Two annoyances we may share: Grandiosity in writing groups, and grandiose manifestos. If you’re like me, then you find these things devastatingly de-motivational. You can’t write well with this confected flamboyance echoing around in your braincase.
Histrionic name-dropping, narcissistic limelight stealing, affected wokeness, he-manly pigeon-chesting and over-confident didacticism: who needs that kind of stuff, right?
Now the Internet: It has no shortage of manifestos that are self-important beyond all perspective. You probably don’t want to risk reading just another “Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism”. The publication of yet another Internet manifesto clearly flirts with a well established tradition of bumbledom, banality and pretense.
The following could all just be an attempt at putting out fire with gasoline. Still, I’ll persevere and hope you find this a worthwhile take on treating what ails any number of literary communities: Drama.
The text portion of this post is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Feel free to adapt for your own non-commercial purposes with reference to this post. (You don’t need to ask first, although I’d be interested if anyone other than myself tried to see this manifesto implemented).
The No Drama Manifesto
The No Drama literary group is purposed towards the love of reading and writing, and to its candid sharing with similarly disposed human beings. To that end, it seeks to provide its members with a community that allows them to be open without that vulnerability being taken advantage of; a community where quiet confidences and new ideas can be grown and built upon without interruption by undue drama.
1. We’re here for the words. For whatever reason, even if at times the relationship has its ups and downs, we each have a love of the written word. Whether it’s a fetish for fonts, a nose for prose, or a want to reproduce that feeling we had the first time reading an certain author, the writing and the reading are what it’s all about. All other objectives are down-prioritized to varying extents, depending on their capacity to disrupt or serve the functioning of the group.
The No Drama group seeks to facilitate those moments when a piece of writing really clicks, even if those words and the people writing them are ultimately forgotten by history. Posterity into the future should play second fiddle to poetry and prose in the here and now.
2. No Drama. This would be the ideal, at least. Ego-driven entropy may be the driving force behind some forms of art, but it can be utter chaos for a lot of people, and it’s not like there’s a relative shortage of outlets for the ego-driven entropist anyway.
Now sure, keeping the histrionics at bay may itself generate a degree of drama, but consider the refrigerator. Despite it’s name, the refrigerator heats its environment, and yet we still don’t consider refrigerators futile. We use them because there is a useable space kept relatively cool.
Similarly, the No Drama lit group seeks to create a usable space relatively devoid of egocentrism, purposed to the creation and appreciation of literature. That this may cause a small net increase of drama in the wider universe does not invalidate the venture.
Those affirming this manifesto do not accept that writers and bookish sorts are either necessarily or in large part egocentric. Rather, where there is an overabundance of ego, it is largely due to the initial attraction to egoists, and subsequent repellence of more ordinary folks.
3. Comradery. With allowances made for individual meekness, genuflection is discouraged. The least published member will never be expected to simply defer to the most published, and the most published member will be expected not to expect deference. Self-importance should be checked at the door.
4. Respect the work. It’s one thing to throw deference out the window, and another to disrespect hours, or even a lifetime’s worth of work undertaken in good faith. A bachelor of arts and a cursory reading of fad diet materials isn’t sufficient grounding from which to lecture a biologist on their writings on daily protein requirements. An overconfidence in one’s own rationality and a prejudicial dismissal of the literature is no basis from which to critically engage with well-read feminists on feminist texts. This isn’t simply the absence of deference; this is the presence of arrogance. The message is this: Don’t genuflect to individuals, but do respect real efforts made in good faith.
5. Friendly, but with boundaries. Ask yourself; have you ever been in a public space along with any number of strangers, looked around and then felt any kind of general affection for humanity? If so, would you have there and then, on the basis of that affection, agreed to let those strangers just walk into your home, or use your bed, or watch you shower? “Yes” and “no” respectively? Being well disposed towards others does not require you to surrender your privacy or your private life.
Personal boundaries and personal preferences aren’t something you ever have to apologize for, and the context of a reading or writing group is no exception. You don’t have to date other members. You don’t have to invite them to your birthday. You don’t have to become their friend on social media. That’s your own business, not the group’s.
6. Critique is crucial. Some writing groups ban criticism. This is sometimes done in a potentially misguided attempt to stave off abuse, which is itself a serious but ultimately separate matter. Elsewhere it’s done so as not to alienate those with poor confidence, even when it isn’t at all clear that criticism is scaring people off in the first place. Not everyone has a full creative sense of self at all times, and friendly criticism provides information a writer can use to re-orient themselves. Group members should aspire to accept criticism in good faith, and to provide quality critique themselves. Good critique is usable critique, and the process of justifying your writing decisions, even if only to a friendly audience, will help make you a better writer.
7. Editorial should be independent. What information a critic gives can be used by a writer as they see fit. Being open to criticism does not obligate a writer to simply obey their critic. Unless you have a contract wherein you’re actually someone’s editor or publisher, you don’t have a modicum of authority over what they write. Furthermore, should the group create its own publication, content should be keep editorially independent from committee, with the editor aiming to facilitate the free expression of group members in accordance with civil, democratic principles.
