Sunday, 8 January 2012

I do not write

short stories. Well, that is not quite true. There are a few about Tom, Lizzie and Mouse-the-cat. One of them was actually published in 100 stories for Haiti.
Apart from those I have not written any short stories. Short stories are also one of the reasons I do not belong to a writing group. The writing groups I know about seem to be obsessed with short stories - short stories and poetry. They do not cater for struggling, would be novelists.
I can understand this. It is easier to review and criticise a piece of work which is "complete" even if it is not "finished". The shorter that piece of work is the more likely people are going to find time to read it. It can be read aloud to the group or at an evening of readings.
The quality of work in a group can vary from awful to excellent. The help a writer can get may also vary from none to a great deal. Different writers will take different things from different groups. I tried joining a group but it was not for me.
There are also "reading groups". There are local reading groups, run by the library, the bookshop and the community centre. I have not tried joining one of those. My reading for pleasure time is limited. I do not want to be in the position where I "must" read something. I know too that books for reading groups will often be "award winning" novels. While I will read some of these, many do not interest me.
I have picked up some award winning novels and found them dense and incomprehensible. My reaction has, more than once, shocked someone. One person I know believes I should be reading all these things. He is particularly shocked that I have not read all of Tim Winston and Peter Carey. They are Australian authors and, apparently, I should read all Australian authors and revere them simply because they are Australian. I should also make my settings Australian, indeed it is my duty to do so. (I remind him that he has yet to read the poetry of Pablo Neruda - as a Chilean he "should" do this.) Naturally he is a member of a book group.
Would I learn something from belonging to a writing group? Almost certainly I would but, if I wanted to have any of my own writing criticised, I would have at least to learn to write short stories. Possibly I would have to write to a theme or a word length or in a certain way - any of which might fit the purpose of the class. No, my writing time is limited. I will not do that.
Would I learn something from belonging to a reading group? Well I may learn what others think of this novel or that novel. I may learn why what is now dense and incomprehensible is considered to be so good the writing wins a prize.
Would those things help me write? They might - but they would leave me even less time for actually writing.
If I want to write I know I must also read. I must also be prepared to read widely and well. I do not believe however that I should write something simply because it is what a small group expects as part of the price for belonging to a group. I do not believe I should read books chosen by others as part of the price for belonging to a group. But I also wonder - am I being a snob by not joining in?


Agnieszkas Shoes said...

I think you're very wise with the writing groups and short stories (though unlucky not to have a good writing group where people work on novels together). It's one of those things often bandied around about short stories as a learning ground for novels, but I've always thought they were two very different formats. Given how limited time is, I think you're absolutely right to stick to your guns -

Anonymous said...

No,just sensible. Writing is a solitary activity.

Miriam said...

You should do whatever suits you. There are different ways of learning to write. As it happens, I've learnt a lot from my writing group (which accepts novels - one chapter at a time) and I enjoy it - or have done. (It's going through a change just now that I'm not sure I can cope with.)

widdershins said...

You are certainly not being the snob here. If anything, the book-clubbers might be.

Look for an online critique group that suits your time, tastes and genre. One whose purpose it to work with novel-length MS's. It may take a while, you may even have to create one yourself ... but life's too short to read for anyone else but your Self.

Frances said...

Peter Carey is, I read, respected but not enjoyed. True for me: but the respect relies on hearsay.
Lit crit used to be in the hands of widely read, widely experienced, widely educated bods.
Today it is in the hands of academics who seem to have a narrower background and perspective.

catdownunder said...

You wonderful people - you all show such confidence in me!