Writing is such a solitary occupation, that I’ve often felt at a loss as to my literary abilities. I can look at a piece of writing and think it’s award material, or I can look at the same piece of writing and think it’s garbage. I’ve noticed that most of my insecurities attack me right after I’ve finished reading a riveting book.
I know. I know. One of the Golden Rules–Don’t compare.
That’s why input during the creative process from other writers is so important. Without help from someone who understands not only the “how” of writing, but also the emotional havoc we put ourselves through during the writing process, the lone author can become discouraged. A loss of faith can lead to eventual abandonment of a manuscript that, with a little help, might have ended up on the NY Times bestseller list. So often, writers who have a great story are simply bogged down by the mechanics. All they need is a little guidance to get on the right track.
Guidance can come in many ways: books on writing, writing classes, writing conferences, or critique groups (online or in person). All have been important throughout my writing experience, especially at the beginning when I had no idea what the art of fiction-writing entailed. Today, I continue to use all these writing assets, however, my main source of guidance and encouragement is my weekly writing group.
We’re a small group, presently at five, who gather together to help each other through the anxieties of creating our fictional tales. We each have very different styles of writing and mostly different genres even though we have entered, at times, the same genre-specific contests.
if you walk into the local Barnes & Noble bookstore on a Friday evening, you can usually find us sitting in the café working on our current projects. After we schmooze, each person reads something they’ve written. The rest of the crew listens for problems like back story, POV, unnecessary or too little information/description. Then we discuss possibilities and/or methods to help the author achieve a more satisfying result. Sometimes, one of us has a new idea and needs help growing it. A lively brainstorming session ensues where everything is on the table, no matter how outrageous or off-the-wall. This type of impromptu discussion tends to push a writer beyond their comfort zone and open exciting new alternatives. Many times my fellow writers’ crazy ideas jogged me out of my story tunnel-vision and led to intriguing new inspiration.
One of the most important assets of my writing group is the diversity. Not only do we write in different genres, but our minds work very differently. When I put my words out there, I’m always astounded at the relevant ideas tossed out by my colleagues. Their input has been invaluable, adding fascinating new storyline deviations I couldn’t have imagined.
We’ve been together for a few years and know each other pretty well. Each of us has what I like to call recurring quirks that plague our writing. When one of those quirks materializes in someone’s writing, we all immediately see the problem and address it.
Although I’ve developed a much better awareness of my worst writing habits, I don’t always catch them. For instance, I’m famous for telling rather than showing. Sometimes, I’m in such a hurry to get a scene written, I fall back into that trap. The group always catches it. Thankfully, no one is afraid to tell me. As a matter of fact, there’s usually a grin and a chuckle accompanying the critique.
The current members of our group write Mystery, Paranormal, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. We’re each working on our books as well as short stories. To date, three of us have published short stories and, I know it’s only a matter of time before our books are out there. I can see positive changes in everyone’s writing skills.
The old adage that says the more you write, the better you’ll write has been true for our group. However, I also know that the constant positive reinforcement we give and receive each week has been responsible for all the confidence we’ve gained. Two years ago I wrote a short story that garnered heavy critique. Although there was support for the story premise, I felt discouraged and I put it away. Last year, someone asked me what had happened to that story. I dragged it out again and worked on it. This time, the group encouraged me to submit it. That was Micah’s Gift, the story I published in the Black Petals ezine a few months ago.
During this whole process of learning to think like a writer, I’ve discovered that my mind can be a dangerous place to visit. The stories I tell myself aren’t necessarily true, especially when it comes to my writing. Sometimes, even though I like a piece I’ve written, I insist to myself that it isn’t good. How foolish. In denying that what I liked was good, I not only put myself down as a writer, but also as a reader.
When I read for enjoyment, the books that catch my interest are being read and admired by hundreds of thousands of people. I don’t finish everything I start. If a book doesn’t hook me after a few chapters, I put it down. I’m a discriminating reader. That same discrimination transfers to what I write. Unfortunately, it often takes another person to point that out to me.
Not all writing groups are the same. Some are made up of seasoned writers who might not be the best fit for someone just beginning their writing career. Some groups might have too much people-pleasing and not enough serious critiques. Other groups might have a little of each. My suggestion is to try working with a group for a few months to get the flavor. Give it a fair chance and do your part. Make sure that you are totally participating. If a group has a specific writing goal before it convenes, make sure to meet that goal. Also, remember, it’s not always about you. Each member expects the same careful input for their work as they’ve given to yours. A writing group is about team work. Each member helps the others whether it’s writing advice, cheerleading, or commiseration. Here is an interesting site with some good advice.
If you have trouble finding a writing group in your area, why not start one yourself? Let the people in your library know you’re interested and check local papers, colleges or other writing fellowships. They often know about groups in the area. There’s also an online group called Meetup.com where you can look for writing groups or advertise your desire to start one. You don’t have to be alone.
And, remember! Whatever you do, keep on writing.