What do you do when you first meet a group of strangers in a social setting? Admit it, everyone of us does it. You make a snapshot judgment on what you think that person is all about. Even before they open their mouths, you judge them on the way they look, the way they dress, they way they hold themselves. It’s impossible not to.
Now imagine you’ve done that BUT on top of this they’re presenting their thoughts and ideas on a creative platter for you to dissect. Welcome to a writing group.
You’re gathered around with your fellow writers eager to share and learn and present all these things inside you to people similar to you but . . . you still can’t help but try and filter out the truth nuggets in their tangle of prose.
Whether it’s a guy writing about a guy who has trouble talking to women or a guy who’s writing about a guy who comes back from war completely changed or a girl writing about a girl who’s jealous of another girl but can’t see that they’re actually very similar people, you can’t help but wonder if they are in fact just simply writing about themselves.
So I’ve started playing this dangerous writer game. I’ve started going to these writing groups to help me muster the motivation to take an hour out of my daily life and write. They’ve been unbelievably helpful. You show up, sit down, someone sets a timer, you write for an hour (and luckily the coffee shop we meet in has no distracting internet) and then after that hour you gather around one table and introduce yourselves/answer a writing related question/talk about what you’re writing.
But it’s this last one that I get caught up in. As we sit there and go around the table, sharing what we’re working on, I try to “Sherlock” my way with their stories. How much of themselves is this person I just met giving away in their story, I wonder. I can’t help it. And it only gets worse once the writing shoptalk stops and we begin talking like normal people. I sit there feeling smug, thinking oh I’ve just figured you out. That story is in fact about you. (Of course there’s argument that all writers stories are in some way about themselves.)
But I never think about how much I’m giving away in my writing. Because I know. If you were to ask I could dissect any story with “it’s true” down to an almost exact percentage. I’m not concerned because I know when it’s down on paper that 67% of that story is true. However, I feel like this changes somehow when the words are in our mouths instead and there’s no paper-trapped words and writer’s mask to hide behind.
It’s so much more raw when the author is telling you face to face about their story and saying “It’s about a guy who’s looking for his mother” and then you find out the author never knew his mother, versus reading the story where there’s likely some sort of conclusion to leave us happy or settled. It’s this look behind at the mechanics and bare bones of the story that makes it harder to suspend your disbelief. Talking about what we’re writing is definitely not as sexy as reading it.
So I’ve realized that this is a time wasting habit I need to get out. It’s such a rookie mistake. It’s almost as bad as someone asking you “Where do you get your ideas from?” But perhaps this is why finding a writers’ group is so personal. I’ve tried out a few writers’ groups and only stuck with the ones I’ve felt really comfortable in. You end up sharing so much with these people and give more away about yourself then you ever will to a reader, so you’d better like them.