Writers’ Groups in the Tech Age

its-not-198-the-excuse-funny-computer-cardsHave you thought about starting a writers’ group? I know many of you have thought about it and maybe you’ve already taken the first steps. Some of you have asked me questions when I’ve written about my group here before, but I’ve never discussed the technical aspects of running/participating in a group.

My writers’ group has been meeting for about 23 years now, and up until recently, we’ve met the old fashioned way: in person. But we took a step forward into the age of technology and began meeting via Skype, and I thought I’d share our experience with you. In the event that you are thinking of going this route, you’ll know what to expect.

Here’s the thing. Technology is a bitch. It’s miraculous, time-saving, and indispensable. It’s also a pain in the ass, time-wasting (when it doesn’t want to work), and extremely frustrating.

First was the issue of which application to use. Most people use Skype for meetings, but it’s an application that you need to download. After one of our members had horrendous virus problems (in her computer, not herself), she received a gift of a laptop that was Cloud based, which meant she couldn’t use Skype. So we tried using Google Hangouts. After numerous attempts and problems, we simply couldn’t get the five of us on a session. We eventually abandoned Hangouts and our poor beleaguered member dug her Windows-based laptop out of the basement just so we could meet on Skype.

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A typical Skype screen with participants

Once we finally settled on Skype as our host, we were able to start meeting, but each session seemed to take several attempts at getting everyone together. Sometimes one person couldn’t pick imagesup, or we could see everyone except one person, or we could hear everyone except one person, etc. Not to mention the freezing up, dropped calls, Wi-Fi outages, garbled audio, scrambled video…

Then there’s the audio issue. Not everyone has the same quality hardware, and hearing each other well can be a problem, even with the volume turned all the way up.

So, for all the problems, is it worth it? Yes. It’s definitely worth it, because it allows us to meet when we otherwise might not have been able to. You see, we’re five people with very different lives, schedules, and responsibilities and finding a date and time that’s good for everyone has been a challenge. Plus, we’re scattered across the NYC metro area. We live and work everywhere from Brooklyn and Queens to Long Island and Westchester, and we work as far flung as New Jersey. Yes, we all drive and have public transportation at our disposal, but getting around NYC takes time, and that hinders our abilities to meet.unnamed

Here are some pros and cons to ponder.

Pros

  • It gives you the flexibility to meet more frequently (assuming the members’ schedules aren’t fully packed anyway).
  • You’re in the comfort of your own home (you can change into your jammies and eat/drink whatever you want, which is a big thing when you can’t have dinner beforehand).3162_sm_funny-cartoon1
  • It allows you to read aloud (versus email exchanges of work), which gives you the opportunity to hear yourself say the words (an excellent technique).
  • There’s no extra traveling time or getting home late.
  • Your time is not limited by outside sources, only by the members themselves. (For example, if you rent a space somewhere, your time in that space is predetermined, and you may have to leave before your group is done with its business.)
  • It’s great for groups with members scattered around the city/state/country/globe, and for groups that may have started meeting the traditional way but whose members moved away.
  • Once you’re done, you sign off and can immediately get to your next task, or go to bed.
  • If you have children/parents/pets to attend to, you can do so while still making your meeting.

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Cons

  • Technology issues can be frustrating and time-consuming.prevent-meeting-technology-problems
  • Wi-Fi can be sketchy.
  • Depending on where the members are geographically, it may be difficult to find a time that is suitable for all. But this would be an even bigger issue for in-person meetings.
  • You don’t get to see each other personally (if you don’t like each other, you shouldn’t be in the same group).
  • For some people who are usually isolated, a group meeting is a reason for getting out, which is negated by a Skype meeting.

There’s a lot to be said for doing things the old fashioned way. In the case of writers’ groups, nothing beats face-to-face meetings, and we still do that as often as we can. When we first began, we all worked in the same place and me there. Then we began meeting in one person’s new workplace, and then another’s. Those situations have changed, and since we no longer have anyone’s workplace to meet in, we rent a private room at the NY Public Library. But we are limited to 1½ hours, and that’s often not enough.

So there’s a brief overview of my group’s experience with online meetings. It hasn’t been perfect—in fact, it’s been downright frustrating at times—but we’re working out the kinks, and I think it’s been a good thing for us overall. As technology and hardware improve, hopefully online meetings will become smoother and easier. The good thing is that technology is closing the global gap, and people who would never have been able to connect before can do so now.

The important thing is to find a group of people who have the same goals and dedication as you. You can figure it out from there.

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5 thoughts on “Writers’ Groups in the Tech Age

  1. Thanks for sharing that, R.G.! The least tech-challenged member of my writers’ group just moved to Maine so we’re hoping Skype will keep us together too.

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  2. That first graphic is wrong! 😉 In 1989 I was fabulous with computers. There was so little to know! I recently bought a laptop and have Skype (I think, there’s a little icon for it), but I’m terrified someone will say, “Hey, let’s Skype!” But I can see the advantages. Now I just need to find a group (to use it with or not)! Thanks for the tips. And another post, if you haven’t done one already on this, is how do you keep a group together and vibrant for 23 years? Amazing!

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