Within minutes of walking into the stuffed room at the local library, I realized that I was the dumbest guy in there. This should give me pause, this should make me wonder if I've stepped into something I shouldn't have. Perhaps it's best if I just turn tail and run before I ruin whatever great literary work they are about to discuss. They will be talking Tolstoy and I will be understanding Dr. Suess. But feeling good in my caveman intelligence I decided fuck it because that's what dumb guys do. If I had a beer I would have given it to my buddy and told him "Hold my beer, watch this."
There were a series of tables arranged in a large square formation, the chairs were pushing almost up against the walls when you sat down. I made a weak joke, the kind that says "I'm no threat, I'm just here to take whatever literary scraps you guys throw out. I'm the racoon of the writing world, don't mind me." I had to grab a chair from the closet and make the decision of who's space do I want to funk up.
It's always weird coming into a new group. It's tough breaking in, especially when it's outside of your comfort zone. You would think that I would be quite good at this and sometimes I am. But I'm also sometimes that 7-year-old boy that's new at school and just wants someone to sit with me so I don't stick out so much. There was no space at this lunch table so I put my chair in the corner and told everyone to not mind me, I"ll be over here by myself.
The group laughed and this was good. I had gotten them to laugh twice in 3 minutes and this bodes well for me. They quickly made space for me at the table and handed me some print outs. I was now part of an official writing group. I was doing it, I was making progress! I texted my wife to let her know that I am an official writer now. She quickly pointed out that I've actually been published and could have called myself a writer for a long time now. Her constant encouragement gets in the way of my low self-esteem and I find that annoying.
The group leader, Jim, welcomed me and the few other new people that had joined this group. He laid down some ground rules but in a way that said "We are going to criticise the shit out of you and it may hurt. But it will be wrapped in warm hugs and donuts so you won't even realize when the needle goes in." I haven't been this excited since my son was born. Hell. Yes.
And then we began. We reviewed 2 works that night. They were read out loud and then the other writers voiced their thoughts on what was just presented. It was a no holds bared critique but I was smiling ear to ear and so was the person that had written the piece. She was furiously taking notes, she was marking her copy of the story up so much that it had basically just become a red page. She was laughing, I was laughing. And the advice was just so....damn...good.
Here's the thing about writing, at least for me. It's terrifying. Every piece takes a bit of you with it. It's like a Horcrux but good. The only person you have to kill to imbue it with life is yourself. Then to send it out into the world, to want to send it out, makes you want to take big gulps of moonshine and close your eyes tight. It's like jumping out of an airplane and not being sure if you grabbed the parachute or the backpack with the anvil. But here I was with all these people taking that leap together and Jesus Christ was it just so awesome.
They talked about things that I knew about. They talked about things that I was excited about. Their excitement made me excited. The way they jumped on the technical side of plot development and character growth. The way they pointed out themes and the voice of the story. Over the last 6 months, I've tried to throw myself into writing, to truly become better and actually do something with it. I want to be a writer, I want to be creative. And here, I found people using the terms and vernacular of every work I've done since Bacon Hoss started going to preschool. It was like I was jacked up on cocaine and caffeine while cliff diving.
The story that we were "workshopping", that's a writers term--I can use that term now because I'm a writer--was chopped and gutted. Of the 8 pages, 3 were pretty much cut and laying in the pile of "why did I ever write that to begin with." The rest of her story was better for it. Then we started the next one. Again, brutal honesty without malice and the piece came together wonderfully.
Here's the thing about being the dumb guy in the room. Sometimes you want to be that guy. You need to be that guy. Because at the very least you are surrounding yourself with people that know what the hell they are talking about. The lessons that can come out of a situation like that are invaluable. And maybe you are not so much the dumb guy anymore the minute you realize that. At that point, maybe you just become the guy you wanted to be.
At the end of the meeting, the leader asked our background and what we wrote. After my many jokes, I don't think it surprised anyone that I wrote more humor. One of the other's asked who had works published before and I actually raised my hand. Many didn't. I need constant encouragement when I write, it's like I'm a contestant in a beauty pageant. And as I looked around and heard people speak I realized that maybe I wasn't so ugly in the swimsuit competition. Make no mistake, I've got the writing love handles but some vaseline just might be able to fix this up.
I left the meeting feeling inspired and creative. And talkative, very very talkative. I can't wait to go home and tell Hossmom everything, every detail, every piece of writing that was discussed. I'll talk so much that she will gradually fall asleep and that's ok because now I have other people to talk to about this. It's because of her you know and I think she has very much earned her rest.