Muriel's Writing Journal

5/4/02

"Try writing a journal," Dick said, as a remedy to my Writer's Block. So here I am. I'm not sure that I want to make a commitment to any kind of regular diary-like thing. I mean, what if I get past this block, then find myself wasting all my writing time on the journal? Thanks, hon.

Ho-hum, I'm not writing now, so what's the harm? Better to write this journal than nothing. At least it'll keep my typing speed up.

So why, you ask (you did ask, didn't you?) are you posting something personal like this on the Internet, for crying out loud? I don't know, to keep me honest, I guess. If I make a regular thing of it, and can get a few people to read it, then it'll feel like I have a deadline every week to produce...something. Deadlines can be your friends.

So how long should one of these entries be, I wonder?

This long.

5/11/02

The post office was not kind to me this week. Three rejection letters from three different markets. That's most of what I had out in the mail. I put them back in new envelopes and sent them out to other markets lower on my list. Oh well.

I outlined three, count 'em, three new stories this week. Didn't really get down to writing any of them, but hey, it's better than nothing. Now I can spend my week pretending to be picky about which one I'll stoop to actually write. Such luxury to have three stories ready to go. Gawd, but I am slothful.

While I'm getting ready to start writing again, I'm still attending, with Dick, a weekly writer's group. Sometimes I feel like a total fraud at these meetings, since some of them are so serious about writing, while I just dabble at it. But I'm nominally the group's administrator and have to keep coming to the meetings. Or what? It's a pretty stupid job, admin of a writing group. I keep an attendance list, for what reason I don't know. I make sure with the people at the library that we have the room reserved for next week. I keep track of who has what stories and critiqued it. It gives me something to do other than the writing, which I've been pitifully lax at lately.

Dick, on the other hand is quite a good writer, much better than I am. I suppose I'd have quit by now if it weren't for him. Thanks, love. One day I'll make you proud. Just not this week, though.

5/18/02

The leader of my writing group, Frankie, is a troll. Machida turned in a perfectly good story last week, and he kept harping on one stupid problem after another. I liked that story. I still like that story, despite Frankie's ripping it to shreds.

Maybe I'm having a hard time finishing a story because I'm afraid to submit it to the group. But why bother wasting the time on the group in the first place if I don't submit something? Damn you, Dick. Why did you ever get me into this?

I've finally selected the story (of my three outlines) that I want to work on, but first I have to do some research. It's a modern take on an old fairly tale, but I've moved it to current-day Seattle, and I've only been there once. I suppose I could have set the story in a city I'm more familiar with, but then I wouldn't have the neat excuse of needing to do some research, and I'd have to get down to some real writing. But the thing is, in my head, this is now my "Seattle fairy tale" and to set it anywhere else wouldn't seem right.

Dick says I'm just delaying, and I know he's right. I just need to get to work. So I'll stop here and start my Seattle fairy tale.

5/25/02

The Seattle story is moving. Finally. I've written an 8,000 word first draft, then added another 1,500 words in a revision. Now I seriously need to whittle the thing down to a more reasonable length. Dick says it's too long for the small amount of plot I have going on, and I agree. You know, it's probably a lot harder to cut 3000 words than it is to write them in the first place?

In the writing group, Claudia and George submitted stories last week to be critiqued that totally blew me away. I hardly knew what to say to improve them when they're so good already. It makes me wonder if I can ever really be a writer when there are so many really good undiscovered writers out there like Claudia and George. What chance do I have?

Frankie, of course, put down both stories. Some of what he says makes sense, but I think he's just a sadistic hardass with these critiques. When I read and enjoy a story in a book or magazine, I'm never as tough as he is. Gawd, if I was, I'd never enjoy reading another thing. He's just mean sometimes.

