It’s good to be back! (but now I must go…)
This last week, I held off on scheduling my Thursday post in advance, counting on my Wednesday-night Writers’ Group experiences to give me all the material I would need. . .but then Tuesday’s storm hit like The God of Thunder himself struck his lightning hammer upon the face of Earth—straight into my internet router, frying it dead. *sigh*
To my constant readers: Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up (July 1st!) and I plan to participate. Because work is light and I find myself with a lot of good fishing time, I might as well put my hazy summer brain to use and work on my WIP. Right? So I will be taking a quasi-hiatus beginning now through July 31, 2018. It’s possible I will still post here from time to time. You can expect to see me pop up on Twitter pretty frequently, sharing my progress (and my woes…) so feel free to follow me there.
Now, on to the post you came here for.
Branching out for betterment
Lately I’ve been more aware of the solitary lifestyle us Writer People throw ourselves into. We write alone, think alone, create whole worlds alone. In my early years of dabbling in writing, I joined several role-playing forums until one of them resonated with me; I love the warm community dynamic and still visit from time to time, though I particularly gravitated toward two members who have become my close friends from distant places in the world. We talk weekly, if not every day, and it is wonderful. I’ve realized how lucky I am to have these close friends whom I can trust to give me honest feedback when I ask for it, or are willing to listen to me ramble up a brainstorm about plot bunnies and loopholes. Thanks, guys!
The thing is, my friends are my friends. They’re too familiar with my characters and grand schemes to be able to give totally objective advice even if they wanted to. So with my current WIP looming over my shoulder, I’ve been doing my research on local writing groups and to my delight, found one within a ten-mile radius of my house.
Last night I went to my first-ever, real-world writing group.
After puzzling my way through a gorgeous new library up to the second-floor meeting room, I was greeted by five or six very surprised faces—the first of the members to arrive at 6:30pm. I’m not sure if it was my young face (the group was 40+, I believe, with one other exception,) or that they were unused to walk-ins so late in the year. Nevertheless, they welcomed me into an empty chair and gave me a friendly interrogation.
It was a very formal experience after that. The group sat at a roundtable with folders and briefcases in hand, copies of chapters from their manuscripts (or poems) at the ready.
There was a moderator who was in charge of keeping critique comments brief, kind, and constructive. The authors who had been pre-selected to read their work had pinned a plot and character summary on the front of their documents and gave a quick verbal recap of prior storyline events to refresh memory, then dove in and read their work aloud to the “class.”
During critique time, the members of the group penned their comments and suggestions into the margins of their copy of the author’s story, then verbally summarized how the piece of work “worked” or “didn’t work” in certain areas, and finally, handed the marked-up copy back to the author for them to review in private during revisions.
What else you can expect:
Some groups, like the one I attended, welcome you to sit in for free but require a monthly or annual membership fee if you’re looking for the group to critique your work. In this group’s case, the annual charge for a membership was $55 at the beginning of the year, or they would prorate the fee in increments if you joined later in the year.
Depending on the dynamic of the group, especially if it is well-established over a few months or even years, you might have to break the ice a bit. Don’t be afraid to lend your voice in the critique sessions even if you don’t share your own work right away. Just be sure to follow the group’s critiquing guidelines, if they have them. (The Golden Rule applies: treat your fellow writers with words of encouragement as well as constructive criticism, just as you would like to receive. It can be hard to take feedback!!)
Still wondering if a critique group is right for you?
If you’re worried about finding a genre buddy, don’t be. The panel I visited was fairly small and yet out of the 14 participants there were writers of Sci-Fi, Historic Fiction, Mystery, Romance, and (yours truly) Horror/Dark fantasy. All genres cross at some point and no matter what you enjoy writing, the mechanics of the craft remain fairly constant. So while you may not find someone who thinks exactly like you do (which is a good thing for sharpening your skills!) you are bound to find others you can learn from, even if all you do is listen to the group give their feedback to someone else.
I promise you this: if you go, you will gain experience and knowledge. No question in my mind. For those of you who might be intimidated by joining a group of published authors or writers who are simply more mature in their journey than you are right now, remember this: there will ALWAYS be someone who is “better” than you at everything you do. But that absolutely does not mean you should be intimidated by their knowledge. We all need mentors to grow.
Will I be returning to the group? I believe I will, maybe in August. And if not this group, then a different one. I recognize that social groups have underlying dynamics and this is no different; sometimes you just ‘click’ with people and sometimes you can only do your best to take away some valuable lessons and move on.
The highlight of my experience: chatting in the parking lot for fifteen minutes with Lance Erlick, author of the Android Chronicles published by Penguin Random House. (Not an affiliate link.) Adding his books to my ever-growing reading list!