A writing group–ours, anyway–does not have to function optimally. In fact, it should be a little disorderly and chaotic. It’s a writing group, whose purpose is to foster individual creativity. Kind of a dowdy old term, but useful.
That objective–fostering creativity–includes permission to think loosely, freely, a little or a lot out of the box. The group dynamics I’m interested in, as the leader of the group you read about in the very first post (“What book under whose bed?”, now found on the left on a page of its own) are the dynamics that encourage invention, not convention.
I’m afraid there’s nothing neat and orderly about that.
Of course it’s necessary for a writing group to have some rules, like being punctual (we try our best), giving appropriate critique, submitting work on deadline. Yet it’s essential to allow latitude too. I do some occasional table-thumping in my effort to keep the members from interrupting each other too much or digressing into chatter, but I do not want to squash anyone or even lean too hard on anyone. There’s no reason to do such a thing because “organizational optimization” is of no vital importance in a writers’ workshop.
It’s not the organization that counts in this situation. What is important–and shows in the work–is that the members of the group feel safe, supported, involved, nourished, mulched, weeded, and watered. I want them all to grow, and much as I long for at least some of the rules to be followed, I would not care to sacrifice all or even most of the uncontrolled outbursts that often turn out to be the genius moments.
Yes, sure, I have to whack the group down every now and then or risk the eruption of complete chaos (though chaos can be fun sometimes, I admit), but in the matter of group behavior we’re all concerned with keeping a reasonable and respectful attention on the speaker, and with fostering the amazing critiques that just keep coming.
Most of all I want each writer to feel unconstrained in her experiments with her work. It won’t do to have organizational goals if the writing goals don’t come first and foremost. Artists of all sorts are a messy lot, and though we need to learn discipline, we must then unlearn discipline in order to come into our most powerful originality. That’s the long-range goal for every member of the group: learning to work artfully out of her own originality.
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