Sunday, March 7, 2010
I belong to a writers' group that meets at my house once a month, generally on a Friday evening. There are between seven and 10 of us, and we sip tea, eat cookies, and read from our works-in-progress. It's all very elegant, very civilized and convivial. Some of us have been published while others have not, and we write fiction, memoirs, history, short stories and short shorts. This month, we're all going to present six-words novels. That particular literary pursuit, legend has it, was started by a challenge thrown to Hemingway. He responded with, "For sale: baby shoes, never used." Now the genre has its own magazine and websites and hundreds if not thousands of aspiring authors.
I've found these monthly gatherings both helpful and reassuring. Writing for me is a lonely business conducted in a void, and it can be years or decades before something is published, read, critiqued. Now I have a safe--and kind--place to display my work; I have friends, we share a pursuit and a passion, we are well-intentioned and not too critical, we are encouraging and enthusiastic. And I've discovered something I never would have suspected: reading my work aloud makes me a better writer. The sound of my own voice and my own words gives me a new perspective to work from: the rhythm of what I write.
I've always known that there's a lot more to the trade than words on paper, but it's only recently that the phonics of it all have begun to come into play. There's a cadence that is short of poetry but still meaningful in good writing, and that, I think, is something one does not realize when reading to one's self.
We are evenly split, gender-wise, but here's something interesting: the women have an easier time than the men writing about their experiences and emotions. Men tend towards the prosaic--masculine words and subjects, closer to a frontal assault than to a seduction. We rarely deal with feelings; the women in the group almost exclusively describe inner tensions, tenuous situations unseen to the naked eye. The emotions are veiled but easy to recognize. The men want action. Give us steak, not soufflé.
The group just turned a year old. Some have stayed, others have dropped out, and new folks keep coming all the time. Thanks to all, to Paul, Dennis, Gretchen, Suzie, Colleen, Vaughan, Daniel. You've made my life better.