Dick submitted a wonderful fantasy voodoo story at the meeting for next week, so we'll see what nasty comments Frankie can come up with for that one. I'd like to practice a little voodoo of my own on him. He keeps making "suggestions" for other people's stories for no good reason then he likes to think he's some expert and knows better than anyone else in the group. I don't think he's any better at writing than anyone else, and some of his comments can be downright harmful, if the author takes them to heart and tries to "correct" their story to please him. I think he's dangerous, if he can make other writers tear up a good story and start over.

I should make a fat little voodoo doll with his face on it, then stick a pin in its mouth. He just doesn't know when to shut up.

6/1/02

One of the people I liked best in the writing group, Deborah, called me and said she wouldn't be back. She thought the group (and I know she really means Frankie, but she doesn't want to single him out) is not really helping her writing with constructive criticism. She thinks some of the critiques are harmful and not very helpful. Instead of our little group, she's thinking that a class at the Community College in the fall might be a better choice, since there will be a real teacher, and not just a bunch of us blind leading the blind.

At the meeting, I told the group what Deborah said, and let everyone know it was Frankie's confrontational critiques that really pushed her out. Frankie acted all surprised, like he had no idea that shredding everyone's stories wasn't the right thing to do. How clueless can a guy be, really?

So after that, you'd think he'd be a bit more restrained with this week's critiques, right? Nope. He did his same little act, while sort of apologizing at the same time. He was saying things like, "I really wanted to like this story but..." and "It's just my opinion, and I could be wrong, but..." and then shredding Dick's story, just like always. It's not like he's some expert or that he has any real insight into the story--he just wants to rewrite everything anybody else submits.

Everyone, not just me, kept telling Frankie that he was doing it again, and he should knock it off. I said I'd quit the group like Deborah if he didn't lighten up and find something nice to say once in awhile. I think I got a lot of support from the other members, but I don't know if we're getting through to Frankie at all.

On a lighter note, I got rid of 2,000 unnecessary words from my Seattle fairy tale this week. It works a lot better at the shorter length, but Dick thinks I could still tighten it up more. I'm still trying to hold onto my darlings, even though I must sacrifice some of them to let the others live. Maybe by next week I'll have it to the point where I can submit it to the group. Let Frankie trash it. I dare him.

6/8/02

I'm nearly finished with the Seattle story, but not quite ready to let the group have it. Maybe next week. Just a few more tweaks here and there, I think, and it will be ready to go. Or as ready as I can get it at this point.

We lost another one. Frankie said Kara called him after last week's meeting and said she agreed with Deborah and me about his critiques. I think Frankie finally understood that he was destroying the group, because he said he was going to be more constructive in his critiques from now on. Whoopee!

On the positive side, we may have picked up a new member. Brian sounds like he's been writing awhile, and says he has sold a few stories. We could use a few more experienced hands instead of just beginners in the group.

Frankie tried, I think, to be a little more positive in his critique. I don't think he was entirely successful, but he tried. It sort of caught in his throat to say he liked something in the stories we critiqued. Maybe that pin in the voodoo doll did the trick.

6/15/02

It's done. Complete. As finished as I can make it. I got the Seattle fairy tale down to a slim 6000 words, and it killed me to cut so much to get it that low, but I think it's a much better story for all the cuts. I distributed the story at the group meeting, so we'll see next week if it's as good as I think, or if I'm deluding myself.

One of the other members of the group, Machida, sold a story this week. It was something we all read and critiqued a few months ago, so maybe the group helped out. I sure hope so. We're all happy for Machida, and I think happy for the group as well, that we played some small part in a sale.

The new guy gave his first couple of critiques, and he's pretty tough. He picked up on a lot of little errors in George and Claudia's stories. I don't think he was as mean spirited as Frankie has been the past few weeks, and most of his criticisms were well-reasoned. He seemed to know what he's talking about, but I worried a bit what he's going to do to my Seattle story next week. He also submitted his own story, so we'll all get to see if he's really a writer or not.

