Participating in a writer’s group is a great way to sharpen your storytelling skills. Regardless of your current experience level, from those new to writing all the way to advanced wordsmiths, working with your peers can be valuable for a writer’s overall development.
Finding a writer’s group can be a challenge unless you know where to look. Coffee shop bulletin boards, at your local writer’s group, or through an on-line source like Meet Up are a few places to start. What kind of writer’s group you engage is up to you, too. Generally speaking, however, writers groups focus on critique, allowing writers to share their work and discuss opportunities for improvement.
In this blog, I offer some advice on how to get the most out of your group.
KNOW YOUR SKILL AND EXPERIENCE LEVEL:
It is very important to understand where you are in your writing career before joining a group. Are you new to the craft? Are you the kind of reader that dutifully writes on the weekend and in the mornings? Or, are you a professional writer, committed to the creative process on a daily basis.
Knowing your skill and experience level allows you to make a match. When a group of new writers decides to get together, early draft or amateur mistakes are shared in common. Introducing a professionally published author to a mix of neophytes can set an intimidating standard, proving ultimately unsatisfying to everyone involved. It works the same way in reverse. An amateur writer stuck in a group of grizzled pros likely won’t provide the kind of in-depth and helpful feedback necessary.
I have been in unbalanced writer groups before. The situations make serving everyone’s needs difficult. We thrive on a range of experiences, but it’s better to work within your peer group.
It’s important to know that wherever you are is OK. Everyone was a beginning writer at one time, so it’s perfectly fine to set out looking for your tribe.
FOCUS ON IMPROVING YOUR WRITING:
This may seem obvious, but to at least a few new writers, it can be a hard lesson to learn. When you show up to your writers group, you’re showing up for your writing.
Here is what I mean.
I was in a writer’s group a few years ago. It was fairly well balanced. We had a professional or two, someone with an agent in mind and two women who had written numerous short stories.
We seemed like a good match.
After a while, however, one of our members got frustrated. The changes she was making to her manuscript were not making her happy. Every week, she would take our feedback, implement it and as a result, she was starting to hate her work in progress.
She said that she implemented those changes because she wanted to make us happy. While she liked our feedback, not everything we said was something that she agreed with. After so long implementing changes that negatively altered the direction of her book, she was ready to throw in the towel.
Opinions are just that. They aren’t gospel. The best writer’s groups offer a variety of opinions. It’s up to you, the writer, to decide which direction is best for your book.
BE PREPARED FOR HONESTY -- ON BOTH SIDES:
I think that this is the most important aspect of a critique circle. Participating in a writer’s group means giving honest feedback, as well as being prepared to receive the same.
I remember the first time someone at the table said they didn’t get my story. Those words lanced my heart like a sharp wooden stake and for a while, I felt like that was their shortcoming. I bucked against their advice until a hard reality dawned on me: that was precisely what I needed to hear.
Readers are tough and they have every right to be. If your goal is to advance your writing to the level of professionally published, your objective is pleasing readers. A lot of them. After all, happy readers buy books. They buy a lot of them and they write good reviews.
The goal of a writer’s group is to make every participant a better writer. If your story does not make sense, or a character is misaligned, you need to know that.
It isn’t personal. It never is.
The covenant of a writer’s group is that honesty is a two-way street. If something doesn’t make sense, your critique partner needs to hear that from you. Don’t feel foolish, either. If you don’t understand something, that likely means a reader down the line won’t either.
One of the best things a writer can do to advance their craft and career is to learn how to work with other authors. While the act of writing is solitary, being a writer means participating in a world.
Erick Mertz is a writer/content editor/publishing consultant from Portland, Oregon. You can find more of his thoughts on writing at https://www.erickmertzwriting.com. He writes The Strange Air series of Paranormal Mysteries, found at Amazon. When he is not writing, he is an avid gamer and cinephile, rabid follower of the Portland Trailblazers and a beer drinker that adores his family.
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