UPDATED: Writing Workshops and How to Fail At Them

NEW UPDATE 6:09 PM THURSDAY: So I’ve figured out that they DID in fact list the location we went to on the meetup posting, and still apparently held it elsewhere. I’ve now contacted the group to see what in the world is going on. So for now, this remains a massive failure and disappointment on their part.

UPDATE 5:50 PM THURSDAY: So it appears that the place they were holding the meetup has two locations, and we were at the wrong one. (Oops?) If they specified which location, we didn’t see it; if they didn’t, well then they didn’t. Either way, I think this can remain as a blog about how write-ins can be held, because goodness knows I’ve seen more than a few make mistakes like we thought they had!

Yesterday, the 10th of September, was the second anniversary of the announcement I made saying that I’d been made Municipal Liaison of the New York::Elsewhere region for NaNoWriMo. I still consider this one of the greatest gifts and honors I could have had, and I am absolutely loving every minute that I spend with my Wrimos and my region. I know eventually I’ll probably pass on the NY::E torch to the next wonderful ML, but I won’t ever completely let go of those people, or those memories. I like to think that I’ve made an impact on my region, and that I’ve drawn at least a few writers closer to their craft.

Which is why yesterday was also such a huge disappointment for me: I saw something that I have excelled at fail before my eyes.

Since I’m an Elsewhere ML, I’ve never had to do too many in-person write-ins. My region is spread all over the state of NY, and it’s a big freakin’ state. However, I’ve done my best to touch base with regions around me and help supplement where they don’t have much. Last year, I was bouncing around between four different regions setting up co-events or in-region events, driving up to an hour and a half to attend some. I take my job very seriously, volunteer or not. I actually had to step in on an emergency basis last year for the region I lived in’s kick-off party, as the ML was ill and couldn’t make it.

And that’s where I’m pulling my experience from. I’ll explain how I did it after.

My father and I are both writers, and we’re both new to Virginia. So needless to say, we hopped on our friendly neighborhood Meetup app, and looked for writer’s groups. Luckily, Richmond and the surrounding area has absolutely no shortage of them. One of the largest, an organization known as James River Writers, is big and has a logo and everything, and does weekly get-togethers at a food establishment only a few minutes away from where we live. Perfect, we thought! This will be a great way to get together with some writers and meet new people and get some good feedback. Right?

Yesterday was the first day we could go. We RSVP’d on Meetup, told them we’d be coming, and got there early to eat dinner. We walked in with notebooks and vaguely confused/lost expressions on our faces. In one corner, there were two women with laptops, talking between themselves. In the other corner, two gentlemen with about three kids as satellites around them, also with laptops. No one greeted us, no one acknowledged that we were there, and there was no indication of the writing group meeting. Dad and I took a seat at a table relatively near the two men, and waited for our food.

Food came, we ate, we chatted about writing between each other. About ten-fifteen minutes after the posted start time, the two women leave. The men remain. The computer screen I can see does not appear to have writing on it, just Facebook. Still nothing.

We finish eating, and continue talking about what we each want to work on. No response.

Close to half an hour after the posted beginning time, a woman walks in and joins the men, clearly recognizing them and commenting that it’s been a while since she saw them. She looks at us–looks at me looking at her–but says nothing. Dad and I wait, I finish my water, and still nothing is said. Just past 6:30 (half an hour after the start time) Dad and I call it, and we leave. Still nothing is said to us.

I managed to maintain my composure until we got out of the building, which I think I should be commended for. At that point, even if the people at the table to my right were part of the writing group, I wouldn’t want to meet with them. That’s absolutely not how you manage a write-in or any kind, and certainly it should not be the onus of the new attendees to find the group they’re meant to be meeting with. Let’s look back at the kick-off I hosted as comparison.

*flashback sounds*

I was absolutely still pretty brand new to Ithaca at the time. I’d been living there since April, but still didn’t know my way around, and certainly didn’t know anyone. I’d been having some trouble with the Ithacan ML at the time, but she’d messaged me and I wasn’t about to leave the Ithacan Wrimos without a kick-off party. So I went down to the diner, where I’d never been before, all set up with table tents and my ML shirt. (Not the bright yellow one, since it hadn’t come yet, much to my dismay, but the blue one I’d gotten early on.) I set up several tents indicating that I was where the party was happening, and sat facing the door. As each person came in, armed with notebook or laptop, I’d wave or stand and ask if they were here for the kick-off. They’d say yes and I’d indicate for them to join me, and we sat and chatted. I explained who I was, and why the Ithaca ML wasn’t there, and that I’d be filling in for her. We chatted about what projects we were thinking about writing, and what we’d done in the past. It was friendly and open, if a bit stilted since they’d been expecting someone they knew and not me. As the write-in started, I organized the usual word wars and small bouts of chatting in the middle. We got food and laughed and had a fine old time. By the end, I think there were ten or eleven of us.