Frankie was a bit reserved this week, so perhaps he really is going to be less confrontational and more helpful with his critiques from now on. Then again, maybe he just doesn't want to scare off the new guy quite yet.

I'm anxious to see how my story goes over next week. I know I should really get to work on another story this weekend, but my mind keeps returning to the Seattle story and how I could have improved it. It's in the hands of the critics now, though; too late to call it back. What will they think?

6/22/02

The group liked my Seattle story. What a relief. Even Frankie was kind to it, but then, I've probably gotten him to realize I'd quit the group if he kept pulling the same sort of crap on my story that he'd been doing all along. Brian, the new member, liked it too, and most of the things he mentioned were fairly minor. Some of the others had good ideas for improving the story, and I agreed with some of them, although a few of the ideas would take the story in another direction I hadn't planned. It's still my story, and I'll make it go where I want.

We critiqued the first story by Brian this week. It was science fiction, and not the sort of thing I usually read, but it wasn't too bad. Yeah, he can write, I guess. The story had a few problems, but I didn't want to be too critical for a new member's first effort, so I mostly just praised the story.

With the critique for my Seattle story behind me, maybe now I can get moving on another story. I don't think I have to make too many more revisions to the Seattle story based on the critiques, so I'll probably get it out the door and in the mail somewhere in a few days. Am I past my Writer's Block, finally?

6/29/02

I sent the Seattle story out to F&SF , and I'm moving along with my next story, so all is well in Muriel-land. This one could be a good one, if I don't screw it up too badly.

At the weekly meeting, Dick's newest story went over very well. Everyone liked it a lot (even Frankie), and very little was found in need of fixing. It really is a good story. Sometimes I think Dick doesn't belong in a group like this. He's too good for it.

Brian submitted another story to be critiqued. I've already read it, and it's not bad at all, but we just did one of his stories last week. I hope he isn't going to be one of those prolific writers who's going to bury us with too many stories. I have better things to do with my writing time.

7/6/02

I screwed up. Because of the 4th of July holiday on Thursday, the library where we meet was closed early on Wednesday, and we got locked out. I'm supposed to handle the meeting room reservation, and we have a standing reservation for every Wednesday night, but I didn't think to check in because of the holiday. We wound up moving the group to the food court in a nearby mall, so it wasn't a total disaster.

The meeting went rather well, all considered. We critiqued a few stories, we hung out, we ate, we shopped. Maybe we should do this more often and forget about the library.

On the home front, my next story is progressing well. I'm rather pleased with my main character, who is unspeakably evil. It's a nice change of pace to write about someone with no redeeming qualities. Maybe I'll name him "Frankie." I find I can get out all my frustrations and nastiness through this character. Whether anyone else will want to read this story remains to be seen.

7/13/02

I think we've lost another one. Michael hasn't shown up for several weeks now, and nobody's heard from him. I hope he's OK.

We critiqued a couple of stories, and they were both really good. It makes me think I'm not good enough when I read such great work by the other writers in the group. Nobody (including Frankie) has too much to say about either of these two stories, so we have some time left over.

Margie, who hardly ever contributes, offered to read us a poem, to fill in some of the leftover time. It was pretty short, but I just didn't get it. I told her (as did most of the others) that it was very good, but who knows about cute little poems like this? Brian made a bit of a stink that Margie intended to send the poem to one of those contests in the back of Writer's Digest, saying they were all scams. He's probably right, but so what? If it makes Margie happy to get published in some book that she has to pay for, and no one will ever read, who's it really hurting?

Do we write for ourselves, or do we write to get published? I write for me. If I can get something published, so much the better.

7/20/02

It was hot at this weeks' meeting and tempers were flying a bit. Brian got short with Clark, Frankie barked at Brian, Ruby got mad at everybody. Can you just feel the love? Come on, guys, we're supposed to be on the same team here.

