Monday, October 27, 2008

Further Notes on the Working Habits of the Monday Night Writer's Group

I did this for a pal who had a brilliant idea -- use off-the-shelf equipment to make ethanol out of green waste. He did the numbers and the research and shopping and it would totally work. He got a lot of support from some high-powered people but it never gelled, which is a damned shame. It should be a standard practice.

This is the second version I did. The first one looked fine but then my buddy stepped up his promotion and needed a colored version. When I laid some hues down on the original it became grotesque -- the features were asymmetric, the left foot was turned at a ninety-degree angle to the knee... it was a nightmare and at that point I'd given up drawing in favor of writing so my draftsmanship was at a low point. I decided to take a class but by the time I'd gotten good enough to do a halfway decent job my buddy had been forced to stop his campaign for personal reasons.

Interestingly, that's when Swill got going -- so when I started work on that my visual skills had regrown. Funny how life works.

So Deborah sent me an email suggesting that I give a few more details as to how the Monday Night group functions and is organized.

First off and most importantly: You need to be able to trust the people with whom you work, and you need to be trustworthy. We all put out our best efforts for everyone else. The goal is not to tear each other down or build each other up; the goal is to help each other produce writing worth reading. It's important to call attention to both the strong and the weak in a given submission.

It's also important to be able to tell someone when something isn't working for you without having to worry about hurting their feelings. The fact that we work hard on each other's writing helps this a lot. We all get a sense of gratification from each other's successes and we all know that the others really, really want us to be doing our best because we can see the effort that's being put out.

Not everyone thrives on criticism; such people would not be happy in the Monday night group.

Part of this trust is the result of a certain amount of familiarity and social interaction. We usually talk for a while before we get down to work. The resulting relationships are similar to the kinds that you form on the job -- you get a feel for the person even if you don't really know them that intimately.

It may help that we all wear glasses; they make us look smart and give us a common point of reference.

We typically meet for about two hours, from seven-thirty to nine-thirty -- and I typically spend anywhere from three to five hours reading and editing the week's submissions. As a rule of thumb, we don't stop on the clock. If someone needs to leave they leave but usually we go until we're done. Nine-thirty is typical but it's not unknown for us to go until ten or even ten-thirty. We're there to do the work.

Al produces about forty pages a week in eleven-point Times. I generally do about twenty pages in twelve-point if I'm not coping with a creative logjam, when I do less, or if I'm working on a short story as well as the novel, when I do more. Eleven point saves paper, twelve point is standard manuscript format. I'm thinking of going to eleven for group submissions for the sake of paper conservation. Linda and Deborah have varying submission lengths; Debora is usually the soul of brevity, typically around ten pages, and there are extended periods when she doesn't submit, while Linda varies in her output, occasionally rivaling or even exceeding Al in her productivity, sometimes skipping submissions entirely.

It's unusual for us to break except during Jewish holidays and the summer when Al travels with his family (man, I'm jealous of his kids) and Deborah has to deal with the rush of business that landscapers and gardeners get at that time of the year. Since my back won't let me take summer classes -- too much time in the classroom either sitting or standing -- so I usually collapse into a puddle of useless misery and alternate between snarling at the dogs and spouse and drinking too much. (This year's gonna be different, he said. I have a cunning plan with which to thwart me. I just hope it comes off...)

To repeat, the keys to making this kind of thing work are trust, commitment, and effort.

And finally. The amount of time and effort I've put into helping develop other people's work has paid an enormous dividend in my own abilities. I write as well as I do to a great extent because I've spent so much time trying to help others write better.

(Hey, Deborah! I hope that does the job...)

1 comment:

Deborah Kuchar said...

Hey Sean, this post speaks to the commitment and communication of the topic. Keep up the good writing, you inspire us all.