It was Ruby's idea to start the Society for Passionless Writers, but the discontent was general in our small group. I say small group, but of course it eventually grew to be quite a large society, fifty or so showing up at a given weekly meeting, with quite a few more members than showed up. Not that most were likely to skip, because it gave them another excuse not to be actually writing, and they liked that.
It was probably James who first complained to our cluster of friends, back in February, that he disliked the standard writer's maxim that a writer must be passionate about writing or else should not write at all. I know James read aloud a writing-magazine article to the effect while we all sat in a bookstore coffee shop to discuss writing. He read it with a whine of disgust. "Why do I have to be passionate?" he said. "Why can't I pretty much dislike writing and just want the glory that comes from having written?"
Geraldine chimed in, and the rest of us nodded our heads vigorously. "I put off writing whenever I can. Why is this considered somehow morally wrong by snooty-nosed prolific writers and writers magazines?"
"I prefer eating to writing," I said.
Ruby looked thoughtful. "Wasn't it Samuel Johnson who said something like, 'No man but a fool ever wrote, except for money'?"
This sounded good to us. We were cheered that a famous, respected writer wanted to be lazy as much as we did, and when we started the society, we used his quote as our motto.
We have quite long weekly meetings, and a lot of snacks. We're thinking of adding supplemental get-togethers on alternate weekends—not to discuss writing but just to get to know each other better so we can be better critics of each other's work.
We do have readings each time and then critical discussions. Usually only one or two of us has something new to read, but we fill the rest of the time well. Reading works that are several years old is always permissible, or even works by other writers, for comparison's sake. And we're not very stringent in our criticism of each other's work, thinking it would just discourage us further from writing.
Betsy Hatcher read her story last Tuesday. I'd never heard her read before—she's one of our newer members—but we did have a good conversation last week, just the two of us, about how much we enjoy cheese and crackers, sometimes with Granny Smith apple slices on top, too.
" 'He was a loner in the town. Trash collecting is a lonely business, anyway, and his personality matched the stench that clung to him,' " her story began. She read in a strident voice, harsh and enervating. She told of Henry the Wild West trash collector's increasing efforts to captivate the sheriff's winsome daughter, bringing her murals of shiny tidbits and broken costume jewelry that others had tossed. " 'Louisa Beth reached out to take Henry's latest work of throw-away art. Her rose-pink lips parted,' and she said something. I don't know what yet. That's where I got bored and went to play with my hair." We applauded her lovely story and her refusal to apologize.
In the critiquing session that followed, a serious red-haired man in his thirties stood up. "Do you plan to send your story off for publication, in the event that you finish it? Not that I am in any way pressuring you to finish it. Artists, of necessity, work on a different schedule than the rest of this assembly-line society." His words floated on an agreeable murmur from the crowd.
Betsy mused visibly for a minute or two. "I don't think I will send it out," she finally said. "It's a bother, you know. I like going through stacks of different publications for awhile and making lists of possible markets and figuring out which would pay the best. But I never seem to get around to writing cover letters."
She brushed her hair out of her face. "I think I actually did write a cover letter, once, but I didn't like how it sounded. Anyway, I can never find big envelopes or stamps."
"But do you think you will finish your story?" a young man asked abruptly. He couldn't have been out of his teens, and most of the other society members looked at him coldly for asking a question so likely to induce guilt.
But Betsy seemed unfazed and answered calmly. "I don't know that I will. It's so much trouble to figure out a plausible ending and draw the story gently but inevitably to that conclusion. Besides, I've just discovered how much fun it is to wander around the Internet. Here's a writer's tip, for free: You can get wonderful ideas for stories there."
Some of us wrote this down in notebooks we carried with us to record thoughts that might be useful in our writing.
Betsy took her seat again, and James stood up. Ruby's the president, but more as the spirit behind the society. James is the organizer and de facto leader. "I propose a debate on editing. We need two panels to argue each side, for and against." He quickly got two groups of five together, with Thomas's help. Thomas doesn't say much of anything, and I've never read any of his writings beyond an e-mail forward or two, but he's good for helping.
The groups then began to debate. The first issue was which side each would argue for. Both wanted to argue against editing, but James finally appointed one side to be for it and forced the panels to begin in earnest.
"Editing wastes time we could use to be writing more," a panelist on the against side began. His fellow panelists nearly glared at him, and he quickly added, "Or doing anything else."
After that, the debate continued more smoothly, with the against side holding the floor for twenty minutes straight, argument after argument about how pointless and annoying it was to edit. "If writing is onerous, editing is worse," ran the motif.
The for side would sometimes "amen" a comment from the against side, which always brought a sharp rebuke from James.
Finally, an excited panelist from the for side jumped out her seat and delivered this insight. "Editing old work is useful"—she paused for the drama—"when you want to avoid writing something new."
At that, both sides cheered, and the debate was called to a stop amid general satisfaction. The audience and panelists rose from their chairs to hit the snack tables and chat amiably once more. And then we were all eaten by tigers.