This (long) blog post will outline some of the general themes that came out during the survey so I can address them. Because I’m a data nerd, I’m also going to do a detailed breakdown of the results. I’ll link to it in this post when it’s up.
First off, thank you to everyone who filled out the survey! We got 95 responses which is a fantastic turnout in a group of over 1,700 members, only about 200 members that Meetup considers “active”—that is, members who have visited the website in the last thirty days. I know we got some of those inactive members taking the survey too, and don’t worry, you guys. You are free to continue to lurk, and we still hope to see you out at one of our events someday!
Second, a caveat. The OWC has been a runaway success and is 100% volunteer-run. I think the overwhelming majority of people recognize this, however I wanted to remind everyone: We’re not paid, we’re not professionals, and we’re all here to have a good time.
I’ve split the post up into five sections, if you’d like to just skip around: Mixers, Critique Circles, Workshops, Location, and Too busy/not enough of a writer/too shy.
There were some comments about mixers that I’ve heard a lot before. Like, it’s hard to mingle with people (it’s a mixer, after all!) and you’re kind of stuck with the people you’re sitting with. It’s sometimes hard to talk about writing. There are a lot of new people each time and it’s hard to get past the pleasantries to writerly things. Or, there are a lot of people who know each other who use the time to catch up. I hear you on all these things, and I’m working on a few solutions.
One of the biggest difficulties on all of these points is our mixers get quite large sometimes. The last afternoon mixer, we had about 25 people. That group is too large to facilitate a conversation with everyone, so guided conversations are out, and since it’s a restaurant, most people didn’t feel comfortable (and it’s hard logistically) to move around. So, one solution we’re trying is to have multiple hosts to help guide the conversations in different pockets of a large group.
Another solution we’re thinking of is doing standing mixers—true mixers—with a paid bar and appetizers. (Chairs would still be available for people who can’t stand for long periods, or for those who just want to chat sitting down.) Here we would sell tickets to cover the cost of group apps while you pay for your own drinks. So, keep an eye out for these!
Most people are really enjoying the critique circles, which is encouraging. But some of the feedback I did get was a little concerning. Based on that, I called a meeting for all the critique circle leaders. It had been many years since we all sat down together, and I think we have a path forward.
We’ll be going back to basics. Since I don’t attend almost any of the circles that are run, feedback from the membership and the leaders is imperative. I hope everyone feels comfortable coming to me with any concerns (or praise!) they have going forward.
I also got one or two comments about them filling up too fast. I know! I’m sorry! If you want to volunteer to run one, my door is always open to answer questions, explain what’s involved, and schedule a time to show you how it’s run firsthand. There were a many requests for a non-fiction/memoir critique circle, and I’m happy to share we have a leader who will start one up shortly!
I’ve always had a lot of requests for workshops. I’ve tried to bring in a few professionals to give talks, like craft, marketing, social media, and querying, to varying degrees of success. However, the thing that’s always bothered me is I haven’t been able to hire them for their full, professional speaking fees because, historically, the group hasn’t had the chance to understand the price of tickets that reflect the speaker’s skills.
To give some context, according to the Writer’s Union of Canada, professional writer speaker fees start at $200 per hour. Conferences, such as the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, charge about $500 for a day and a half of professional programming. The Writer’s Digest conference in New York, one of the biggest, charges $500 USD (about $660 CAD) for the basic package for the weekend, plus up to three $150 USD add-ons if you want to, for example, pitch an agent. A one-and-a-half-hour online conference with an agent with Writer’s Digest is $99 USD. You can see the courses Writer’s Digest offer for upwards of $300 USD.
So, starting in 2019, the OWC is committed to paying these professional speaker fees to be able to offer that level of quality you’d have at those other conferences. That means you’re going to see an increase in ticket prices. The OWC doesn’t have much of a slush fund and we don’t have enough to cover the expense of bringing someone in to present to the group if there aren’t enough tickets purchased. That means, if it bombs, I’m on the hook for the money, and I’m not in a position to take that risk like many other organizations that charge membership fees to build up their slush funds that way. (And I don’t have any plans to charge membership fees either.)
