I have been a member of a writers’ group for about 12 years.
What happened was a previous group member, who left the group due to leaving the area, returned to the area and came along to a group meeting with a view to re-joining. At the end of her visit I got the impression she was not particularly happy and she revealed that the group now was not one she wanted to re-join.
On exploring further she said she had not felt comfortable in the group and it was very different from the group she had once belonged.
Being so close to the group over the years it wasn’t anything I recognised but, on reflection, I could see that the group was different. In fact, looking over all the years, I feel the group has been through a number of phases, each displaying similar, yet subtly different characteristics.
So what changed? I can only put it down to the people. Like most writing groups, in fact like most social or community groups, the membership changes frequently over the years. Existing members leave the group and new members join. With each change there is a subtle change of group character, perhaps even group direction.
So for example in our group, there are only two remaining founder members from an initial membership of around 12. Over the years I guess we have seen over 40 new members but are now running at 12 (12 seems to be a recurring theme), so somewhere along the line we have lost 40 members and I assume for a variety of reasons.
In the early days, the group was formed after a creative writing course ended when there was a will to continue meeting from the course delegates. In those days the group was comprised of very mixed ability members, some who were naturally “good” writers, but most just beginning to learn the art. In fact the tutor of the creative writing course also joined the group. Always though, we had a philosophy that the group was open to all, of any ability, and we also saw one of our remits to promote creative writing.
The group started very informally. Each week, members would bring along some writing, read it and get feedback from the other members (a core activity of writing groups I hear you say). However, the informality did not last as we had to hire premises and gather funds to pay for this, resulting in a “steering group” being formed and a secretary and treasurer being appointed and subs being collected. At this point, the creative writing course tutor resigned as she was only interested in a very informal structure, so a subtle change, the increasing formality of the group, led to other change and the loss of a member.
As the group progressed a very strong character emerged who was very forthright with her view. Whilst the majority of members tended to ignore her, a couple of people decided to leave the group as they felt uncomfortable in her presence. Other people joined and amongst these were also a couple of very strong characters. Despite having now three strong characters in the group, we seemed to progress amicably, and more and more “good” writing was produced.
We also branched out into running a writing competition (part of the promotion of creative writing) and ran some workshops, employing the talents of local writing dignitaries. However, a rift occurred when one of the members, showing some individual initiative, arranged a trip to a well-known writer’s aristocratic home for the group so he could talk about his newly published book. Some members of the steering group were annoyed that this had been done with the authority of the steering group and the net result was we lost a couple of members through the incident. Again volatility of the membership, each change altering the balance of the group.
Without giving a blow by blow account of all the comings and goings within the group, it is fair to say that, looking back, the small changes in the members has had subtle changes on the group. The main areas this has impacted for me is the group dynamic (how people respond to one another), the differences in the writing presented (each new member having their own preferences in what they write) and the aims and objectives of each individual members (some wish to be published, others don’t, some are serious about improving their writing and some are happy to be part of a group, etc.).
Looking at what I have written so far, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the group has had a traumatic existence denoted by much conflict amongst members. No, this isn’t the case. By and large the group has been a happy place for people to meet and to learn more about the written word. What I’m trying to point out is that groups change subtly without you realising and as our returning potential member said the current group, “was very different from the group she had once belonged.”
So, is the changing nature of groups something you can identify within your writing group? If so we would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.