Thursday, 4 April 2013
It All Depends On What You Mean By Writing
Yesterday morning the writers’ group met. I didn’t go.
Sent no apologies for absence, sent no explanation, just didn’t go. Not for the first time either.
Another failure on my part to stick with something, another instance of short lived enthusiasms? Feeling guilty is what I do well; I was programmed early. Catholicism helped, but my parents had a not inconsiderable hand in it, one of the few areas where they didn’t leave me to bring myself up.
Not this time. No way is this my fault.
Why are so many people satisfied with mediocrity? I suppose, if you start by expecting nothing, then mediocrity is progress. You could ask: who says something is mediocre, who determines what is a good poem or an interesting piece of writing? Well, excuse me, I do in this case. I am the one who has to listen to these extremely poor efforts.
There is the ex film maker who finds it easy to knock off half a dozen lines of verse and, without another look, sends them off via her phone as contributions to the meeting. There is the ex maths and science teacher whose great loves are Italian drama and poetry and whose frequent attempts to emulate them only succeed in murdering the originals. There is the ex surveyor, who is living proof that a talent for strict attention to detail and accuracy, coupled with a complete lack of imagination, may be no barrier to professional advancement but do not make a writer or poet. The leader, a sweetly vague elderly woman who writes whimsical poems and almost no prose, is about to be ousted by the ex film maker, who has enough energy and drive to change the dynamics of the group, were she so inclined; however, she prefers to push full steam ahead with publishing hair-raisingly bad verse in conjunction with the photography group, which means we’ll be running before we have learned to crawl. The embarrassment alone would kill me.
I sit on the periphery and fume, cross with myself for having driven into town and used up the best part of the day on another futile mission. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have suggested that we do what other U3A writing groups do, become more structured and set challenges: 300 words, say, on a first line, a piece of prose, a newspaper article, a poem on a particular subject, even those blogging favourites, Twitter or Flash fiction. “No, I want to be creative and write what I feel like.” This came from the absolute dullest member of the group, the one whose readings have the power to send me into a paroxysm of rage, if he hasn’t sent me to sleep first. When advised “don’t tell, show; you could bring the story to life that way” (ha!) he answered, “ I am not looking for anyone else to read this, only my children when I’m gone.” What! If you don’t want to learn anything, why are you here?
I would say that the others in the group have been exposed to similar cultural influences as I have, be they books, plays, poetry, music, all of a reasonable standard. All are educated ex professionals. Yet, as far as I can tell, when it comes to their writing, all critical faculties are set aside. Are we programmed not to see the faults in our own work? If an amateur dressmaker makes a dress that doesn’t fit over the hips, say, does she give herself 'A for Effort' and leave it at that, or does she go back and alter the dress? And am I allowed to say that the dress doesn’t fit?
Criticism in the writers’ group is not wanted, not even the constructive kind. One very timid lady confessed that she would feel hurt if someone criticised her creations and several nodded their heads in sympathy. (Which one of you, who have stayed with this rant so far, is saying: "If fulsome praise is all they want, why don’t they blog?”)
If I sound angry, then yes, I admit to being angry. Angry and disappointed. We started out so well. Only four (incl. me) of the original members are still with the group; the emphasis is no longer on writing for the pleasure of it. We were supposed to encourage each other, praise, but also criticise our work and learn a little about the craft in the process. All we do now is puff ourselves up and although we don’t say “Wow! Brilliant!” we never say “could have done better”.
It’s time I wrote my letter of apology.