Breaking Up the Band

This week I found out that my writing group is going on indefinite hiatus, at least in its current incarnation. Our mentor/moderator Tim is bowing out for the foreseeable future; my buddy Dave had already decided not to continue at all, and I recently realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend anymore anyway after our meeting night was changed from every other Friday to to every other Wednesday.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s probably for the best that we take a break and/or shake up the personnel; we’ve been going in one form or another for at least five years now (I honestly can’t remember when we started anymore), but over the past year our sessions turned more into hang-out nights than actual reading-and-critiquing sessions. In a weird way, I was totally okay with that: I really like everybody in the group, and it was nice to hear what was going on with my cohorts beyond the pages we were or — as was increasingly the case — were NOT showing that night. But the truth was that we were falling into a rut. Some of us were more productive with others, but to one degree or another we were all getting bogged down by personal circumstances, story troubles or flat-out lack of confidence, and our friendly bullshitting helped mask the fact that almost nobody was really getting anything done. And if nobody was getting anything done, were we really a writing group? I guess we now have the answer.

On the other hand, it’s still a bummer. I like the group as it is — or, more accurately, was. Even though I’m sure it’ll inevitably reconfigure in one way or another, it won’t be quite the same.  I’m sorry I missed what ended up being the final hurrah with Tim on Wednesday night, though previous to this, our last meeting before taking a break for the summer involved a surprise baby shower for me, so that was a nice way to go out from my perspective.  And in the end, maybe this could be the best thing for everybody involved as it jolts us out of the complacency that seemed to set in.

So what now?  Well, I’ll see what happens with the old gang — if nothing else, I’m sure everybody will continue to give notes on scripts we send to one another, and with any luck I’ll be able to make any future meetings if/when we reconvene (hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose).  Dave and I are also talking about maybe forming a brand new writing group — this one based in LA instead of Orange County, thus sparing me the hellish evening commuter traffic I would face every time I took the southbound 405 down into the heart of the OC.  We’ll see who we can recruit for that theoretical group.  Think John August is busy?

Anyway, this all brings up the ever-popular question: does a writer even need a writing group?  In my experience, absolutely.  If you can find a group of peers whose talent you respect and you get along with on a personal level, then it’s invaluable not only for the feedback on your pages, but also for the emotional — and occcasionally professional — support a group can provide.  Sometimes it’s just nice to be reminded that you’re not crazy or alone in this endeavor.

Well, it’s nice to be reminded you’re not alone, anyway.  You’re a screenwriter — of COURSE you’re bonkers.

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6 Comments on “Breaking Up the Band”

  1. “…this all brings up the ever-popular question: does a writer even need a writing group?”

    Are you trying to start a holy war in your comments? Jeez.

    When the group worked, it worked great. When it didn’t work, I went into a serious tailspin and had the most painful crisis of confidence I’ve ever experienced.

    I wrote the best script of my life in that group. I stalled out on two rewrites that may be sunk forever in that group.

    I discovered one of the best story ideas I’ll ever have in that group. Some of my favorite nascent ideas were stomped to death before they even saw the light of day in that group.

    It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and…well, you know.

    I will say this. I was in the UCLA MFA Screenwriting program for three years and made a few casual friends. In my writing group…I found a writing partner. So for that, if nothing else, I’m grateful.

    And the next group. Is gonna. Kick. Ass.

  2. WriterDad Says:

    “And the next group. Is gonna. Kick. Ass.”

    Amen to that!

    Yeah, there are definitely pros and cons to every group — ours was certainly no exception. I certainly had a few precious babies clubbed to death, too. But all in all, the benefits I received definitely outweighed the occasional negative experience. At least you had the sense to get out when you felt the balance shifting too far in the other direction.

    Kudos for slipping in that “Facts of Life” reference so skillfully… 🙂

  3. Hugel Says:

    To carry your theme, I’m looking to “reunite” my writers group. We never really got off the ground to begin with, which quickly led to fatigue in getting a solid group of people involved every week. I’m hoping that the summer rejuvenated people and got them motivated on their own projects enough to bring that attention to the group.

    We shall see how it goes.

  4. WriterDad Says:

    Hugel — I feel your pain. Before I had my good run with the current group, there were many false starts as I tried working with different combinations of writers. There’s something about the summer that makes people raring to go in the fall, so hopefully you’ll be able to take advantage of that. Good luck…

  5. William Says:

    You guys should pick up the new issue of Creative Screenwriting. There’s an article on writing groups in LA.

  6. WriterDad Says:

    Yeah, the day I wrote that post, I actually got it in the mail!

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