Writers' circles

Once again, it has been brought to Plot Bunnies’ attention that there are ways to run a writers’ circle and ways to definitely not run a writers’ circle. We’re not saying we have absolutely the definitive, best way to run this type of group, and we’re not going to tell you how to do it, although obviously there are things you should and shouldn’t do if you want to keep your members happy (and your integrity intact). There are many ways of doing it, and there are many kinds of writers, who all have different wants and needs. If there were only one way to run a writers’ circle, it would alienate almost everyone (and frankly, most writers feel some kind of alienation, anyway - it comes with the territory).

We’re a reasonably large group, and we have meetings where there are five or six of us, and we have meetings where there are 13 or 14 of us. Either is fine, though more is usually better, as the discussions are more varied and there are more people to read out bits of their work. Those who read get instant feedback from the others in attendance and they are also then encouraged to post that piece of work on our website. (If you want to have a look around, do feel free to browse the public areas, where you will find plenty to entertain you. But please don’t get annoyed that you can’t access the private area - it’s private for a reason and only members can log in.) If members prefer not to read (or get anyone else to read for them) at the meeting, they can simply post on the site and get feedback that way. Both, we believe, is generally better. Instant feedback is different from more measured, careful thought, and both are valuable.

We all get on, and Brighton Plot Bunnies is a safe space, where no one feels intimidated, left out or unable to speak. At least, that’s what we aim for. If someone is painfully shy, they’re encouraged, but never forced. If they’re not writing much, again, they’re encouraged, not made to feel bad about it.

And this is what has led to this post.

Some of our members also attend another local group. They meet every week, on a different day to us. That’s fine. We have absolutely no problem with that, as we do not keep tabs on our members and they can go wherever they wish. We do not tell them what to do, and nor (and here is the basis of our argument) do we think we have all the answers. We have, over the years, of course, made it our business to find out about the world of publishing. We would also not be in a position to run Brighton Plot Bunnies if we did not consider ourselves to be well read. One can hardly, after all, be a writer without also being a crazily obsessive reader. Not possible. Can’t be done. So when the news came this morning that the person who runs this other writers’ group had told one of our long-term members that he was ‘letting the side down’ by not posting his work on anonymous forums, where it would be seen by any number of random people, Plot Bunnies got annoyed. Because what this person either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about is that by posting on a public forum this way, any future relationship you may have with trade publishers will likely be compromised. The work has, by definition, already been published. Some people get lucky. (Don’t get me started on E.L. James…) But there’s another reason not to post on anonymous forums like this. They are anonymous. The people there don’t know you, don’t know your writing, don’t know your reasons for writing, and have no qualms whatsoever about tearing you to shreds. They don’t care about you, because they have no reason to.

This is mainly why most of our website remains private, and also why our group is not inclusive. We reserve the right to refuse membership, but we will only do that if we have a very good reason for doing so. The main reason will be if someone doesn’t fit in or tangibly changes the atmosphere. We all need to trust each other.

That can’t happen on public forums. By definition, they are public, and anyone can sign up and join in the discussion. That’s not what we’re about. We’re well aware that most writers’ circles don’t have websites like ours, which we created to have somewhere to get feedback and to be social outwith meetings. Some have a website, others don’t, but of those there are, I’ve never seen one that’s quite like ours and we’re very proud of it. It illustrates well what we’re about and we pull no punches - our modus operandi is clearly laid out in the public area and if someone doesn’t read it and then finds they’re not invited back, they’ve no one to blame but themselves. We do not tolerate arrogance, and we try to keep everyone grounded, to stop each other from disappearing up our own backsides. That’s never happened yet, but there have been people we thought were already halfway there and so we have refused them membership. We’ve been very clear about this - we don’t simply ignore them. If we actively wish them not to come to another meeting (as opposed to not being bothered one way or the other), we never risk a scene. We email to tell them sorry, but they do not fit in. We remain polite, because that’s how it should be done (and fiver is also a martial artist, training under one of the best instructors in the country, in the only non-Chinese club officially endorsed from within China, and integrity counts for a lot). Likewise, if we really want someone to join the group, we will let them know this and will encourage them to come back. Some do. Some don’t. You can’t win them all, and if they don’t come back, it’s probably for the best, anyway.

It takes a certain personality to run a writers’ group without pissing people off, and if I am going to be late for whatever reason, I delegate someone to take charge until I get there. If I am not going to be at a meeting at all (which has happened precisely once in more than four years), the same will (and did) happen. If you want to run a group to make yourself feel big and powerful, forget it. That’s not why we do it.

Our circle is a tight-knit little group and we are very proud of Brighton Plot Bunnies. We have a diverse range of people and that makes meetings interesting. People come and people go, but the ones who stay? I’m sure they would agree that they stay for a very good reason.

Look, bottom line is, it’s not hard to run a group like this, all right? Not if you give a damn about people, anyway.