Now that I am a Writer, I suddenly need many things I never knew existed. Not just a computer and a bookshelf full of thesauri and synonymicons, but organic things, support groups and lobbying organizations, maybe a ticket to the odd book fair or writers’ conference. I look differently now at the First Amendment, even though I try to write things besides dirty books. I joined the Tampa Writers Alliance and PINAWOR, which stands for something literary that I cannot at the moment recall. I might join the Florida Writers Association so I will have
writers to associate with. (Perhaps they can teach me not to end a sentence with a preposition.) I retired to Florida to write and avoid meetings. Now I go to writing meetings. Life is one big irony contest. Florida
Let’s face it, writers as a group are no more socially stable than engineers or lawyers or people who do bra fittings for Macy’s. In groups of two or more, they flail away at small talk, then retreat into shop talk when they discover that all they have in common is a passion for – or against – dangling participles. “Did you hear that Juan got an expression of interest from an agent at the conference last week? Lucky bastard. I didn’t think his stuff was all that good, quite honestly.” Don’t try to tell me that the people in your profession don’t do the same thing – I’m a Writer now; I understand the Human Condition.
Writers have evolved a social construct that does not appear elsewhere – the Critique Group. Every writers’ organization has one or two of these tucked away in its sub-basement. CG members’ sole purpose is to gather in a room and tell each other what’s wrong with the last thing they wrote. CGs range from ineffectual grammar police (“You split two infinitives in that opening paragraph”) to plot Nazis (“Come now, there were no such things as 'Letters of Transit'" or "Edsels were never manufactured in hot pink.”) Attending one of these sessions can be like going to a cowboy barbecue and volunteering to be a main dish. You can be flayed and filleted before your manuscript hits the table.
In principle – a greatly overvalued commodity, by the way – CGs are dedicated to improving the product of their members, whatever that product may be. In one recent CG, a member was writing nonfiction about the reasoning powers of marmosets, while another had written a space opera set in the nineteenth dimension, where everyone spoke a dialect that scanned a lot like Sarah Palin on a bender. I looked in a while back – oh so briefly – on a CG whose members were all writing bodice-rippers and Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.
Recently, I have been invited to join a CG that exists as a shadowy splinter group schismed off its parent mainstream CG. I take this as a signal that either I have Arrived as a Writer or that the group was down a quart on live bait. This CG within a CG is like a secret society, likely peopled by misfits and pseudonyms wrapped in enigmas, Dan Brown stuff. I haven’t gone to a meeting yet but am hoping they cast spells and runes. They meet over dinner. I’m bringing a nice grouper ceviche. Fava beans and a nice Chianti may be more fitting. We’ll see.