by Leonard Bishop, Author of Dare to Be a Great Writer
Many writers are shriveling. They are alone, and isolated from each other. No one really cares if they are ever published and many of their families wish they would just stop writing and seek employment or interest in more acceptable situations. There are a few art foundations or state organizations that will support them with any substantial grants. They are pariahs.
The only encouragement these isolated writers get is from dreary articles on writing, published in writing magazines, written by bottom-of-the-barrel writers. They pay more for the magazine than they have earned from their own writing. The only hope they have for personal peace comes from their negative expectation to eventually abandon their desire to become published as a professional writer.
If this is true (and I have enough experience as a writing teacher to know it is true) there is a partial solution to their dilemma. It is in risking a bold step forward by starting a writing group in your area. Try a small advertisement in your local newspaper. “Wanted: unpublished writers committed to the purpose of becoming published. Let us form a writers group. Contact…” You’ll be astonished by how many people you know, or are familiar with, who are hidden writers.
If you are to progress as a writer, establishing a writing group in your community is a necessity. Writers need exposure–having what they write, read or heard. Without an audience you are writing in the shadows. Writers need the feeling and identity of being writers–and to be known in the light of being a writer.
Writing groups are positively helpful. There are no instant answers overcoming immediate writing problems. At least half of the writing craft is learned from what the inexperienced writer discovers in other writers’ stories and chapters. Too often the writer is so close to his work that he cannot do what he has written with a balanced objectivity. All he sees is what he meant to write, but did not succeed in accomplishing. The depression, the failure, it’s painful. But someone else in the writing group can see the flaw and, by him hearing it aloud, the writer can also see it. Then you read or hear the chapter someone else has written, and you are critical. Now you find specific flaws in his work. And you teach someone else. And then you think, “Hey, that’s the same mistake I’m always making.” You return to your work and correct the fault and you have learned some craft.
But there is more to a writing group. You are given irrefutable evidence (through the critical comments of the others) of your talents and growing skills, and you can no longer disappoint and intimidate yourself with the nagging, “I’m not a good writer. I will never be published.” You encourage each other, because you are each other.
In a writing group you are not some rejected eccentric hustling after an impossible dream. The others are genuine people (rational, responsible, respectable) – – there is not a flake in the bowl. But they are also unique. They ache and anguish for more than the unexciting dispensations given to them by banal society. They have taken their stand and are working for their success. Failure is for the writer who stopped writing because she believed she was a failure.
In a sensibly conducted writing group, you can also realize that perhaps you should not try to become a professional writer. Not everyone has the talent or the patience in character to learn the writing craft. Some people are just not intelligent or sensitive enough. Some people are so clammed up and tightened by fear, they just cannot be writers. Fear has dried them. Learning this can spare some people a long time of false hope and unnecessary grief.
The craft of writing is like a jigsaw puzzle you buy in some sleazy thrift shop. You work at getting it all together and just when you know you have the picture figured out and where all the other pieces go you suddenly realize that not all the pieces were in the box. Quite often the other people in the writing group have some of your pieces and you have some of theirs.
While Kansas is not the only state that has little regard for its creative people–it is jealous state that is irresponsible and ignorant of the needs of its creative people. It will fund the farmer and shun the artists–and man cannot live by bread or weed or milo alone.
If any writers are going to become professionals, they will have to do it on their own. Forming writing groups is a reasonable way start. Anywhere you begin is the right time and place to begin it in. You cannot become, unless you first begin.
©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published August 23, 1987 the Manhattan Mercury)