Will those writers accept me? I haven’t tried their kind of writing before. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t wonder deep inside if we’re going to get rejected for trying to join a group we might be unfamiliar with.
Some healthy trepidation is normal when facing the unknown. While a certain amount of risk-taking is healthy and encourages growth in our abilities, throwing caution to the winds has never been a particularly intelligent decision. The dumb and dumber don’t usually survive long in any society, but they have no right to take innocent people out with them. Unfortunately, that very thing happens too often.
At very least, there’s no point in humiliating yourself when other people are quite often ready to do that for you. No point in stumbling home to your spouse or family, blinded by tears, and making them hate the organization, too, for having rejected you. But remember that it’s your talent and your life. You have every right to walk away with your head held high after the first attendance, to reject them.
Do Your Research
When wondering about a particular writer’s organization, do some research:
- Write, fax, call, or e-mail their headquarters organization, after you’ve found the contact information at the library or on the Internet, and ask about the requirements and if they have a membership packet to send out.
- If you know someone who’s already a member, ask some pointed questions but be polite about it.
- If they sound too negative, try to find another person who might balance their opinion.
Sometimes, local chapters can be a nest of pettiness and nothing constructive ever gets done. Sometimes, local chapters have members who sit on the sidelines, soaking it up, but never contributing. A neighboring chapter, however, may plan a long list of workshops every year and speaker sessions where a lot of people participate!
Ask About Benefits and Acceptance Criteria
You owe it to yourself to inquire about the benefits and acceptance criteria of any writer’s organization that interests you, in whatever genre:
- Smaller critique groups aren’t always looking for new members, especially if they’re not part of a larger organization. They’re quite content to stay small and closed, and tend to have one or more self-appointed, highly critical members who frighten away new people.
- Check the community bulletin board at the nearest library or ask the reference librarian if she knows of any groups of writers.
- Pick up the phone or send that e-mail to the national organizations after you’ve done a search on the Internet.
Some Organizations Are for Professionals Only
The organization might be very, very selective about who they admit to membership. You may have to prove your “professionalism” by having published at least one book (through traditional channels) or by having three articles professionally published within the past 12 months. In that case, there’s no use showing up at a meeting based on an abbreviated notice in a newspaper, only to be turned away at the door, or being allowed to stay but ending up shut out from everyone else’s conversation.
Maybe You Can Be an Associate Member
Most forward-looking organizations have an associate membership level, where newcomers are encouraged and mentored. But some have no time for that, or are too tied to tradition and the clique mentality of the past:
- All organizations are cliquey to an extent, some more than others.
- All groups have an insiders’ jargon which they delight in using, so as to exclude others not “in the know”.
- It can take a greater awareness than most members have to remember to include new members in conversations and presentations.
Many members of the writer’s organization may not even remember what it was like to be new, since their position or status in the society may practically have been inherited. Maybe they accompanied a parent or other relative to open meetings or on selected field trips, to give one example.
If you don’t try, you’ll never know how much help and encouragement you may be missing from not joining a writer’s organization.