(Playing Catch-up, Part 1)
At the end of 2004, having seen Jeffery through his first difficult year as a transplant recipient, I made the decision to join a writer's group in January, 2005. As it happened, I joined two. Not only did I join the West Ashley Writer's Group (WAWG) which met at the Barnes and Noble, but I also joined the South Carolina Writer's Workshop, (SCWW) now known as the South Carolina Writer's Association (SCWA) Charleston Chapter, which met at the now-defunct Books-A-Million. It was a huge leap for me. I had never belonged to a writer's group before and I don't really count the creative writing class I took at Seminole Community College in 2001, taught by a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. It was a fine course and it got me acquainted with writing prompts which was a good thing, and we had to read the results out loud to the class, but we didn't read unprompted, original works which I was really interested in doing.
Both of these groups helped me immensely. WAWG, from what I understand, is the longest, continuous-running writer's group in the Charleston area having been formed in 1998. Wow! I just did the math. That gives us twenty-three years in existence. Not bad. Anyway, it was free and included an eclectic group of writers from journalists and poets, to fiction, non-fiction, screenwriters, and songwriters. Sometimes the songwriters would bring a guitar and favor us with an original. The rest of us would type up a piece and bring copies to hand out so the group could follow along while we read them aloud. Keep in mind, this was long before Zoom. I can't tell you how much reading aloud has improved my writing. I wish every writer would get that message.
Being a group encompassing the state of South Carolina, SCWA is a paid, members-only organization. They hosted an excellent annual writer's conference which usually took place in Myrtle Beach. I attended two of them and would have attended three had my mother-in-law not become fatally ill and been hospitalized the weekend before. They published two of my short stories in their anthologies, Catfish Stew and The Petigru Review. I became the Charleston Chapter leader at one point and kept the job for two years before I passed it on. Our meetings were similar to WAWG meetings in that we would bring copies and read aloud.
I gave up SCWA during a five year writer's block that was getting me nowhere, but still attended meetings with WAWG occasionally, mostly to get out of the house and possibly hear a live song or two. Plus, the Barnes and Noble group was the less serious of the two, and we could always count on laughter.
Coming back to SCWA, Austin, a young fellow who helped WAWG figure out how to Zoom in the early days, took over the Charleston Chapter of SCWA. They held an online, three-day conference in April that I did not attend, but was attended by two of the B&N group members. They both had glowing reviews of the conference and signed up as members. Since I have started writing again, I figured another writer's group couldn't hurt me either, so I rejoined as well.
I've only attended one meeting so far, but I must be honest and say I felt a bit cheated. Austin is a wonderful facilitator. He is able to articulate thoughtful questions and insights on the works presented in a way I've rarely heard from anyone. But the procedure calls for everyone to submit their work ahead of time for the participants to read on their own and then present their thoughts, suggestions, or comments about the others' pieces. I think the opinion was that there wouldn't be time for people to read aloud in the two hours allotted. As it was, Austin was about the only one with much constructive criticism to give and the meeting ended early. Guidelines asked the writers to hold to a word count of 2000 or less, although one writer submitted three full chapters of his new work. Mine was just under 1600 and none of the rest even came close. I think there would've been time for us to read aloud. As I said, I felt cheated.