If you're just coming to A Writer's Block, or have been one of the four supporters all along but have forgotten, this is the blog of a would-be-novelist on her way to making it or failing miserably. My babbling about books isn't just filler; writer's are grown from readers and seeing how others make the page come alive (or fail to, in our own estimation) can teach us more about the art than any "how to."
My first writing group consisted of best friends inspired by The Dead Poets’ Society. We were teenage girls who loved words and stories and each other. While I didn't know near as much as I do now to apply to the group, The Weird Writer's Society managed to do more than ego stroke. Sure, we were encouraging, but we were also honest about what we thought worked and didn't work.
Sometimes, that's all you need. I can see that with 20/20 hindsight, looking back to when I let an older poet coax me into showing my work. He was kind. He was also professionally published (as opposed to my poems and articles that found themselves in school publications) and offered critiques I wasn't yet ready for.
Fast forward to just a few years ago. I had the beginnings of more novel than I could count, all without a middle--or even a fourth chapter--let alone an ending. I'd dubbed myself the Queen of the First Chapter, so isolated in my writing that I didn't realize there were hundreds, maybe thousands, vying for the title. Then I discovered Kelley Armstrong's Stolen, second in the Women of the Underworld series. I loved it so much that I pestered my husband into reading it. He loved it so much that he bought all the books to date and dragged me to the web site.
The Online Writer's Group--a members’ only section of the site--almost intimidated me too much to join. But I was ready to relinquish my title and opening membership was on a trial basis, so I could quietly slink away if I discovered the group to be too much for me.
What I found was writers of various "levels", all working improve their own and one another's writing. Some of it was so good that I couldn't immediately see why it needed critiques at all. I knew, of course, that it wasn't easy to break into publishing; I didn't get yet how polished a piece needed to before an agent or editor would give it the time to discover how good a story it was. And other pieces were so bad that I marveled that the writers were brave enough to post them alongside the others. These submissions were neither ignored nor ripped apart. The writers, with full respect for their efforts, were shown the issues with their work.
I'd found a place were I could safely learn and grow in my craft.
The best advice that I never received as a would-be-novelist is to find a good writers’ group. They won't fill your head with how great your works is, as friends and family sometimes will, while ignoring every flaw that an editor will spot right before sticking your story under the slush pile. (If they do, let them know what you need. Then, if the members aren't in a place where they can help you, start looking for a new group.) Yet they are still encouraging (if, once you can step back enough to look objectively at your work and what's been said, you feel that they are more attacking than critiquing, find another group).
In learning to critique others, we learn a great deal about our own writing. It doesn't hurt that, along the way, we end up with the kind of support system we'll never find by sitting alone staring at the screen.