Dec 12, 2005

Death, Commas

. . . May I say something? It's about my writers group. My writers group happens to be associated with a major university in the city with Ivy League pretensions, except there seems to be no oversight or gatekeeping. Not to sound snooty or anything, but when I pay money for a babysitter, I really don't want to spend twenty minutes of my evening convincing a stubborn lady that her book on how to write a memoir should not have twenty-four chapters. Twelve would be better. And take out all the chapters on grammar. And organize the chapters. One very nice person was tactfully trying to tell this lady that her chapters were in no perceivable order. The lady kept defending herself. Finally I couldn't stand it any more, and I burst out with "You've got a chapter on death. Then a chapter on commas. Death, commas. Death, commas. Won't work!"

Should I start my own writers group? If any Philadelphia area writers are reading this, please tell me where you go for critiques of your writing. (I should probably save my pennies to attend the Creative Nonfiction Conference that is held at Towson U. every year in Baltimore. I went just before I had Jack, and it was incredible.) Or, if I started my own creative nonfiction writers group that meets in Delaware County, would you come?


Sugarmama said...

One does wonder why this woman attends a writer's group if she won't actually listen to any advice from the participants. By the way, have you heard of the "Blooker Prize," a new prize given to blogs turned into books (a.k.a., "blooks")? If you're a serious writer you may want to look into that. I happen to know about it because my husband works for an on-line publishing company that is sponsoring the contest.

susan said...

Alas, I live too far from Delaware County, but I can say that you've made me laugh out loud with "You've got a chapter on death. Then a chapter on commas. Death, commas. Death, commas. Won't work!" It's just so true. And now I"m trying to think of what other kinds of writing feedback could be similarly pithy and useful.

susan said...

I've been thinking about this post today (particularly since I"m about to start responding to students' final portfolios) and wondering how the blog figures in your writing process. You've been posting at least parts of things that you've been taking to your writing group, and usually a couple of comments (like mine on the last post) will say "Oh, I liked it" or "I liked X part of it." I always like to hear what people liked and where they liked it, of course, but I"m wondering what kinds of conversations you like having about your work-in-progress.

Besides, you know, whether death should come before or after commas :).

Scrivener said...

Oh, good question Susan. I was wondering something similar, even back when you posted the one about the dating service. I felt like my comment was inadequate, since you were expressly putting it up as something you were going to workshop. But I wasn't sure what I could say that would be more helpful--it's been a long time since I was in a workshop environment, to be honest.

I do love the "Death, Commas" line too. I would totally come to your writer's group if I were anywhere near you.

Lauren said...

Susan and Scrivener,

I don't expect anything in particular in terms of comments on my writing. I figure that something might come of it in some way, that's all. Both of you have commented helpfully on my writing.
I do think I could write a memoir, or at least a collection of related personal essays that spring from blog entries, with blog entries as rough drafts.

I think of myself as being a fast writer, but my dissertation director said this year that she thought I was a perfectionist with the diss, having to get everything perfect before turning in even the first draft. That really surprised me.

To get back to your question, I like to hear what really sticks with you or resonates with you, what seems puzzling or what needs clarity. I am revising Blind here and there for simplicity and clarity, mainly from comments of writer friends and the writers group.

The nice thing about blogger comments is that most of you don't know me or have preconceived notions about who I am. So you might see threads running through my work that I don't. It would be great to hear what you want to hear more about, what my strongest "voice" is, etc.

Laura said...

I am just the opposite of you, Lauren. I slap things together willy nilly, leaving out commas left and right. I know they should be there and I put them in later. My diss advisor said my lack of commas indicated muddled thinking. Boo.

I, of course, live in Delaware County, but not sure I could commit to a writing group while trying to write a dissertation--with commas. :)

Oh, and p.s. I would never buy a book about writing a memoir that had a chapter on commas. There are grammar books for that.

jo(e) said...

I find that just inviting a couple writing friends to lunch and the three or four of us looking at each other's work is way better than joining a writers' group where I don't know anyone.