Should I join a writers circle?
I know that many writers
find that being with like-minded people bolsters their confidence,
that they enjoy the social side of the meetings as much as anything
else, and that they find the comments and opinions of the other
members of the group stimulating and interesting. I know that
The Diary of Adrian Mole was the product of Sue Townsends
joining a writers circle, and that she is living proof of
the benefit of such groups.
But I have never belonged
to a writers circle and never could, because I cant
discuss my work with anyone until, as far as I am concerned, it
is finished and ready to go off to the publisher. Thats
how I felt when I was fifteen and writing short stories, and its
how I feel now; neither my editor nor my agent sees one word
of my novels until they are complete. Then and only then
am I prepared to discuss them. With anyone.
I would say to those
who belong to writers groups that its as well to remember
that any newly-created thing is fragile; a green shoot is easily
trampled underfoot, and it doesnt always spring back into
shape. And I would ask you to remember that fragility, not when
you are offering advice, when Im sure you will be
aware of it, but when you are receiving it.
Pay too much attention
to what other people think, and you can find yourself over-tending
your shoot, watering it and feeding it and covering it with glass,
spraying it with insecticide and examining it daily to see if
it has grown yet. Remember its fragility, please, because more
green shoots die from interference by over-protective gardeners
than die from natural causes.
If, when you are reading
your work to the group, you find that people are sneaking glances
at their watches and shifting a little uncomfortably as they listen,
then, yes, perhaps what youve written needs some work, but
you wont know exactly what work, because the chances are
your piece was never written to be read aloud.
The Diary of Adrian
Mole, on the other hand, was. I have no way of knowing whether
Sue Townsend intended it that way, but she was writing something
she would be reading to the group, and she is a natural, so she
knew instinctively how to do that. It is no surprise that its
original success was as a radio programme, because that was how
it was meant to be consumed.
And do bear in mind that
novels arent read by groups, theyre read by individuals.
You only have to glance at book reviews to know that individuals
have individual tastes. Reviews of my novel Verdict Unsafe
concluded, in one paper, that there was too little emotion and
too much science, and in another that we were too deeply involved
with the emotional turmoil of the rape victims. Once the novel
has been published, what can you do but shrug? But while it is
being written, you can tie yourself in knots trying to please
all the people all the time, with the result that it never becomes
a published novel.
Or perhaps I am the fragile
green shoot, and those of you who cheerfully discuss your work
in progress are perfectly capable of dealing with criticism even
at the earliest of stages. I just think I ought to tell the others,
the ones who are a little more like me, that not all advice, however
constructive, has to be acted upon.
And that includes mine.