Salim Al Tuwaiya
What is Brisbane writers’ opinion on writers groups?
Perhaps the answer to this question requires interviewing a large number of writers, but in fact, meetings with writers at the Brisbane Cultural Centre, public library in George Street, Garden City library and other locations, and at activities announced by writers groups across their websites, confirm that there is a demand for these groups.
Here I put some questions for four writers (females) belonging to Brisbane Writers Group.
Opportunities and Encouraging
Do you think that belonging to a writers group supports the writer? Why?
Lee Finn the organizer of Brisbane Writers Groups, says, ‘I think it has several supportive benefits. It gives the writers the opportunity to meet with others who share their interests in writing and this contributes to their own identity as a writer. It is a source of information regarding competition details, publishing and educational opportunities. It allows group members access to the Queensland Writers Centre membership benefits. It is a chance to read their writing and receive feedback from other writers who are usually representative of a range of readers as well. It is also a means of encouraging the practical process of writing through providing a deadline for the completion of a monthly writing exercise. It is an opportunity for people to gain knowledge from other members of the group.’
Based on her experience, Berbie Harmsen says, ‘I do believe that belonging to a writers’ group supports the writer but it is mainly through networking, awareness of competitions and being asked for homework, which may not be what you would usually write. As I don’t try to write fiction, I have been concerned that what I write may not be interesting to other people, but I have found that if I get a positive response from the group, it gives me the hope that it may be interesting to other people as well as myself. There is the possibility of course that they are only being polite.’
Tatiana Efremova says, ‘Yes, of course. It is important to have a reality check from time to time. The group members are quite polite and supportive, but at the same time they can pin point mistakes and give preliminary reviews. Any outside view is helpful, if it is not nasty. Also writing includes a lot of things outside actual writing: publishing, dealing with agencies etc… Exchange of information cannot be overestimated.’
Kathy Tullett paves her answer by providing a brief definition of herself, ‘Firstly let me say, I belong to so more than one group. I am a retired person, and I write mainly for pleasure rather than commercial return and that may affect my attitude to writing in a group. However, I do appreciate recognition when it is given e.g. publication of poem, article or story.’ Kathy then explains her view in detail, ‘One of my groups gives excellent support – primarily their focus is on critiquing work already written and comments offered are always given in a supportive, positive manner whilst highlighting considerations for improving the article/poem etc. This group also shares information about various festivals, competitions and other interesting happenings as well as being social, sharing personal events, meals, and weekend writers retreats etc. This group is positive. Most members are retired and have time to write – Most have published works – some by the recognized publishers, others have self published. This group is supportive and accepting.
Another group works through “unity in diversity”. All members are over 50 and have very diverse views on writing, presentation, and ultimate goals. I find this group move competitive – not necessarily for a better writing style or presentation and as a result of this negative focus some presentations border on inappropriateness – in simple areas such as spelling, general layout, as well as unacceptable content “within the guidelines of reasonable political correctness e.g. presenting 1950’s attitudes to aborigines bordering on negative white supremacy. Because of this fragmented approach little critiquing is done and the focus is mainly on social interaction. However the group does emanate an energy which encourages the writer to produce a work for each session. Supportive? Some members are – some are self absorbed.
A third group works mainly by “social media” contact – The group interacts well, but once again whilst members are open, imaginative and intelligent there does appear to be a certain amount of competitiveness amongst some of the members. This group once again offers information on competitions, events, and social interactions. I cannot comment on supportiveness as I have not been involved with the group long enough. One negative is the large number of irrelevant e-mails received and an emphasis toward American spelling, language style and marketing – this does not suit my work – some of which is from cattle station and country situations where Americanisms don’t and won’t work. ever!’
Creative without any outside input
The second question was, ‘Do you agree with the view saying that creative writing in particular requires isolation while sharing ideas affects it negatively?’ As organizer Lee Finn says, ‘It is valid to say that writing requires isolation and introspection in order to come to terms with a complicated piece of work. However, I think a meeting of this kind – once a month for two hours – often provides a useful respite from the number of hours spent in isolation.’ It seems that Tatiana Efremova strongly agrees with Lee Finn when she says, ‘Of course, not. Unless somebody steals your idea… Literature is written for a reader, it is crucial to have a constant revision of how readers perceive the text. Ideas are born during interaction more than in seclusion… Well, we all are different, so maybe somebody likes isolation, but in general humans are social and interactive creatures. Why writers should be different?’
Although Berbie harmsen is not interested in creative writing her opinion slightly differs from opinion of both Lee and Tatiana, ‘I have never belonged to a creative writing group yet. As I understand it, the group that Lee is running actually do exercises during their meetings and that may be useful, as it is very easy to not bother to do any writing exercises when you are writing alone and you must learn something from them. If I was trying to write something creative though, I would prefer to be by myself. I don’t find it beneficial at all to be writing in a group. I wouldn’t be interested in sharing ideas either, but then I don’t try to write fiction.’ Kathy Tullett answers briefly and hesitates at the same time, but carries a critical opinion contrary to previous views, ‘I am ambivalent about this – some sharing can be useful but by and large most creativity simply “happens” without any outside input.’
What about your experience with Brisbane Writers Group?
This last question relates to the writer’s experience more specifically than others. Lee Finn, ‘I organize six monthly meetings and one weekly meeting for the group. I find every meeting to be different and to be interesting in many different and unexpected ways. Some writers come every month and we have built great relationships over the past eighteen months that I have been organizing the group. In this time, I have really enjoyed seeing people blossom into great creative writers. They usually have attended writing courses or have made use of constructive criticism from other group members and have gained confidence in their own skills through presenting work for feedback. They have been encouraged to follow their ideas, to set goals and to produce concrete writing for homework topics.
Other people may only attend our meetings for short periods, because they have come to find answers to specific questions and, once they have gained whatever knowledge they need, they no longer need to come. It is very rewarding for us to be able to provide the information or to direct them to where they can find it themselves. Short term members provide a good balance to the group because it means we always have some new members and the group remains dynamic and interesting.’
As a new member of Brisbane Writers Group, Tatiana Efremova’s answer is really interesting! ‘I am a very new group member, but even my first visit gave me a lot of support and ideas with the steps I have to undertake in publishing, promoting my book
etc. And my book is not even in English!’ whereas Berbie Harmsen says, ‘I have enjoyed my visits to the Brisbane Writers Group, but every time I go, it is a completely different group of people.
I have met people that I can relate to and some that I can’t, but I rarely meet them a second time and I find that a little disappointing.
I have applied for a chance to meet with a mentor since I have joined the group and that is more than I have ever done, so it must provide some motivation. I have also purchased a couple of books on improving writing skills, which I was told about there and I have noticed more about writers’ styles since I have joined the group.’
Eventually, after all, Kathy Tullett stresses the importance of positive return which earns from belonging to the group, ‘When I joined the Brisbane Writers Group I did not know what to expect. I am not a great user of social media, (in fact I am not on Face book or Twitter, and have few technological devices). I have found the many e-mails almost overwhelming. As an older person I prefer the human contact with others, and whilst there is obviously a place for computer generated groups I have not yet really gotten used to the idea.
Apart from that the group works well with openness and encouragement. Opportunities and events are shared, and once again the group has an energy and focus which motivates the writer to produce creative works’.