2014

So, Hemingway once said…..

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway
July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961

So, you may recall that I have this horse……

…….named Best Bud Mare, and we discuss a lot of things. A couple of weeks ago, because I happened to be wearing a Dodgers ball cap, we got to talking about baseball, which happens to be one of my favorite non-equine related sports. I have a few favorite teams (Dodgers, Angels, Cubs), but I’m more interested in the game itself than who wins.

I tried explaining this sport to Best Bud Mare, who immediately loved the concept of running the bases and between the infield and the outfield. But she had a hard time understanding the need for a bat and why you had to hit a ball to run.

Best Bud Mare: I don’t get it. Why do you need to hit a ball with a stick?

Me: So that you can run the bases. And then the other team has to run to catch the ball.

Best Bud Mare: That makes no sense. If you want to run, you should run.

Me: Hey, I don’t make the rules. Talk to the umpire about that.

Best Bud Mare: Umpire? Do you mean to tell me that the game is run by blood-sucking umpires?

Me: Um, no, you’re thinking vampires.

Best Bud Mare: (panicked, not hearing) No wonder you need wooden sticks to play this game! So that you can stake the umpires!

Me: (shaking head, gives up trying to explain the difference between umpires and vampires)

It took awhile to calm Best Bud Mare down. Once she realized that umpires are NOT vampires and that bats are not used to stake them, she became quite interested.

Best Bud Mare: Why is it called baseball?

Me: I think it’s because when you hit the ball, you run to a base.

Best Bud Mare: Oh. (thinks) Can we play?

Me: We need two teams. And a field.

Best Bud Mare: Oh. (thinks some more) What’s a team?

I can see that this is going to be a little more detailed than I’d originally thought. So, I tried to explain baseball teams to Best Bud Mare.

Best Bud Mare: You mean there are teams of two and they pull wagons, like horses?

Me: Um, no. Wrong kind of team.

Best Bud Mare: Ah.

Me: So, anyway, there are different baseball teams and they have names like the Cubs, or the Dodgers or the White Sox or the Phillies….

Best Bud Mare: Ah-ha!!! So there are horses in baseball!

Me: Um, no. Wrong kind of filly.

She wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the day after that.

So, the question keeps coming up……

…….about writing groups and do I belong to or attend one (or several). As it happens, I don’t. I’ve been to a few and enjoyed the experience, but within twenty minutes of the group starting, I’d zone out and find myself thinking about the project (or projects) I had going on at home that I really, REALLY wanted to be working on at that moment, instead of the exercises that were being handed out or giving my full attention to the work that was being critiqued. 

I also had a few negative experiences, where I felt attacked for a variety of reasons (an example: a fellow writer took exception to the term ‘drive-in’. He claimed to be confused by the use of it, feeling that it was for a restaurant, rather than a place for watching movies, even though I’d been clear on that particular point within two paragraphs). I didn’t feel supported by the people leading the group, so I never went back. There were other opportunities and I did explore them, but overall, I’ve never found them to be beneficial for me.

Note what I’m saying here – it’s not for me. I’m a solitary writer and I have a handful of what I now know are beta readers to keep my stories and characters in line and on-track. This is not to say that a writing group isn’t beneficial to you or to the writer you know. It is, tremendously so, from what I’ve observed in my own experiences and from those who attend them. Writing groups are a great way to get your work some objective criticism. It’s also a great way to see your work from the perspective of others and may actually provide much needed ideas on how to refine and shape what you’ve already created. 

The trick is to find the group that works for you. Find one that offers support, a safe environment for sharing your work and at the same time, is insightful and constructive in their criticism. If one group doesn’t fit, find another. Give each one a fair shake – two sessions at the very least, maybe four, if you feel that’s better. Ask questions of the group members and the group leader to get a sense of how the group is organized. If you feel uncomfortable, opt out and find another one. This is supposed to be fun and helpful in the creative process, not an uncomfortable situation to be endured.

Whether you choose to write professionally or just for your own amusement (which is really the best way, even if it becomes professional), writing groups have a lot to offer. Not the least of which is that it gets that rarely sighted and solitary creature out of the shadows and into the company of others in a social setting – with other writers.

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