I’ve had a couple of clashes within writing organizations that I belong to in the past week (yes, believe it or not, RWA was not the only one), and it’s made me think about writers and organizations and how “writers’ organization” is an oxymoron on so many different levels. Face it, nobody becomes a writer to meet people. If we could play well with others, we wouldn’t be making up our own worlds. And that means many of us–and I do mean “us,” I’m in there, too–can have a hard time seeing anybody’s reality but our own. Which leads to mistakes. Big ones.
Mistake # 1. We made a plan, let’s stick to it.
Writers make things up, so they have to have some kind of plan in their lives or they’ll bleed time all over the place. But that same insistence on procedure and policy can come back to bite organizations in the butt when the rules become more important than what’s happening right now. I know any group, large or small, must follow policy, but few policies are written so narrowly as to allow no wiggle room. And when the policy is clearly not in the best interests of the organization, it’s time to change the policy or interpret it in broader ways. Saying, “Nobody but X has the authority to change this” as the entire group careens toward disaster really means that we need a new interpretation of the policy double-quick or somebody should dangle X off a building by her feet until she notices what’s going on and moves outside her narrow view of reality.
Once a disaster has happened, saying “There was nothing we could do, we didn’t know, it’s her fault” is not going to satisfy anybody. We need to keep our eyes on the membership’s needs, not on the policy in place.
Mistake # 2. Let’s play nice, the only place we want conflict is in our books.
What I keep finding in my organizations, which are all primarily women, is that nobody wants to hurt anybody’s feelings because they all see themselves as Nice Girls. Yeah, that doesn’t work. If somebody is damaging the group by holding onto the rules with both hands while the ship goes down, it’s the responsibility of the rest of us to be swift, decisive, and mean. Since the person holding onto the rules is almost always doing it for political reasons (i.e. she wants her way and she’s using policy as a rationale), a simple “You’re being selfish, you’re hurting the group, and so we’re stopping you,” is not rude, it’s a head’s up that she’s about to be dangled off a building. I truly believe that playing nice has hurt more women’s organizations than anything else. We need to knock it off and play smart instead.
Mistake # 3. I have a dream and it’s your dream, too, because I’m the author of everything.
I think it’s that world-building thing. We create entire worlds in our heads and fill them with people who think like we do. Then we go out into the real world and there are these IDIOTS who disagree with us and it is clearly our responsibility to do what’s best even though they disagree because obviously they’re in the minority, they’re antagonists, they must be defeated.
I think it was this mindset that prompted that disastrous survey about making the definition of romance a love story between one man and one woman. When I raised holy hell about that, I was told that the RWA community wanted it that way. The hell they did, the woman who wrote the survey wanted it that way and she preferred to believe that everybody agreed with her. I think that’s also why we got so much conservative propaganda and nastiness at the awards show. The people who wrote the script assumed everybody would agree, that they were preaching to the choir. Then the choir started throwing rocks. At which point those people said, “Well, it’s just a few members, most people enjoyed the show.” Which is when the mountain fell on them.
So my advice to the people in power in writers organizations is this:
Your duty is to support and enhance your members’ lives, not your own beliefs or your power base. If policy gets in the way of the best interests of the membership, change it. If people on a mission hijack the public aspects of the group to the detriment of the group, cut them off at the knees. It may be true that everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten, but as I remember it wasn’t just playing nice and taking time-outs, it was also bashing that little bully over the head with a shovel if she got selfish and started making life hell for the others in the sandbox. If we don’t stop the people who are so blind that they’re hurting the organization, we’re going to need that shovel to take care of everything that comes at us afterward, and saying, “We meant well, we had a plan, we were playing nice, we believed everybody felt the same as we did” is just not going to help.
A good solid “We screwed up, we’re sorry, it’ll never happen again” is always appropriate, though.
And then we can all get back to writing. That’s a better reality anyway.