Sitting in my living room darkened to keep the heat at bay, I can’t help but think about how climate change is affecting our world. And as that goes on, here we are dealing with the threats to democracy on our own soil while thousands die of Covid in South America and Africa. Political turmoil, poverty, and corruption are wrecking Haiti and South Africa imprisoned one of their foremost leaders against apartheid because of personal greed. The fighting because of religion and land and ethnicity in the Middle East is driving thousands to seek shelter in countries that don’t want them. In many African countries there is no medical help, no government help, only disease, warlords, kidnapping, and murder.
The real world now seems to be tipping in favour of dystopia. How will we writers document it? And how will we write about the world that this one will become?
We are 21 years into this century. How much worse will it get before it starts to get better? Because I KNOW it will get better. Nothing lasts forever. Not good. Not bad. But how long will it take, I wonder. How long? And what will the world look like then?
I’m not going to spend any time on what’s been going on during 2020 and the first half of 2021 – we’ve lived through some horrible stuff already and many of us are still waiting for the other shoe to drop, hoping that it won’t. A lot of us have lost friends and family to Covid and however much the public health situation improves, the pain and grief will linger, making its impact on our future which will continue to include Covid, since it isn’t likely to be eradicated, just mitigated.
I know there are quite a few people out there who don’t want the vaccine. If you’re worried about its effects, talk to your doctor or another health professional. If you’re not getting a shot because you think Covid is a hoax or you believe you are entitled to not wear a mask or get vaccinated regardless of how it impacts your family or friends or even strangers, then plainly you’re an idiot and I hope you don’t kill someone else with your stupidity (hey, my blog, my rules).
Now off the soapbox and onto the subject of writing.
This year I did something I haven’t done in years: I was invited to join a writing group and I did. Best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time.
Some of you may know that I have often struggled with writing. I seem to have two speeds: words flowing like water through a spigot or nada, zilch, nuttin’. For years I’ve tried to figure out why that seems to be so and have not been in any way successful. (Ideally, I’d find out why and turn the spigot on and leave it on.)
The writing group hasn’t helped me with that. And some of the critiques I frankly ignore because why should I care if my grammar or spelling is off if a sentence or paragraph might not make it to the final cut? For me, spelling and grammar are something to be addressed in the polishing, when I’m satisfied that the story itself is all it can be.
Where the writing group has made a difference for me is in learning how I write, what’s important to me, why I’ve made the choices I have in terms of setting, character, perspective. This has come out of listening to my colleagues ask me questions about the story and them telling me where they had difficulty understanding what was going on. Explaining it to them was explaining it to myself. And that has been exciting.
Asking the same kinds of questions of my colleagues about their own work is also exciting. Writers, like other types of artists, love talking about the craft. It’s fun to talk to another writer about their work, to try to understand what they’re getting at, to help them refine their vision. And you often learn something about your own work in the process.
The excitement then spills over into writing and editing. After our weekly session, I’m often eager to get back to my work. Eager to incorporate the insights I’ve had. Eager to edit to clarify the presentation of my viewpoints (I’ve always liked editing. So sue me, I’m weird.). Even if nothing of mine was discussed at the meeting, I still come away energized by the conversation. It’s like fog breaking in front of me and suddenly I see more clearly than I had the day before and I can’t wait to move forward.
So even if I haven’t learned how to turn the word spigot full on, my excitement has helped get a trickle going that I hope will last.
Writers are loners. Even those who co-author books can’t write each other’s words. We each have to sit down and put our fingers on the keyboard. But there is more than one way to collaborate. And for me, the writer’s group has been the collaboration I needed.
As you might expect, all writer’s groups are not equal. Some get bogged down in petty crap and some have members who may not be so great at being able to ask the questions that can help you make your work better. In that sense they’re like any other type of help: doctor, therapist, teacher. If it’s not a fit, don’t try to force it. Find another group or make your own and invite writers you think will mesh.
Whether you have works coming out the ying yang or struggle to get 500 words a day done, a writer’s group could be just the help you need to find your equilibrium.
Note: also for the first time in years, I’ve submitted fiction to a national magazine. I’ll let you know the result when the email comes.