Monday, March 2, 2009

Speaking of Writers' Groups

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.

8 comments:

Tez Miller said...

These submissions were neither ignored nor ripped apart.

Except that I'm a hard-arse line editor who corrects every mistake I see. This may be why I don't really critique anymore ;-)

Have a lovely day! :-)

An Again said...

Clearly this means that you should be critiquing me.

Julie said...

The OWG has been amazing for me as well. I had hemmed and hawed about picking up Bitten for a few months then finally decided to go for it, and boy am I glad I did.

I wouldn't be the writer I am today, still unpublished, but much better than I was, without all you guys.

An Again said...

I wouldn't be the writer I am today, still unpublished, but much better than I was, without all you guys.
Ditto!

I'm in the home stretch of the read through I should have done before I started revisions, and I'm amazed at how much I can see that I wouldn't have before.

(And it's nice having backup for the glitches I'll still miss.)

Diane Girard said...

Hi Angie,

Not all writer's groups are helpful, but I did find the KA board members very helpful when I posted there. (DianeG)
I'd read your blog more often but it is too hard to read white print on a black background.

An Again said...

Hi, Diane!

Not all writer's groups are helpful, but I did find the KA board members very helpful when I posted there.

I certainly don't think *any* group is worth joining just so one is in a writer's group. The starter group of my teens would do little more than cheerleading for me the adult on-the-verge writer.

On the other hand, the published authors that I'm aware of being either in an established group, have skilled beta readers, or at least have regular fellowship with other writers by far out number the those who seem to have none of the above. There is something to be said about a second set of eyes when editing and the emotional backup of someone who has a real idea of what you're going through.

I'd read your blog more often but it is too hard to read white print on a black background.

Thanks for the heads up. I chose it because white on black is easier on *my* eyes than black on white. Maybe I can play with the templates and find a good middle ground

mikemoore1 said...

Hi An. So true. I was afraid to post my first time too, but thankfully Ian talked me into it. I love the OWG.

While I was reading your post, I found it hard to believe that you'd be intimidated by anything. Haha. I just have this mental image of you, and being intimidated isn't included.

And by the by, thanks for stopping by my blog. I saw your comment. Sorry for the move, but WordPress was frustrating the heck out of me! I hope you'll continue to stop by my new blog.

Cheers,

Mike Moore

An Again said...

While I was reading your post, I found it hard to believe that you'd be intimidated by anything. Haha. I just have this mental image of you, and being intimidated isn't included.

I know where you get that idea, Mike, and I lurked quietly there for a long time until someone wrote something too obnoxious to ignore! I've just never been a good joiner.

And I've come along to the new blog where I am an official follower. :-)