See the difference?

It’s not that hard to run one of these things. If I can walk into a building I’ve never been in, hold a write-in the likes of which I’ve never run before, for a bunch of people I’ve never met, I think one of the largest writing groups in Richmond can figure it out. If the individuals I saw weren’t part of the group, then where was the event coordinator? This is a weekly occurrence in the area; this wasn’t their first Wednesday write-in. The Meetup event said there would be a host there, and I saw no host. If the people we saw were part of the writing group, then the whole situation is absolutely inexcusable and bordering on the unforgivable. To see two people you didn’t recognize walk in with confused expressions and notebooks should have been the only indication you needed to invite us over. If you have a Meetup account, someone needs to be watching it, and telling people to keep an eye out for a new member. If you’re not going to have a host, then cancel the meetup. Don’t leave people dangling–particularly new people. Because now, my likelihood to attend anything that group puts together is exceptionally slim. First impressions are incredibly important, and James River Writers failed miserably.

On the other hand, I did get a message the same day from the Richmond ML, so perhaps I’ll have better luck over there. It can’t be any worse; she at least responded.

So if you’re reading this, JRW, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do to a very disappointed writer who was very much looking forward to this write-in.


7 thoughts on “UPDATED: Writing Workshops and How to Fail At Them

  1. While I can understand your frustration, I don’t think the blame is entirely on them. Weekly meetups sound like social gatherings to me, not write-ins. Did you check? Did you contact anyone to ask? Did you ask anyone *at the place*? It doesn’t sound like you spoke to anyone but your father, and I don’t think peering at other people’s computer screens is the most effective (or polite, or even socially acceptable) way of determining why someone is at a dining establishment.

    Maybe they do owe you an apology for not responding if you tried contacting someone to ask, but to apologize for not asking every stranger who looks like they’ve never been there before if they’re there for the writer’s group? Even ones who don’t approach them at all? I don’t think so. In fact, if I were part of this group, I would be offended and quite frankly would want an apology from *you*. Grovel? Are you serious? Because they didn’t come greet someone who happened to be eating at the same place? Someone who was probably acting kind of creepy and peering at my computer, at that? I should think not.

    1. The way the Meetup link is worded, it’s expected to be an event where you have a chance to write and connect with other writers. While it may not be a “write-in” the way NaNo runs them, it is still a writing-based event.

      When you RSVP to a Meetup, it’s sent to the coordinator so that they know who to expect.

      No, I don’t actually expect grovelling. That’s ridiculous. And as I said, I don’t believe it should be the onus of the new members to find the group itself. To not have signage, not to ask why newcomers are there, not have any indication that an event was happening, is not how any sort of event should be run.

      Nor was I “being creepy” and “peering” at anything. When we walked in, one of the men was facing away from me and as such, his screen was facing me. When I looked over, I recognized the Facebook main page.

      And yes, I’ve discussed the situation with the NaNo supervisors.

      1. “And as I said, I don’t believe it should be the onus of the new members to find the group itself.”

        Quite, that is what you said. And what I said (in significantly more words) is that even I, with my non-functional social instincts and inferior comprehension thereupon, know that more effort is expected of potential new members than simply showing up at a public place.

        In even fewer words, just to be clear: I am saying that you are wrong.

  2. As the “other person involved” I’m afraid I have to disagree with you as well Inventrix. The nature of MeetUp is to try and make integrating into new social groups as simple as possible. That’s why you notify the host that you’re coming SO THAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR YOU. We actually did make an effort to “look” like writers, notepads, writing tools, puzzled looks as we peered around the room. That’s really all any noob should be asked for if the group is inviting them in. The burden falls on the host in ANY social situation. That’s not new, that’s old school.

    I’ve been to one other MeetUp based event and the host was watching everyone who came in, looking for the people she expected.

    In the end we goofed since neither of us got the right address. But in the theoretical sphere, I think you’re wrong.

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