I’ve been a member of one writing group or another for about four years. I’ll admit to having run one online, and while I like setting the rules – it’s always another matter to enforce them without upsetting the group in question. Dynamics between any group of people are often fragile and must be tended with care.
In my writing group, I admit I’ve been gone awhile. I’ve attended twice in the last three months due to other commitments. I’ve been working on getting those rotated out of my Saturdays again, and there are a few uncertainties about the coming year that I hope will be resolved soon.
Last Saturday, I was the facilitator since the “real” leader was gone. It was bad weather. The other veteran of the group didn’t mind if I took over, so I did. I attempted to keep everyone on track. All participants did get to read and comment. I only banged the table once for attention, and my meeting ADHD kicked in one other time when things seemed to get off track.
Then I got an email with some proposed new rules for the group, and it explained that I was the new facilitator for the next year. Uhm, wow?! I don’t know how they decided that was a good idea, though I am capable of the position. I’m just not always the nicest to deal with and I will stick by the rules of the group. In my online group, sometimes that meant I had to have difficult conversations to get members to do what they were supposed to do.
It must seem like a lot of time when we have three hours to read and discuss writings, but really, it isn’t. There are often at least eight or ten of us, which means only about 20 minutes each. When a person brings part of a novel, explains for a minute or three where the passage is, reads the passage, and the other members comment… it could easily be 45 minutes before we look up again. I know our group once spent half an hour discussing six words that one man presented to us. (Amazing discussion and I hope to see him again soon!)
So the new rules have three issues for me. One, that there is a somewhat arbitrary page count that isn’t consistent. That’s a little thing, and easily remedied by assessing word count. Two, that no one will ever be told to read first the next time. There are twenty-five people on our email list, and while most of them do not show up on a regular basis there is still the possibility of it happening. We’ll never be able to listen to anywhere close to that many in a single session, and what other option is there except to have them go first the next time? That is how a different group I’m in handles it, but they routinely have twenty or more show up. Three, the new rules state no children may be present. It doesn’t state exactly how old is old enough to attend the group, but this one really bothers me.
It’s not an issue about a baby-sitter or the difficulty of getting one on a Saturday. My husband gets to hang out with our daughter every other Saturday. During football season the game is on. The rest of the time they find things to do. Twice I had to take her to the group with me, because something came up at the last minute. I prefer not to take her because she can be a distraction, but it’s been my choice. A good friend of mine brings her six year old, who is much better behaved than my twenty month old toddler.
So if I rarely bring my daughter, why is it such a sticking point? I take her to my weekday group in Iowa City. We miss the gym that day to drive two hours each way to listen to some really wonderful women writers and get some feedback. They’re amazed to see how much my little girl has changed and celebrate the little one. I love that my daughter gets to enjoy the atmosphere of that kind of group. It should be up to me. I like that she gets that kind of exposure to the written and spoken word. I like to have the choice. As she gets older and better able to sit through those meetings, I might take her with me more. It’s not about a stray curse word in stories or content she may or may not understand. It’s simply the experience.
I know this doesn’t take into account that people may not be comfortable with what they’re reading, and then might become self-conscious with young ears listening. Seriously, with their parents, how could they not have already heard these words? It could give a parent a teaching moment to explain why we talk about these things in books and stories when we wouldn’t use them in everyday life. It might be a good time to talk about some of those situations in a less personal manner.
It also might not, but I always have good intentions. “The Road to Hell…” and all that.
So I’m waiting for an answer, to see if I’m really the new facilitator, and then to see how much these new rules are one person or the entire group wanting change. I suppose there’s always the possibility of splintering the group. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I think the group has a lot of good qualities, but change is never easy – even when it’s good.