Monday, September 30, 2013

The Art of Hangin' Out

by R.S. Mellette

I've been a bit quiet recently.  I haven't posted here or the Dances With Films blog in a couple of months. On Agent Query Connect, I'm lucky if I get to pop on for a quick word association post.  Not that I expect anyone to notice my absence, but I have.

Soon I'm going to have some happy news to announce, and it is due in no small part to both the amount of time I've hung out with my favorite groups, and the time I've selfishly stolen away from them.

That combination of time with, and time away from, my peers got me to thinking of the art of hangin' out.

Over the years I've been involved with theatre companies, writing groups, online communities, film festivals, film production companies, etc. and I've come to realize there is a delicate balance in the ratio of the individual helping the group, and the group helping the individual.  There's a Zen quality to this balance.  Each individual in a group wants to better his or her life by being a member, but members who only lookout for themselves rarely gain anything from the group.  Similarly, an individual who disregards their needs to only support the group, can become very important within the group, but have little success outside of it.

Writers, especially, struggle with this balance.  Without a trusted collection of beta readers, editors, walls to bounce ideas off of, etc. a writer's skills will wither.  Yet, I'm sure we all know writers with sage advice from past experiences who eagerly say, "Here's what I think of what I've read of your manuscript...", but haven't put their own words to the page in decades. 

So when I find myself in a group, I constantly measure my surroundings.  Are the people I'm working with on my level?  Are they too far above or below me?  That can be neither an exercise of inferiority nor snobbery, but an honest judgment.  I find myself most comfortable in a group where I fall somewhere in the middle.  I can learn by teaching others, and hopefully follow colleagues through doors they've opened.  Often, the doors are opened by a person you taught not so long ago.

There is a trap in staying with a group where your talent and experience is head and shoulders above the others. Laurels become easy chairs and ego strokes fill you up with empty calories.

In a group where your resume doesn't come close to the others, you can quickly become the king or queen of the servants.  Sure, your peers will be impressed, but what chances do you have of standing out or making your mark in the world?  These are good places to learn and move on.

In my current groups: Dances With Films, Agent Query Connect, and From The Write Angle, I feel at home.  So much so that I'm comfortable stepping away to work on my own stuff for a while.  Then to humbly return.  Sure, I want to show off what I've done - but I also want to find out what I've missed.  Whose success can I be happily jealous of?  What has changed?  What has remained the same?  How can I help the group?  I don't need to ask how the group can help me, because they have done so much already.

They've given me a home.  I suppose that's the best way to gauge a support group.  Do they feel like home?  And by that, of course, I mean that ideal home we see in all of the commercials and 1950s TV shows, not the dysfunctional homes that turned so many people into artists in the first place.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's good to be home.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies.


Paula R C Readman said...

Though I agree with you on most level, R.S I do feel that sometimes you can outgrow others. If you and your writing style becomes too familiar to everyone you can stop pushing yourself forward and trying new things, improving yourself.

Too much 'I like how your wrote such & such before. Why are you changing your style you should stick to what you do best etc.'

Its good to know friends will be honest with you as you should be with them, but they must allow you to grow too.

JeffO said...

I agree with Paula on this, it is possible to outgrow your groups, or to have them outgrow you. Still, there is much truth in what you say, and finding a group--whether people you know locally, or via bog, or forums--that you work well with is invaluable.

Congratulations in advance, it sounds like good news coming!

RSMellette said...

Thanks, Jeff. Things are looking up.

And, yes, Paula, I think what you're saying is part of the assessment of where you fit in the group - and that balance of individual vs. community.