Maybe next week will be better. Dick and I will host the next meeting, not in the library, but at our apartment's pool club. Since things went reasonably well when we had our surprise meeting at the shopping mall, we thought it might calm the group a bit to meet in a more casual setting. It couldn't hurt.

For next week, I turned in my new story to be critiqued, and Dick turned in the final revision of his story that we saw a few weeks ago. His is much better than mine, but maybe after a few drinks, the critiques will be kind to me. If not, I can always get drown my sorrows (in the swimming pool, I mean, not booze).

7/27/02

Life is funny. You try to do something nice and it blows up in your face. We had a really good turnout for the meeting at the pool club, so Dick and I thought we'd done a good thing. The food was good. The drinks were plentiful. The members' spouses and kids were interesting.

The meeting started going downhill with the critiques. Dick's story was OK and most of the members seemed to like it a lot. But mine . . . I don't think anyone liked it. My main character was purposely evil, and that turned everybody off, I think. Frankie, with a few beers in him, returned to his old ways and shredded the story. Many of the others were also unhappy with my main character, although they weren't nearly as hostile as Frankie.

The voodoo doll with his face on it was upstairs, so when I went up to get more ice out of the fridge, I put another pin in it. Frankie is a nasty drunk.

But there is some justice in the world. When I came back downstairs, there was an argument going on. Frankie picked a fight with George, and George shut him up by pushing him in the pool (and he wasn't dressed for swimming). I wanted to laugh out loud, but pretended to be shocked, like everyone else. But I think a few of us were secretly amused.

Unfortunately, the fight sent our guests scurrying for the exits, so the party broke up right after that. It was worth it, though , to see Frankie get his comeuppance. Don't like my story, eh? Well, Frankie, take that!

8/3/02

Well, now Frankie's done it. After that fight he provoked last week, nearly half the group stayed away from the meeting this week. There's only six of us left, out of eleven members. George sent me an e-mail saying he was quitting, but I don't know if we'll ever see any of the others again. Damn. We decide to start advertising for new members, just in case they don't come back.

Want to hear a hot one? Frankie now says he's going to teach a writing class at the Community College. If he can have the same sort of effect on a college class that he's having on this group, then I doubt too many Hemingways are going to emerge from his class. What clueless college administrator thought Frankie could teach writing? It is to laugh.

I'll have to let Deborah know who's going to be teaching at the college. She left the group weeks ago because of Frankie and said she wanted to try a class instead. I'll bet she changes her mind now.

To further demonstrate his lack of writing knowledge, Frankie trashed a perfectly good story by Machida in the critiques this week. Everyone else thought it was a wonderful story, but Frankie wanted her to change it all around for no good reason that I could tell. After the meeting, in the parking lot, Dick and I told Machida not to do any of the things Frankie wanted her to do to the story. She thanked us and said she already knew enough to ignore him. Go Machida!

8/12/02

Sorry this is so late. Guess I missed my self-imposed deadline this weekend, but stuff happens. I suppose there are a few more of you reading this now, after one of the guys in my writing group, Brian, linked my journal to his blog.

Dick found Brian's blog a few weeks ago, so I already knew about it, but it was a bit of a surprise when I read in his latest entry that he knew about this journal. I suppose there's no way I can complain about what he's doing with the blog, since what I'm doing in this journal isn't all that much different, although I certainly didn't intend to do any "undercover reporting" like Brian. It's just my personal journal.

I have to say I am a little uncomfortable with Brian's blog and modus operandi . He seemingly joined our little group specifically with the intention of surreptitiously reporting on the meetings. I just sort of fell into it to help me get moving from my Writers Block.. This journal was supposed to be about me and my writing, but the writing group is a part of that and they just got dragged into it without me thinking that I might be doing something wrong.

So, Brian, I'll keep quiet if you will. No voodoo doll for you. Besides, my enemy's enemy is my friend, right? You don't much like a certain member of the group much either, do you?

