I recently joined the Florida Writers Association ( http://www.floridawriters.net ) here in Florida. It’s a state-wide group, but it has several chapters, one meeting roughly 5 minutes away from my place. I have no idea how many writers belong to this chapter, but they meet twice a month and there have been around 15 people or more at each of the three meetings I’ve attended. Even non-members are invited to attend. I suppose with the hope that they’ll decide to join at a later date.
From what I understand, they try to have a speaker at the first meeting of the month, followed—if there is time—with open mic (even though there’s no microphone.) The second meeting of the month is totally for writers to read from their work. Who will read is determined by a signup sheet, and order is determined by first come/first served. A reading should be around 5 minutes in length (or shorter) and can be anything from poetry to prose.
So far I’ve heard several poems, snippets from some very spicy romances and erotica, an essay written by a man who walked the length and breadth of Africa, scenes from a couple memoirs, and… Well, you get the idea. The members don’t all write in the same genre, they vary as far as talent (though most of what I’ve heard has been excellent), vary in age (high school student to senior-senior citizens, and don’t all want to be published. What everyone seems to share is a love of writing and a love of hearing what others have written.
There is very little critiquing done at these meetings. Once or twice I’ve heard some suggestions given to the writer, but for the most part there’s applause after the reading and a few comments, maybe a few questions. It’s a very supportive atmosphere, which I think is one reason so many people come to read what they’ve written.
I don’t like critique groups where everyone tells you how wonderful you are, but this isn’t a critique group. This isn’t the place where a writer goes to hone his/her skills (though sometimes reading aloud sure can tell you what’s not working, especially if you’re reading a bit of dialogue and realize the character would run out of breath before reaching that period at the end). This is a group that allows writers a chance to hear what others are writing and to give others a chance to hear their work.
Up north I’ve gone to readings, but usually they involve one or two writers reading from their work, and once the program ends, there’s usually the assumption that you—or others—will purchase a book. That doesn’t occur with this group. It’s nice to be able (for a couple hours) to sit back and simply listen to tales. The only thing that would make it better is if we were all sitting around a fire, listening to the storyteller.