When I left Utah, one of the few things I really regretted leaving behind (other than family--have to get that disclaimer in here) was my writing group. I'd been going to it weekly for more than four years, and I had no idea what I'd do for writerly contact when I moved out to Maine. For the first three years or so, the answer was simple: nothing. I wrote on my own. Once I was finished, I'd send what I'd written out to some alpha and beta readers, and then I'd revise my books in great big chunks. This worked okay, but I really missed the week to week camaraderie of a writing group. People who are there to tear you down when you're getting too puffed up, and build you up when you start getting too down. The chance to read and evaluate other people's work on a week to week basis is just as important (I think) as the chance to get your own work evaluated. You learn something from critiquing others that it's difficult to learn on your own.
So I went and made a writing group with a few friends.
And for a year and a half, things went pretty well. We skyped every other week, and for the last few months we'd upped it to every week. It wasn't as good as face to face, but it was pretty darned close.
It's done now. Not from some messy break up or anything. No yelling. No hurt feelings (that I'm aware of, at least). Just . . . people getting busy. We lost one member a while ago to that, and when a second had to bow out as well, it was down to three of us. I didn't feel like three was a doable number to continue the group.
I'm sad it's done, but I'm not upset at all at the members who had to bow out. They have genuinely busy lives, and real life has to trump writing life. It's the way it goes. I'd do the same thing if I were in their shoes.
Is it done for good? Not necessarily. I'm still open to a writing group, and I know of two other excellent writers and critiquers who are open to it, too. Skype lets you meet wherever--it's just a matter of coordinating the times. But at the same time, I'm not just looking for any old writing group member. I don't really care about the caliber of their writing. I'm willing to read just about anything, and give it as good a critique as I can. No--what I really care about is their critique of my work. Having a writing group each week where I put in a solid critique on someone's writing, only to get back a "This was really good" comment in return is less than useful. I've also had critiques in the past (not from writing group members of mine--but from creative writing classes, which functioned in much the same way) that ranged from "I'm not your target audience, so I refuse to critique this" to "You must be a terrible person, if you thought a character like this up." So yeah--I don't just want any critiquer.
But how in the world do I manage to find a good critiquer long distance? When I was in Provo, it was much easier--there are a ton of writers in the area, mainly due to the fact that BYU has a really strong sci-fi/fantasy-friendly writing program (despite their best efforts at times to kill it--silly BYU). The university where I currently work also has a writing program, but it's pretty anti-genre fiction, which puts a damper on using it as a place to find more readers.
And I really don't want to take any friends into my group unless I've seen their critiques first. But how do you tell a friend that? "Yeah, I know we're best buds. But I want you to critique this chapter first, and then I'll tell you if you can join my uberleet writing group." Something tells me that might not go over so well.
Anyway. Writing group. It's not totally dead yet. We're going to try (hopefully) to reconvene in January. I'll be sending out some feelers to various contacts to see if any of my already tried-and-true writing group members is interested in getting the band back together. (Actually, if you're reading this, and you're a former writing group member of mine, consider this a "me putting out feelers to see if you want to join a Skype writing group." Email me if you want to chat.)
Actually, if any of you reading this might be interested in joining a Skype writing group, contact me. Just be aware that before I'd be willing to add you, I'd like to have you critique something. And you have to promise not to be offended if the whole writing group thing doesn't pan out.
In the meantime, at least I still have my alpha and beta readers. And on the plus side, I'm at the revision stage of a book, not the first draft stage. There's some time to find more group members. We'll see what happens. Stephen King's out here in Maine. I wonder if he's looking for a writing group member. :-)
Then again, maybe I'll just accept a job as a caretaker at an isolated hotel that shuts down for the winter. I could bring my family, and I could have my son ride through the halls of the hotel on his tricycle. Yeah. And I'll spend every day typing on an old fashioned type writer. Except I'll make some time for some fun, because after all: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
That's the ticket.