Judging from the e-mails I've been receiving, it seems Brian has brought me a whole new audience. You guys keep quiet, too. It would be nice to get famous for my writing, but this isn't exactly what I had in mind.

Back on topic -- it was a decent writing week, I guess. In the last group meeting, as Brian already wrote (how does he get those posted so fast after the meetings, anyway -- he must type like a demon) we added a new member. He's got some good sales, too. Maybe not as many as Brian, but at least they're out in the open, while Brian is modest (or is it sneaky) about his sales.

This week I'm reading new stories by Claudia and Frankie for Wednesday's meeting. I suppose it could be payback time for Frankie, but we'll see how it goes at the meeting.

And my own writing? I mean, that's what this journal is about, right? Eh. Another reject in the mail. Another envelope sent off in search of a home for my story. Some new words written, some old ones perked up. It goes.

8/15/02

Some good news from the postman this week. It's not exactly a sale, but probably as close as I've ever come before. An editor requested a rewrite. Sort of. He didn't come out and say he'd buy it if I made the changes, but he said he be willing to take another look if I could fix the problems he mentioned. And they're not very difficult problems to fix. I can do this.

I also finished up a new story. Yay!

The writing group was weird this week. First, George returned to the group. He apologized for throwing Frankie in the pool, which really wasn't necessary for anyone but Frankie, I think. He's a good writer and the group needs more like him.

Next, Brian announced that he was writing about our group meetings on his blog. So, if all the members go and check out his blog, then they will know about this journal as well. Hello, everybody. Guess I have to be careful what I say from now on. I can bet Frankie's not going to be too happy with how he appears in Brian's blog. He probably won't like my journal much, either.

We critiqued a story by Frankie, and I was hoping to pay him back a bit for the way he mistreated my last story (and lots of others) in the past weeks. Brian pretty much cut the story to ribbons for not having a plot. It was just an incident, not a story. Several of us jumped on the bandwagon. And Frankie's going to teach writing at the community college this fall?

We also critiqued a story by Claudia. It was a very good story. David, the new member who showed up last week, gave a very good critique that pretty much everyone agreed with. He seems to have a lot of insight. Too bad he's not teaching that college course.

I'm a little worried about next week's meeting. Everyone will be reading Brian's blog, and my journal. Will they be mad at us? Please don't be.

8/23/02

What a very weird week at the writing group. We all read Brian's blog, and most of the people agreed it couldn't go on. The members no longer felt free to submit and discuss their works, knowing that potentially thousands of other writers (and maybe an editor or two) might be following along on the Internet. So we asked Brian to leave the group.

For the record, Brian, although you were told the vote was unanimous, there were some of us that thought it wasn't such a big deal. I think most of us agreed that your critiques were very helpful, and I know I will miss them. And thanks for handing in that last critique of my story, even though you had just been shown the door. It was very helpful, as were all your critiques, and a class thing to do under the circumstances.

So where does that leave this journal? By reading Brian's blog, everyone in the group also found their way here. There was some discussion, and most of the sentiment was that my journal was not nearly as "deliberately dishonest" as Brian's. I was told I could remain in the group as long as I stopped writing about the group. First rule of Write Club is you do not write about Write Club. Second rule of Write Club is you do not write about Write Club.

So, from here on in, this journal is supposed to be "only about me." I can talk about my own writing and struggles, but I can't say, for instance, what a pompous, powerless jerk Frankie is. Or how creepy the two sycophants, I mean new members, David brought to the meeting are. I mean, I wouldn't want to give the group any reason to kick me out or anything, but sheesh, it's getting too weird.

Maybe I should e-mail Brian and see if he's interested in forming another group elsewhere. We could meet at the food court or the pool club. And write whatever we damn well please about it afterwards.