All the money made from these workshops is reinvested into the group, which will allow us to take more risks.
The gist: We’re going to try a few more things in 2019, including bringing in some professionals, but if the ticket sales don’t reflect the effort and costs, we won’t continue.
A common issue was the fact that most events are downtown. This is an unfortunate side effect of living in such a spread-out city: We can’t accommodate everyone’s locations. For example, I’m deep in Orléans but rarely run events there because it’s not central. I’ve tried, to very little attendance.
Everyone hopefully remembers filling out those profile questions when you first joined. One of them was, “Where would you like to see Meetups held?” For the people that answered with locations instead of venues (like, coffee shops, libraries, etc.), a huge majority say downtown or centrally-located. Like, eighty or ninety per cent. It’s still the best and easiest place to hold events.
However, I definitely hear you, and I want to have opportunities for people to have some events closer to them. The regular mixers will always be downtown, however we’re working on getting some critique circles and write-ins out there. By far the most commonly identified area was Kanata. We’ve just started a Kanata critique circle and Kanata write-ins are not far behind.
If you want to see something in your neighbourhood, please volunteer! The group runs on volunteers, so the best way to get something running you want to see is to step up. Email me if you’re interested!
Too busy/not enough of a writer/too shy
These categories were by far the biggest reasons why people are having challenges attending events. For people who have too much going on, I sympathize. Life gets so busy sometimes, but we look forward to having you when it works out!
For those who don’t feel like they’re enough of a writer or have social anxiety, I have a story for you:
I’ve been a member of Meetup since 2011, and I started the OWC in September 2013. The OWC was the very first Meetup I attended because I was too anxious to go out to one. I tell a lot of people that I started the OWC because I was craving writing friends and the writer’s community in Ottawa seemed largely closed. But there’s another reason. I became the organizer of the OWC because, as the organizer, people expected me to be there so I would never be unwelcome and I was also obligated to go.
The logic isn’t solid, but it worked! I was still completely terrified. I sat there in bewilderment at our first mixer of 25+ people wondering, “What the hell am I going to do with all these people?” Then, I planned the October mixer and promptly bailed. I chickened out of my own mixer! But, the more I went, the easier it was to go.
I still get a little nervous going to mixers sometimes, especially when there are a lot of new people there (because I will surely make a fool of myself) but it’s easier. It’s easier because the vast majority of people who show up are incredibly wonderful. We’re so lucky to have the membership we do! So, I encourage you to come out and see what we’re like. But my point is: I totally get it. Social anxiety is a real and difficult struggle. It gets better!
As for those who feel like they aren’t enough of a writer, well, you should’ve met me when I started this group. Oh, 2013-Averill, my sweet summer child. I’d started a novel, but I stalled around chapter three. When I finally started one of the critique circles, I got to about chapter seven, which was the most I’d ever written ever! I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, and believe me, it showed. I didn’t know what genre I was writing, or that there were different age categories. Publishing was a complete mystery to me. However, the people in this group taught me so much. (So did Google.)
I feel like I have a pretty good handle on most things writing-related these days, but I wasn’t always like that—not even close. But the people in this group were so generous in sharing their knowledge and completely not judging anyone (even though I was the leader of this group of writers and knew basically nothing).
Come armed with questions! People will ask you what you write, so practice the answer to that. If you’ve written nothing, but are a huge horror fan, that’s enough! Say that! Seriously, connected to that social anxiety story, the people here are great, generous, and non-judgemental. Also, the fact this category was such a huge selection shows you are far from the only person who feels a little clueless.
So, that’s about it. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading! I know it was really long, but I appreciate you coming along for the ride. Once again, your feedback as been invaluable, and I look forward to leading this group for another wildly successful year!
If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them below!