8. Professionalism. While not every member will be a professional writer or critic, some basic professional standards should still apply. Intellectual property rights, whatever the licensing details, should be respected. Plagiarism should be subject to a policy of zero tolerance. Membership in professional organizations, where possible, should be encouraged.
Training provided by the group needn’t be vocational, nor necessarily certified – people can learn simply for the sake of learning – but it should be provided by competent trainers with at least some meaningful background in the content being taught. Having a layperson turn up to a WordPress tutorial with the understanding that they can brush up on their CSS, only to find that the trainer doesn’t even know what CSS is, and has only six months experience with WordPress using it to sell herbal supplements, is not the kind of outcome the group should allow.
9. Welcoming, but not self-annihilating so. The word “inclusivity” has to some extent been fetishized beyond the point of its intended meaning, into an absurd and impossible categorical imperative.
If for example, you want your group to be inclusive of victims of domestic violence, then to some extent you’ve going to have to exclude domestic abusers. The logic at base is this: It’s an unavoidable truth that humans have conflicts of interests, and to be inclusive of any group of humans you may at some point have to exclude others. The point is not that you should be universally inclusive, but rather that you don’t exclude people arbitrarily.
Within reason, know what you want or need to exclude, why, and be open about it.
10. Not here to make you famous. Maybe you’ll make it big, but it won’t be because the group tried to make it happen. A love of writing is not the same thing as a love of celebrity, and a writing group that prides itself on its part in raising a member’s stature is a group that potentially does so at the expense of emphasizing the writing.
11. Not here to help make you an activist, per se. This isn’t to disparage activism, but rather to be clear about objectives. A lot of writers try their hands at activism. Writing obviously can be a means to an activist end, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for reasons that should regarded as axiomatic, writing is in and of itself what a writing group is primarily about; it’s in the name.
Further, it’s cynical, if not pathological, to treat activism as a means to service one’s own status as a writer. Even though activism is not the group’s purpose, the group should not want to see worthy causes selfishly co-opted. Whether writing or activism is an individual member’s greater passion, all members should find hypocrisy in regards to either repugnant. Further, this brand of hypocrisy counts as drama.
12. Not here to help you push product. No multi-level marketing will be allowed.
13. Not here to help you harass. This should be a no-brainer, but abuse should not be tolerated at all and should be stamped out fast. If for example a victim of domestic violence joins your group, their abuser should not be able to follow them by joining. Leniency should not be afforded to abusers on the basis of their perceived righteousness – self-righteousness typically having a capacity to motivate and rationalize some of the worst behaviour humans are capable of. The No Drama group is not a “hunting ground” – members who use it as a means to follow others home, or sexually harass, should be kicked out in short order.
14. Committee work is a duty. The idea of committee work and in particular the politics surrounding it may fill people with varying proportions of awe and dread. But in many cases it’s necessary – depending on context, membership in umbrella groups, paperwork for grants applications and so on may require incorporation, which in turn will require a constitution, and a committee and so on.
So how to prevent too much drama in committee work? A lot of it comes down to how the group views itself and the purpose of its committee. Respect for the office of committee member, and for the executive decisions of committee are a must, but this needs to be counterbalanced. Committee needs to deserve this respect. Committee needs to not overreach, and a culture of reverence must be avoided. Committee members need to be viewed by normal members as being peers performing a few extra duties.
A good committee serves its members and isn’t be there for prestige or advancement.
14. Democratic. After the initial start up period, committee should be elected annually and held accountable by the membership. The membership must not be willfully kept ignorant of the state of the group’s operations. Committee must take reasonable steps to ensure the membership is kept apprised of policy formulation in a timely fashion. The group’s constitution should be published online, made available to members on request via email, and ideally a copy should be brought to all meetings by a nominated committee member.
15. Try before you buy. Prospective members should have to attend a small number of ordinary meetings before they can join as full members, and should only be able to attend a small number of meetings more before they have to become full members. This way both the group and the prospective member can get to know one another before any monies potentially change hands, and a degree of freedom to part ways exists prior to any party feeling overly obligated.
16. Minimalist. Committee, in addition to not editorializing in any of the group’s publications, does not have authority over the content of literature discussed within the group. While individual committee members can participate as ordinary participants, no act of committee should select a book for a reading group. No act of committee can tell a member what to write about.
Creative decisions on collective activities (e.g. themes for writing competitions) must come from the ordinary membership, with committee deferring to, recording and acting upon these decisions. Committee can only reject such decisions on legal grounds, or when they transgress the No Drama ethos, with any disagreements to be raised for discussion at annual elections.
Committee must restrict itself to the practical functions of running a lit. group, plus the duties inferred by the No Drama ethos.
If you want to keep me up to date on any attempt to implement the above, or you wish to discuss further efforts towards a final draft, or you’re interested in helping establish a No Drama group in Adelaide, feel free to send me an email at:
Photo Source: CC BY-SA 3.0 Antonio Litterio, 2011.