Thursday, March 31, 2005

Thoughts on Paperback Writer Post

Zette's view on group dynamics.

I don't often comment on other posts, but I thought I would in this case.

Sheila's Post: (Post on groups and individuality)

I think the one point Sheila misses is that all of us are both individuals and members of groups at some time, and that you do not have to give up one to be a part of the other. Sure, there are some who will let the group take over their life and dictate who they are and what they should do, but that's a problem with the individual, not the group.

A writer does not achieve success as a writer within any group. They may achieve recognition within that group -- but (for instance) most readers can't tell a SFWA member from one who is not, and certainly can't tell you who the current president is or what he believes in. If you are looking for recognition within a limited group, if you long to be known as one of the important members of SFWA -- well, good luck. But it is not going to bring you success on the store shelves.

Success has to come from individual effort, and no amount of group joining or moving up in the ranks of that group is going to make a writer successful in publishing. It may give them an alternative to that success, but it does not automatically include it. Some writers may find that they have help within the group, but there are still plenty of people outside groups who make it to prove that it's not necessary. And there are lots of people outside of groups offering help, too.

And groups also come in different forms. SFWA is a big group, rife with individuals and disagreements -- just follow any SFWA election. Does that dictate what the writers who belong write? The Internet is filled with groups for writers. Check out the Webrings you can belong to if you fit one criteria or another and they do not affect what the person writes or how.

Going to a convention and meeting with other writers is a very 'in-group' feeling, but often points out the diversity within the group. I have yet to attend a convention -- from small local ones to WorldCons, where I was not present at some show of how different the writers present acted and reacted -- and wrote. There is no group mind within the sf/fantasy/horror genre. There are suggestions and there are always writers (whether part of a group or not) who will tell you that you must do things in a certain way, but for all of that most writers are distinctively individual, no matter how many of the in-groups they belong to.

Some people find it enjoyable to be part of a group. I like to spend a weekend with writers now and then, but that's as far as my participation goes -- well, except for FM. Should I count FM as a group? We (mostly) have a common goal to being published and that does dictate certain aspects of what happens at the site. People do behave in certain ways at the site in order to be part of the group. That still doesn't make them any less individuals outside the site or in their writing.

We are all individuals. We all write our own stories, for better or worse. If we go to conventions and talk to other writers and publishers it can sometimes help to get a better feel for the market -- but it does not dictate if the person will use that knowledge for their work. Sometimes just spending a few hours talking with other writers is a great fun. The only time I go to parties is at conventions, and then almost always only to the Yard Dog Press or Meisha Merlin Party. I don't even go to the company gatherings wherever my husband works -- and he doesn't expect me to. In fact, for years people thought he wasn't married.

But for a couple days out of the year I go and belong to an in-group that consists of other writers. Sometimes they are published and sometimes not. Something they are 'big name authors' and sometimes they're small press and ebook. It rarely matters, unless one 'individual' is annoying. Maybe it's like a spiritual get away for the religious group. I have always come away feeling stronger as writer, but no less an individual than when I went.

Groups are no more inherently bad than individuals are. Groups are not for everyone, but neither is the 'lone writer, working in the attic' good for everyone. Many people do not enjoy group dynamics and would find spending a few hours at a dinner with other writers the worst kind of torture in the world. I, on the other hand, have great memories of dinners with C.J. Cherryh, Jane Fancher, with both other writers and fans present. A really fun dinner a few years ago included Esther Friesner (you know it's going to be fun if she's there), David Drake, Brad and Sue Sinor, K.D. Wentworth, and Russ and me.

There are two types of people who are probably not going to be happy belonging to some groups. The first is the person who is easily intimidated by someone higher up the ladder saying 'this is the way to do things.' More often than not that person is trying to be helpful without considering the individual aspects of how people work and create. There is no one way.

The other type of person who will likely not be happy is the one who feels a need to be in charge. Not being in charge and not having the ability to sway the way others within the group act is going to be a very frustrating experience.

But here's the point about groups that needs to be stressed: Not everyone in the group wants to be a leader. There will always be that part vying to have the higher ranking in the hierarchy, but often those people would be that way no matter what group they are with and what power situation. Some people just want to be in charge, and since not everyone can be, some of those people are always going to be frustrated and angry -- but it is not the group that is at fault.

Some of writers enjoy flaunting that they belong to such-and-such group, Some will even tell you that you must accept, proclaim and protect some tenant that they hold dear to be part of a group. Unless it is that person's group, it's usually not true. Quite often it's more of a case of trying to win converts to her side than any real power. But if that's how you are introduced to the group, you may not realize it.

In the end, though, belonging to a group is only as good or bad as the individual makes it. Groups do not automatically change a person. And sometimes there is even something to be said for the sense of well being that comes with being accepted as part of a peer group. There is certainly little enough good feeling in the world of writers, and it's not like it actually hurts most people.

If you are the type of personality Sheila writes about who has to be in charge to be happy, then you are almost always better off staying out of a group or founding your own. On the other hand, if you're like me, sometimes belonging to a group affords a little fun now and then, but really doesn't have much else to do with your life.

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