Monday, January 30, 2012

I never had Paris...

Writers have always sought community. There have been writer's colonies from time immemorial. Sometimes they are formal - other times less so. Some of the more noted are the famed Algonquin Round Table where George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley- amongst others sat around and cracked wise at each other's expense.

Paris for Hemingway was even more profound of an informal community with James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Glenway Wescott and Richard Wright all writing and supporting each other. The ex-pats read, critiqued and help shape the works we have grown to love over the ages.

One of the more notable communities - albeit in an interesting small way - was that of Truman Capote with Harper Lee. The support they gave each other was legendary. Not a community as we often think of them, but a community of mutual benefit all the same.

For most of us, we can't simply go out and hang with Harper Lee. So we seek colleagues and peers in various ways. Some of us have checked out local writers groups - and if that works, GREAT! I have never really felt comfortable in that setting. Perhaps the schedule intimidates me. Or the too friendly setting. Too close to be truly objective. I don't know. So I have sought out various online communities over the years with varied result.

One of the sites that I frequented way back was Francis Ford Coppola's site ZOETROPE. The idea is really cool. A lot of input is expected and a lot is returned. I found it to be fairly vibrant and helpful in the small forms yet not so good in long forms. For short form such as poetry - the reviewers had a pretty valid input and offered really solid reviews. However, for screenplays and novels - it felt less genuine. Too many times I felt that work reviewed was simply to show off how bright the reviewer was - and how astute they may be at the whole grammar thing. For anyone who has read my stuff - grammar is not high on my list of priorities. It simply isn't.

One of the more telling reviews I ever received was for a screenplay that was an updated version of the Love Bug (two years before the Lindsay Lohan version - and oddly or not I actually referred to one of the characters as a Lindsay Lohan type, but I digress). I got a scathing review of the screenplay by a guy who focused entirely on the format. He told me it was unprofessional and in long, breathless terms excoriated me for using a non-standard form and telling me that folks would not take my work seriously if I insisted on using such a childish structure. He went on and on and on belittling me about the indents, the fonts, the boldings... he dissected the whole bloody thing purely on format - not whether it was actually funny or not...

And several other reviewers jumped on that bandwagon. Ignoring the storytelling and focusing only reiterations of the first guy's assessment.

The punchline for me was that I was using a format given to me by a screenwriting friend within Disney. It was the precise format that they used internally for their own work-for-hire scripts. Pretty much turned me off then and there. And that kind of review was sadly not a singular event. That being said, there are still some pretty good writers on those sites - and from that point of view - I found it not without value.

The Authonomy site - is a little better in a purely peer-review sense. There are actually some really good writers on there that offer up steady reviews. The problem with Authonomy for me is that it is a competitive site. Writers are vying for rankings and hence it is a complete reciprocity game - you put my book on your shelf and I'll put yours on mine... Too many disingenuine folks who think too highly of themselves interact as if they are on Survivor and want to reach the final tribal council. You've never been spammed until you are spammed by someone who knows how to write!

As far as review sites, GoodReads however I have found to be wonderful. It is filled with practicing authors and the reviews make sense. I have a unique slant to my reviews in that I refuse to be negative. If I don't like a book - I simply won't review it. I don't think it fair to spoil someone's reputation based on my own personal opinion. I might simply have been having a bad day when I read it. But those books I like - I let the world know in no uncertain terms. Recommendations are usually really valid, and some really good authors are sharing their work there - authors such as Jackie Mitchard and Matthew Pearl.

For the nuts and bolts of the authoring thing -  I have found discussion groups on LinkedIn to be the ticket. It is not really a salesy group - but more attuned to discussing the industry and various things we all face as we try to get our work to market. Some really helpful folks posting there have influenced my decision-making on my marketing efforts. Plus they are professional and nice. Always helpful.

Twitter - for all its ubiquity - is actually quite good too. I have met some really stalwart writers from Twitter who are peers and able to share their wisdom appropriately and supportively. It requires usually an extra step - to a blog or web page, but that is usually paid off with content of value - a huge thing in my eyes!

For me, Facebook is pretty much a tool to let us know what a writer had for breakfast. And how they are doing at Farmville. There are some active groups there like the Indie Writers who are forging a new kind of community - which is awesome. But frankly it requires more time and energy than I am want to give.

The best community of all is when someone simply reads my book and writes me to tell me what they liked or didn't like. One on one is still my preferred. But the communities all play a role as well.

I just kinda wish Ezra Pound was still around. I'd hang with him.

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