You will need to find and trust people — teachers, mentors, friends, spouses, partners, and lovers — who are unequivocally on your side. Not stupidly on your side, not uncritically. Unequivocally. Blind or uncritical support can only damage you. But you must have support, and it must be unfeigned.
– Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop
And, of course, it was fine.
Not that having foreknowledge of that did anything for the nerves. Is there some number of times I have to prove myself right before I’ll actually believe myself?
Tuesday night was my first time at any sort of writing group. As it was my first attendance, I mostly sat quietly and observed. Though really, I’ll probably do that for my second and third times as well. (Maybe fourth or fifth. Although at some point my impatience may outweigh my reticence.) As with any larger group (there were about 30 people in attendance), the levels of discussion varied quite a bit. And everyone wrote different things, though speculative fiction was in the majority.
We spent about an hour discussing humor, its function in writing, how to approach it. Here are some things I wrote down about it:
- Re: using a sense of humor to convey instability or opposition to social norms — does humor have to be funny?
- Humorous things:
- Rapid recontextualization
- Punching down (is this actually humorous?) vs punching up
- Comic drops
- Juxtaposition of dissimilar things
- Call outs (references)
- Call backs e.g. running jokes
- Anti-humor – the joke is that it’s not funny.
- Don’t try to write jokes. Write a character with a particular view of the world and let them loose.
- A great joke that undermines the character weakens the story.
- Humor vs comedy: Robert Mankoff – “All comedy has humor, but not all humor is comedy.”
- Humor is broad – whatever makes us laugh. But the laughter can make or reinforce a point you are making. It can be used to control tension.
- Comedy is intentional. The laughter is the point of comedy.
After the discussion, we split off into groups to do critiques. I won’t detail that bit as much here, but let’s just say that if you ever needed an example of highly differing tastes…
Another point that just got reinforced for me was this: most people don’t actually know how to give good feedback. It’s one of those things that people take for granted as easy or natural to do, but is a difficult skill that needs to be learned and practiced (just like everything else). But since you can’t make people be better at stuff, you can shift focus to the way that you receive and interpret feedback instead. Hence, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen should be required reading.
All in all though, I had a good time. It was nice to be around people who had similar interests, particularly since my day to day is very much solitary now. There are a few kindred spirits there, I think, and I’m curious to see how this building community thing will go. I’ve never actually had to do it in such a deliberate way before; I’ve always had a cohort of people around me, and we were always just thrown together without much planning (At least on my part. I imagine there was a lot of planning i.e. scheduling on someone else’s part, though probably not with the aim of forming friendships.). So I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to go about this, though I guess like any other relationship, it’ll be about listening and showing up. And I can do that.
It was one of my New Year’s resolutions to find more community this year, so I can’t even claim that I didn’t know this was something I needed to do. Still, I dragged and dragged and dragged my feet until this month because the idea of putting myself out there with a bunch of strangers prickles my skin with anxiety. (Why these things give me stomach-clenching nerves while talking to patients and families and running codes when I was doctoring didn’t so much is a whole different thing altogether.)
It’s easy enough to put off doing something you know you’re supposed to do; reassurances of tomorrow or next week can go on forever until you’re dead. But then sometimes it feels like the universe is telling you a thing (I know, I know, confirmation bias), and it just seems wrong not to listen.
When I went to MRK’s author event a few weeks ago, it was after I had spent a good several days mustering up the courage and stolidly ignoring my jerk brain. But the thing that really cemented it was that I went ahead and bought her books through the Left Bank website and indicated that I was going to pick them up at the event. Because then, the etiquette bit of my brain chimes in and is all like “But you said…” and it seems like it would be rude not to complete that social exchange.
So I went. And it was fine. And I did not die of embarrassment. Really, no one much paid attention to me (duh. and thankfully). Except. I ran into an author friend of one of my brothers-in-law. I had met this person twice before, I think — once two years ago and then once again almost exactly a year after that at consecutive birthday events. (Not my birthdays. My bro-in-law’s.) We reintroduced ourselves and got to chatting, and soon enough, he introduced me to a couple of his writerly friends and told me about a writing group they all attend. (Universe: Go find a community already. Sheesh. DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU?)
That writing group meets tonight. And I’m going.
I mean, I was feeling waffly up until this past weekend, but I have to now.
The author friend wrote me an email yesterday morning to check in and attached the pieces that are going to be critiqued. He went to the trouble of making sure I knew where it was going to be and where to park. He took the time to write such a nice, thoughtful email. And then etiquette brain was like, “Now you have to go. He went to so much trouble!”
Plus, I have told A, my sibs-in-law, this author friend, and now you that I’m going to attend. So, etiquette brain, who does not like broken promises and does not like people going to any trouble, won’t let me back out even though I still have most of the day to make myself nervous.
Thanks, etiquette brain.