Sunday, January 13, 2019

Off to a grumpy start, with flowers

Last summer I planted some nasturtiums in my garden but I did it late and they sprouted but not much else. So in the fall I dug them up and potted them to bring indoors. Now I have nasturtium flowers in the window.

My writing group has been trying to come up with meeting guidelines. We meet once a week to read what we've been working on and then reviewing/critiquing what we are listening to. There are plenty of examples online of such guidelines and various people in the group have sent copies around for our edification. Recently, someone thought we should finalize a set of guidelines for our group, that we could follow and also present to new members. So one set of guidelines was printed and distributed to the group shortly before Christmas, and about the same time it was decided (by the same person after discussion with a few of us) that we should close our group to new members.

At our annual Christmas get together a few people confided that actually, they didn't agree with that decision or with how some of the guidelines were worded, but did not feel in a position to object. I raised this at our next regular meeting, there was a discussion of the guideline document and the issue of closed membership, and an edited version of the guidelines was passed around via email for discussion. At our meeting last week some minor changes were made and the document generally accepted. Also, membership was officially reopened.

Through the process I changed my opinion from being fully in support of the guidelines to not wanting guidelines at all. I am in a minority of one, no one else supports my view. My viewpoint is, the fewer rules the better, we should only require rules for specific ongoing issues. While this document is intended to be only guidelines, nevertheless I have heard several people refer to them as the Rules and I think it's a slippery slope between guidelines and rules. I think that a solution to a particular problem often creates new problems while solving the original problem and one ought to be very careful in trying to solve a problem with a 'Rule'.

I asked the question, what is the problem we are trying to solve here and was told that it was twofold: too many people showing up for a meeting and thus limiting the time for reading and critiquing for each person, and some new members being disruptive due to no clear guidelines on how to comport themselves.

My view is, any new members who have been disruptive have moved on pretty quickly, they decided for themselves that they did not fit into our group, so why do we need rules for them? Also, we have been operating for a number of years without guidelines, why do we need them now? The behaviours deemed disruptive were arriving late and receiving cell phone calls during the meeting. The lateness issue was discussed at length, and while some people are bothered by it, others feel that occasional lateness can't be helped when travelling some distance to get to the meeting especially in the wintertime.

The obvious solution to me is just common sense: if you arrive late you may not have a chance to read if there are a bunch of people who arrived ahead of you. I also pointed out that we don't advertise and new members come by invitation only, so the inviter can fill the new member in on our current protocol in a brief conversation not requiring a written document (avoid lateness and turn off your phone or take your phone calls out of the room).

The discussion got a little heated and someone accused me of changing my mind from being fully supportive of the guidelines to fully opposed. I freely admitted that yes, I had changed my mind. Is that a problem?

Last night I was at a surprise birthday party for a friend and got into a conversation with another friend about "vision statements". She told me how she had wanted to join a particular local community group and was encouraged to do so, but when she was told that the next meeting of this group was devoted to coming up with a Vision Statement, she immediately decided this group was not for her. Having spent a career in various offices where Vision Statements were hammered out, she had concluded that they were a total waste of time and were of no use at all for busy groups just trying to get a job done.

I agreed with her heartily, the few times I have been involved in such exercises the discussion inevitably devolved into hair-splitting, and in order to achieve consensus the end result was a bland inanity. I have to say that that is my opinion of guidelines and rules as well. Such discussions are rarely useful and often result in creating new problems in place of the old ones.

I am starting off the new year being a grumpy iconoclast. Where will it end?

For a chuckle, here's a sign posted at my mechanic's garage:


Rain Trueax said...

I've never belonged to a critique group so can't say from experience but generally speaking, having been in many other groups over the years, if the group together didn't work out the guidelines, they aren't likely to be successful. For writing, since each genre has its own rules, it seems it'd be tough to mix together poetry, non-fiction, fine lit, romance, sci fi, mystery, etc. for any sort of guidelines.

As for how many get to read, it'd be first come first served, as you said, with a cutoff of how many worked for the time available.

Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting this. I have conducted many writing workshops and been part of critiquing meetings, etc. I found that reading one's work aloud to a group is a complete waste of everyone's time. The best and most efficient methodology IMO was to distribute one's work at each meeting to everyone (or email it but that didn't work out very well, too much long finger non-participation :) )and then everyone had time to evaluate and critique each other's work having read it a few times. I found 8-10 members the best. Work limited to 4 pages each. Poetry only to be read aloud. Critiqued copies then distributed to original writers.

My opinion. But it is wonderful you are getting together and doing this.


Wisewebwoman said...

I should add, Annie, sorry, that the work distributed was taken home by the other writers so that lots of time was dedicated to the critique and then returned the following week.


Annie said...

Rain, I just didn't see the point of writing the guidelines down. They get interpreted as Rules when they are written down.

WWW, I know that other groups distribute the works being critiqued in advance and I see the value in that. If I was going to suggest a change to how we run our group, that would be the one. Right now I think I'm in the dog house so I won't be making any such suggestions in the near future. Maybe I can put a bug in some one else's ear...