8/29/02

That's it, I've had it with the writing group. Dick, too. The meeting started, and there was yet another new guy sitting at the table. Last week there were two. And just like last week, when he introduced himself, it was clear he was another one of David's hangers-on. After that, David made some grand pronouncement that anyone who replies to Brian's e-mails is a traitor to the group. And then I was asked to leave the room so the group could discuss the contents of this journal.

I can't say that I'm very surprised. At the end of last week's entry, I pretty much vented my disgust. I don't know why I even bothered to show up this week, really. Dick and I collected our stuff and walk out. Not just out of the meeting room, but out to the car and back home. It doesn't matter what the outcome of the group's private talk was. Another "unanimous" vote, probably. Screw 'em.

Sorry, Brian. I knew you were hoping I would be one of your inside spies in the group, but that's not going to happen. You're either with David or you're against him, and I'm decidedly against. Frankie's hardly a factor anymore, now that David's taken over, and I can't deal with the guy. It's not just that he's taking over the leadership of the group, but that he's trying to tell the members what and how to write, what they can say and who they can talk to. More shocking, some of the members are buying it.

I know the group members will read this. I expect David told you you're not allowed to e-mail me, but when you're ready, when you've had enough of David's nonsense, drop me a line. Maybe we can form another group, without Frankie, David, and his three stooges.

In the meantime, I'll continue to write. Dick was and will always be my first reader. Brian also said I can send him stories to look over, so I'm not really that bummed about leaving the group. And, like Brian said, now I've reclaimed my Wednesday nights. I can probably put them to better use.

9/9/02

Brian! The closet! Are you serious? Sheesh, guy, it just gets stranger and stranger, doesn't it? Sorry I'm not still in the group to see how they react to your blog at the next meeting. And they do read your blog, religiously, every week.

The cult of Larryology. You kill me, guy. What are you going to do next time, bug the room? Recruit a spy? Hide in an air duct? I really have to stop reading this stuff now and get back to work. Sheesh.

So how about starting a new group with some real people?

9/11/02

I'm addicted to reading Brian's blog. Even though I'm not part of that group anymore, it's just too good a soap opera to give up. So every fifteen minutes, I keep hitting the reload button on the GVW intro page, waiting impatiently for Brian to post tonight's episode.

And then, there it is! Oh, my God, David's threatening to sue Brian. Personally, I don't think he has a leg to stand on. I'm not looking to get dragged into court, but if you need a witness, I pretty much saw the same things you did, Brian.

So why haven't you gotten back to me, Brian, about starting up a new group? I think it could be really good. It certainly couldn't be any worse, right? No tourists allowed, I promise. Just let me know.

A lot of you have sent me some very encouraging e-mail. It lifts my writing spirit and restores my faith in humanity. Thank you, everyone.

9/18/02

Brian, you fraud. You're just saying the "Garden Variety Writers" was all made up to avoid David's lawsuit, aren't you?

Of course the group was real. What am I, chopped liver? Did your lawyer tell you to write that, to wash your hands of us and deny the blog was about our group? That David's not "Larry," and Frankie's not "Fabian," and all the rest? Is that your defense, then, that the "Garden Variety Writers" was a work of fiction and totally unlike our very real dysfunctional writing group? But you didn't explain me and my journal away, did you?

Well, you can forget about starting a new writer's group with me now. I just got tired of waiting for you to answer me. Is it that I'm not a good enough writer for you? Or is your little experiment over now and you have no further use for beginners like me?

I'll put my own group together now, thank you very much. And if any of you damn pro writers come sniffing around, I'll kick you right the hell out. We don't need no stinking egos, no matter how well you write. Maybe it's a bad idea to meet pro writers in person. It's a lot easier to appreciate a work of fiction when you don't know what a jerk the author is in real life.

And that's as real as it gets.

2/24/04

Wow, has it really been so long since I posted in my journal? Yes, I'm still writing, and selling a few things once in a blue moon. Dick and I got married, Brian's still a bastard, and now I have this cool page about Bay Leaves that you should look at. And that's all the news you really need to know for now.


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