You've heard the metaphors before… about the "shoe" fitting and such.
Imagine, if you will, poor Prince Charming. Start the action before the ball: He's feeling pressure to get married. Dad's overweight and old, the old man has gout and diabetes, and time is wasting. Charming needs to get married soon, and have kids soon, so that the line of rulers can continue without wrangling over succession once he gets too old to rule.
He has a vision of the right girl--not a purely physical image, for he needs more than looks if he can make it through years of marriage and still be able to stand her. He also has a fear: what if she doesn't like him back?
So he goes to the ball, his hands sweating from nerves. Most of the women just feel wrong. Some fawn over him, and he knows a month of marriage to any number of these would either give him a big fat head or make him gag. But then the image he hopes for steps into the ballroom. She's maybe a little shorter than he'd imagined, but still pretty. Her hands are graceful, and she looks so out of place and timid. She's perfect.
Two hours of absolute bliss follow. She seems to like him, they dance together, they talk together like old friends, and he somehow finds himself sharing his innermost thoughts with her. But then his world is shattered--at the first stroke of midnight, she starts hyperventilating, grabs her purse off the table next to them, and runs off.
He chases after her, but she's in far better shape, and suddenly she's gone, leaving behind a mere slipper.
And now he's stuck. He knows what his ideal is, but she's gone, and he doesn't have a clue how to find her. So he takes the slipper around, spending weeks searching the whole kingdom to find that perfect person for him. Sure, he meets all sorts of other ladies, some of them quite pretty, some of them who even sort of or almost fit the shoe. But he keeps searching, willing to keep looking because he wants the right person, the perfect fit.
So goes the search for a writer's group. There may be any number of groups in your neighborhood. You might have a next door neighbor who belongs to one. But ANY writers group won't work. They are all different, and a writers group that isn't the right fit won't do you any good.
(BTW, this discussion could represent ANY creative group, whether painting, sewing, drawing, manga lovers, etc. I once joined a sewing group, but I was the only one who was sewing clothing--everyone else was quilting. It was not a fit.)
I realized last night, as I visited a local writers group for the fourth or fifth time, that though it was a great group of people, it wasn't the right fit for me. I could attend every single meeting from here to eternity, but it would be like dating the same person week after week, knowing our relationship would not work in the long run.
What do I want in a writer's group? I'm pretty picky, so here's my list:
1. I need other serious writers to attend. By serious, I mean that they write all the time, revise what they write, develop their writing beyond short vignettes. I am perfectly happy if they are better writers than I, so long as they are writing. It's kind of like tennis. It's far more fun to play with others who are at or near your skill and commitment level than play with people who are far more or far less skilled. Mismatches are no fun for anybody (except for writers in number 2, below).
2. The writers need to be there for both themselves AND others. Some of the more serious writers are only there as a ego boost, to flaunt their writing in front of other people. These writers take criticism and questions very poorly, and are nearly always silent about other writers' works (unless they open their mouth to say something outright mean). The other writers should be there for feedback, but also be there to help other writers grow. I find that feeling my way through the writings of others makes me better, and I want other members to be just as committed.
3. The group needs to do more than clap. I've been in groups that are only encouraging. And I certainly know that many writers, especially those on the beginning of their writing journey, need encouragement most of all. I don't. I need criticism. I need honesty. I need tough love. If a piece is not good, I need the writer of it to have some clue, and to ask for help. And the others in the group should be honest, without hurting feelings.
4. The group needs to actively encourage further writing. Perhaps it's an assignment for next time. Even better, it's an individual thing--"Now that we've read scenes 1 & 2 of this play, can you bring in scene 3 next time?"--the writers need a reason to come back, some level of continuity. The activity is what matters. I don't need a social group, I need one that inspires me to write more.
5. Writers need to attend consistently. Attendance shows commitment, and it allows writers to bring in novel excerpts, submit plays in chunks, and get feedback on a whole larger work.
Remember, though, these are my stipulations. You may need something completely different. Your slipper might not resemble mine at all. And that is fine. I have only found my perfect kind of group twice, and I would still be attending if these two groups if they weren't thousands of miles away. I have hope, though, that I will find such a group closer to home. I am willing to drive if it means I can find the perfect fit for my slipper.
So I will keep looking, shoe in hand.