A group of twenty young men decide they want to be soldiers. They vary in age and life-experience but the one thing they have in common is that none has ever fired a gun or faced an enemy.
But these are keen young men. They find each other on the internet and form a self-help group, promising each other to understand their dreams and to be kind in pointing at each other’s faults.
Of course, since none of the participants actually knows how to strip a rifle, or how to fire a gun from cover, they make rather bad soldiers. In their first engagement they all die.
A group of twenty or so men and women decide they want to be writers. They vary in age and life-experience but the one thing they have in common is that none has ever been seriously taught creative writing, or written extensively or submitted, or been published.
But these are keen young aspiring writers. They find each other on the internet and form a self-help group, promising each other to understand their respective dreams and to be kind in pointing at each other’s faults.
Of course, since none of the participants actually knows how to strip down a story, or how to write well, how to edit, they make rather bad writers. In their first engagement with reality they fail miserably.
Another twenty aspiring soldiers enlist and find themselves drilling, going on runs, doing callisthenics. “Why?” they cry out. They just want to have guns and go shoot the bad guys. Their hard-bitten Sergeant tells them they are not ready. They are not fit. They are not tough. They are not trained in self-defence or military craft. They need months, probably years to become ordinary soldiers, and then, if they work and work at their craft as green new members of their units, one day they might actually be good soldiers. They might survive long enough to be tough old soldiers like their sergeant. One day they might teach a new batch of kids.
But why should we believe you, they wonder? What makes you special, Sergeant?
Well, I was like you once. I was naïve, stupid, green and untrained. An old war-horse of a sergeant taught me first how to stay alive, second how to protect my comrades, third how to get better and maximise my chances in combat.
And he points to his medals (if his presence isn’t enough) and the recruits read of his exploits. They know he has been under fire and survived. He shows them that he can strip a rifle in fifteen seconds, put it together in another fifteen. He shows them he can knock down the biggest man in the group without breaking sweat.
If beginning writers work solely with other beginning writers, they have no mentors, no experience to call on. If a more forceful or more outspoken beginner makes a statement of “fact” in error the less forceful and more easily-led might well accept that fact and cement the error. Since one of the stronger voices says this, and others in the group concur, bad habits become routine and widespread.
Beginning writers seeking out other beginning writers is at best naïve, at worse, stupidity.
Why, then, does it happen?
It happens because few of these wannabee writers are prepared to face the simple truths about any craft. It takes a sustained effort over an extended period of time, hours and hours of practice, practice, practice for weeks, months, even years to even start to become a writer.
Why not, instead, “hang” with a load of people who will say nice things about me and my work (in return for me saying nice things about them and their work.) Not only that but the more active among us can set up little magazines with editorial standards that almost match our abilities. We can all “be published”.
Our internet groups can grow and we will, of course, be the founder-members, the old-guard, the inner-circle. We will be the leaders of this, in principle, same-old self-help group, just bigger and more glossy (and probably with its own in-house internet magazine publishing the older hands.)