by Hannah Roveto
I acquired most of my vast knowledge of fool's gold from fiction, I think from that long-ago series on twins from different eras. Whoever wrote the slim volume on the twins during the California Gold Rush had to do some research, yes? Fool's gold shined like the real thing, but it sparkled almost too bright, and once you'd seen the real thing, you'd be able to tell the two apart forever. What more did I ever need to know?
When putting together or joining a writers' group, it is important to learn the difference between fool's gold and real gold, as well. This group did a panel at Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace this past weekend, and as one lovely man asked, can anyone know whether a group will work from the start?
Maybe not 100%, I grant you, but there are qualities to real gold you will recognize early. A group may shine bright, talk the talk, have grand plans; that's not what's important. Many groups screen potential members based on writing samples, which certainly is helpful. The truest test? Look for a glint of real determination.
* Rigid rules will narrow the field, your insistence on real time to be spent on a daily or weekly basis doing the writing, and on a bi-weekly or monthly basis to come together.
* Attitude will make a difference: positive, generous, cooperative, supportive. A confident writer knows that learning craft is something anyone can do, alone or in a group, but if you do have a group, you need to give and take, to be kind and honest. Strong, well-written stories get published, and if you all produce, you can each be a success. This is not one-on-one rivalry.
* Finally, a word on that glint itself. During different phases of my life, I "wrote some," I "liked to write," I "gave writing a shot and wrote when I could," and I "was getting more serious about writing." By the time I contacted the woman responsible for the flyer on the library bulletin board, I wanted a writers group because it was time to take my fiction seriously. It was time to write a full novel, a good novel, start to finish and refine it and get it published and be good enough to do it again. And again. Nothing against the old me, but you wouldn't have wanted her in your group. Perhaps I would have become a determined writer sooner, if I had been with other determined writers who encouraged me, broke down whatever fears and barriers kept me back, but who knows? In time, the motivation came from inside, real and urgent.
Once you have met a group of writers who might be the real thing, give it a go and give it some time. A few weeks, a few months. Make it clear you're operating on a trial basis and you're holding the bar high. There should be at least neutral chemistry to start, and you should sense the good chemistry developing with each passing meeting.
There you have it. How to tell fool's gold from real gold. Good luck.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
by Hannah Roveto