Oh my goodness, it’s another blog post! Forever and a day after the last one!
I figured I’d throw down something that falls under a different category than “Mr. Brown’s fucking opinion” like, maybe, writing. Considering writing is what I spend 85% of my time away from corporate America doing, I may as well write about writing. I hope that’s not anything like the old adage “Those who can’t do, teach…”
Anyway, I’m moving on now.
I wanted to start some discussion fodder on writing groups.
I’ve been a part of online and offline groups, critique groups and “teaching” groups, but never an actual reading group. By definition, though, I don’t think we can count those, but for the record, I do know several writers who participate in them for the book discussions after. They say it helps with plot and character development, pacing, but more importantly, it puts them in touch with what the average reader thinks of any given book, and therefore it’s a litmus test for their own fiction; they’re able to take the keynotes from those talks and edit their manuscripts to better fit a narrower/broader/whatever type of audience. But still, the primary goals of those groups, unlike a writing group, is to read. A writing group puts its focus on the craft by the majority of the members.
The major thrust of the blog post is whether writing groups are advantageous.
My personal opinion is yes, absolutely.
With that out in the open, I must confess that I belong to four of them. Two are online, two are offline, and each one gets a different amount of my time. The offline groups get 99% of my group time, but that wasn’t always the case.
When I first started to write with the added desire of publication, I didn’t know any other writers. This was way back before my first kid was born, so about 13 years ago. An online group was a perfect fit and I found my way to Zoetrope, ran by the magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, in turn, founded the magazine. It was pretty much a straight critique group where you had to review five works before you could post one of your own. The writer maintained that ratio to continue putting work up to be reviewed by others. Otherwise, the group was pointless, since its sole purpose was feedback. Sure, they had forums and writing caves that you could invite friends to, but Zoetrope’s main focus was getting critique and feedback. And if your piece was rated high enough, possible publication in the magazine, too. Not a bad deal overall.
I had good experiences in there, lots and lots of good feedback, but even more so, it was an ego boost. To hear other writers say “Hey man, this is pretty good…” and then go into the things they liked and didn’t like was awesome. It’s also where I learned to critique, to give positive remarks along with places of improvement. It helped me to read critically, because that was the sole purpose of being there.
Many reviews I see on Amazon and Goodreads today aren’t critical reviews, but taste reviews. And yes, taste is a valid part of any review, yet it shouldn’t be the entire basis of the review. But that, my friends, is a blog post for another time.
I recently joined Scribophile, recommended to me by Alexis A. Hunter. It works on the same basic principle as Zoetrope did (using points, I believe), but I’m just not active over there. It’s nothing against the site or the people (Alexis is super talented, for one, and super nice) but more due to a lack of time to read and review so and so many other people’s work. Maybe one day, if I’m not killing myself 10 hours a day with corporate America, I can become more active.
I also belong to a couple of offline writing groups. These two groups are vastly different, but that’s fine with me. It’s like genre or style in your fiction, you know? It never hurts to experiment, spread your wings, and see what’s going on.
After my first son was born, I went on a writing hiatus for the first five years of his life. I got my first corporate job and started two weeks before he was born, endured a painful 18 week training program, was never home with him as a baby. It fucking sucked. I’d had three stories published at that time (Threshold and Go Beyond) and a third (Prior Record: A Christmas Tale) scheduled for publication the following year. I’d just started, but I quit anyway.
Then, after having moved up slightly in the corporate arena, I met some writers in the company and we formed a group. We’d meet once a week, and one of us would have prepared a discussion topic to go over with the others. Such topics included character development, plot, dialogue, and all things in between. It was a teaching group, but we’d also trade word and give “ink” when asked. So, it was also part critique, but mostly the teaching. It helped put laser focus back on the writing portion and man, how I’d missed it.
Between my kid’s birth and then, I’d kept a notebook with titles, ideas, a few short stories I’d written, but what I really had was a trunk folder full of all the shit I’d started five and six years prior. I cranked that trunk open and pulled out the musty and dusty pieces.
They sucked, in my opinion, but that didn’t deter me, and I went back to work on them. This was back in 2007 or so. I revised, rewrote, reworked, received feedback, did it all again. And here, five years later, almost all of them have been published now. I have three left from that group (one of which I’m in love with and can’t find it a good home) and the other two, well, we’ll see what happens.
The teaching each other, even though none of us teach, is still a great thing. You learn how other writers approach the craft and you can then pull what’s useful into your palette of tools.
So, for the more curious folks out there, the group meets every other Saturday for two hours. We start with a timed writing prompt, go into our presentation for the day, and do any work/discussion associated with it. The last bit of the meeting we usually share news, publications, work, whatever is on our minds in relation to our writing.
The other group I belong to is quite the opposite of that one. They meet monthly (as of right now, though they’re piloting a bi-monthly meeting as well) and it’s much more of a discussion group. We bring topics, trouble stories, and the conversation just flows from there. Ideas bounce around, flow, and this goes on for several hours and the enthusiasm never wanes. Work is exchanged, critiqued, handed back.
It’s my opinion that talking and working with others writers in these capacities is beyond golden; you can’t put a price tag on surrounding yourself with intelligent, creative people, especially ones who write. Not to mention, writing is a solitary thing to do, and groups bring socialization. I should stress, since they’re all writers, that socialization is far less awkward than say going to a bar or some party.
I guess that makes writing groups priceless, eh?
Who else out there belongs to one? What kind of structure do you guys have? How beneficial do you find it?
I also want to hear from people who don’t belong, or who have and didn’t find them useful. What were the reasons you didn’t like about the ones you tried?
Talk to me, people!