I attended my second meeting of the D/FW Writers’ Workshop last night as a visitor (my first as a new member!) and was so happy that I did. It’s a three-hour meeting (7-10) in Euless, in a community center that will actually be no more than ten minutes (if not less) from where B. and I will be living. Yay! That’s one blessing, as Dallas traffic has really bummed me out of late. I’m still trying to get used to the tangled, construction-crazy network of traffic that is the Dallas/Fort Worth highway system. It’s a bloody miracle that the saving grace of my life, the writing group, is only minutes away from where I’ll be living.
The group is pretty large, about 75 or so strong, and there may actually be twice or thrice that many paid members, but in terms of the people who actually attend the meetings, I gather just under 100 show up on Wednesday nights. The first twenty or so minutes (and they start precisely at 7:00, bless them) is devoted to announcements, including a chance for members to share with others their submissions, acceptances and even rejections (only other writers will surely understand the importance of sharing even rejections), while the rest of the meeting is then turned over to serious read-and-critique sessions. Since the group is quite large, we break up into mini-groups of anywhere from ten to twenty, with 4-5 people each reading from their work for 20 minutes, followed by group critique for 5-10 (I think that’s how long the critiques are. I haven’t really counted). The critiques are helpful even for those of us who didn’t read, as they give insight on what works in a piece and what doesn’t, what readers may or may not like about a character or plot or structure. I’ve taken notes from others’ work and have gotten tons of ideas of my own for how to work my characters based on what people have said about others’. Super useful.
Last night I became a member, and of course, the enterprising Treasurer (who processed my membership) issued his challenge to me: to read the first 10 pages of my work-in-progress next week. Next freakin’ week. As in, 6 days from today. As in, I read out loud my little baby, the one that I think would end up in the trash bin were it not for my reluctance to get rid of anything I’ve worked so hard on.
I know he meant well, but does he realize just what a tizzy he put me in? I’m actually trying to remember my first 10 pages; it’s been two years since I first wrote them. I recall a scene in a maternity ward, a Japanese woman giving birth to her first child in the heat of a Singapore November, her husband hovering just outside, sweating from the stress and the unairconditioned heat of the hospital corridor. I know I can just open up the document right now and refresh my memory easily, but I’m reluctant to do so. That doesn’t bode well for my attempt to share that chapter next week in front of people I just met — and many whom I’ve yet to meet, dammit — but oh well. I comfort myself with my favorite writing mantra, that James Redfield is a mediocre writer who managed to parlay his New Age novel, The Celestine Prophecy, into a global bestseller, and if someone of that so-so talent can convince a major publisher to buy his book, surely my own little scribbles can be shared with a handful of strangers in a cold, ugly community center room in…Euless.
I’ve only ever read a story of mine out loud once, in a creative writing class way back in my college days. I’ve had my work read out loud by others — most notably, an essay I wrote for a political theory class in grad school that the prof liked, much to my relief — but I’ve never done it myself. (Plus, in that last example, my name was kept off the paper, so no one but I and the professor knew who wrote it, possibly to save me from embarrassment.) I’m pretty sure I’ll be thisclose to being sick, or worse, but I’ll just have to, well, deal. People do it every week, after all (most of them far more brilliant writers than I, natch), so it can’t be too bad. Can it?
Anyway, what I am looking forward to is attending the workshop’s annual writers’ conference that following weekend in Grapevine. It’ll be my first conference since the one I attended in Montrose, Colorado, shortly after Brian and I moved to Grand Junction. I love being around other writers and meeting people who take this writing habit as seriously — if not more so — as I do. It can be difficult to find people who think of writing as anything more than a hobby rather than a craft and a real profession (I think of those who often asked me, a professional freelance writer in Grand Junction, “So, what are you doing these days?” As if I had tons of time in the world and didn’t have a real job. They meant well, I’m sure, but it was still grating.) The workshop has given my writing a big boost of inspiration and confidence, and I imagine the conference will multiply that effect even more.
If you’re in the Dallas area the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd and want to hook up with some great writers, check out the conference (held at the Grapevine Convention Center). It’s two full days of networking and learning the art and business of writing and publishing, and considering all the great events that the organizers have scheduled — including agent pitch sessions — it’s a freakin’ bargain at $125 for members, $175 for non-members. (Membership is $100 per annum.) I’m not pitching — my manuscript is obviously not ready, and I’m still hoping that the agent who expressed interest in my story in 2006 will still be interested once it is — but I know plenty who will, and that option alone is worth the entrance free if you’ve been wanting to get in front of agent with your book proposal.
Hope to see you there!