Monday, December 7, 2009

Exchanging Ideas

LA COUPOLE, PARIGI --Anselmo Bucci-1887-1955 My husband spent five years working at Microsoft (the North Carolina division) before switching to his current corporation. It’s easy to get burned out at Microsoft.

I’d drive out there once a week or more for lunch with him. They actually had a food court in the building with real chefs.

The interesting thing about Microsoft was that nearly everyone there was genius material. And…different in appearance and demeanor (lots of long beards, flip flops, unusual clothing choices...quite a few nerds), but very nice. My IQ jumped just from being in the same building with them.

And when the Microsofties all got together—the ideas they bounced off each other and the information they exchanged was incredible. They fed off each other. I didn’t know what the heck they were talking about, but I was the good spouse and nodded along and said, “Right!” every once and a while in agreement.

At the time (2003-ish) I thought how nice it was to have professional peers to bounce ideas off of. I was struggling to find critique groups and writing organizations that fit my needs. And, five or six years ago, the online community of writers really wasn’t out there. I was online, looking for it—but, beside a few forums, there wasn’t too much there. And I was primarily housebound with my then-two year old daughter—I needed something online.

Now, of course, with the advent of social media and real-time conversations, we benefit from a worldwide network of writers. And the writing community is incredibly generous with its time. I can match my development as a writer to the point when the online community took off.

More difficult for me are face-to-face meetings. I’m a wretched club member. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not a follower. I'm crummy at meetings, I don't remember names well, I have absolutely no time. And I'm reluctant to socialize. My modus operandi has been to join writing organizations, pay my dues faithfully, and then become a lapsed member.

The one exception has been the Carolina Conspiracy, a group of mystery writers here in the Carolinas. They’ve all written much longer than I have and I love getting together with them and exchanging ideas about writing, publishing, and marketing. We all had lunch on Saturday and I’m sure the restaurant was fed up with us by the time we left three hours later.

I’m a lapsed member of several different organizations—and there are three or four I know I should belong to (Mystery Writers of America being one of them.) But I feel so much support from the online community that I don’t really feel the need to reach out.

But I’m beginning to reconsider the local writing groups. I'm waffling. I remember how much my husband benefited from his in-person exchanges at Microsoft. And how much I enjoy hanging out with writers in the Carolina Conspiracy. My children are older and it’s easier for me to get away.

If I belong to a group, would they be okay with me not leading? With not following? With just taking lots of notes and sometimes piping up a contribution? But then I feel guilty because it's really me taking and not giving as much. (Yes, I overthink things.)

I like to learn. I'm all about learning. I'm wondering if I'm missing out, somehow.

How about you? Besides sitting down every day and practicing the craft, how are you learning? Critique groups? Online? Are there places where you lurk online or do you get more out of an exchange? Do you belong to any local writing organizations?