As a member of a long-running face-to-face group and now an active online group, I can attest to the truth of what Cynthia Hilston says below: that good groups exist. I spent far too many years writing in isolation; never again. Maybe I don’t like every response; maybe sometimes I’m disheartened. But I’d rather be disheartened now when I can figure out what to do about the problem than when I get that “we’re not the right agency for this project” form letter with NO feedback as to why.
I’ve posted about my group several times (for example, see “In Praise of My Writing Group“), and I did a series on the founding of our group, the Green River Writers, and its leader, Mary (Ernie) O’Dell, here in Louisville.
And I just posted the 2017 Contest brochure for this year’s Green River Writers contest! A terrific contest with low entries fees and lots of cash prizes! Check it out!
2 responses to “The Benefits of Joining a Writers Group”
While I wholeheartedly agree with the assessment of the value of writers groups, I just wish more attention was given to the damage such groups can cause to the novice writer. There really should be some sort of orientation when joining a group to explain to newbies that not all critters are created equal. I wold go so far as to assign a mentor to each new author to explain that often times critters don’t recognize a soul crushing crit from something helpful.
All too often I’ve seen writers driven from a workshop because of the tactlessness of the reviewers. I’m sure it’s not done from any malice, but a series of negative evaluations can have a dampening effect on a writer. Sometimes is just a matter of a reviewer not liking the genre, being pressed for time, or (and this is especially important early on) not bothering to explain what they object to, Getting “this doesn’t work for me” from a critter a writer has experience with, is helpful, but to a fragile newcomer it can be devastating.
I experienced such a process myself when I joined my writing group. I received a dozen negative crits of my first chapter and I was on the verge of giving up. But then, a accomplished author read my words and took the time to tell me that he loved my story, but I wasn’t writing a story, but a book and my mechanics sucked. It’s what everyone was telling me, really, but this individual took the time to explain to me where and why I was going wrong.
It was a game changer. He made the workshop do what it was meant to do, make me a better writer (hopefully). I am forever in his debt, I trashed my novel and started over and by painful trial and error came to understand the pros and cons of a writers group, how to interpret helpful negative comments from useless “i wouldn’t have done it this way” comments.
I’d like to share that crit if I may. It was a beautifully written slap in the face, and just what I needed:
There are a gazillion nits below–to the point where I almost deleted and
started over this critique–but they all come down to the same thing. You
clearly have a vivid and specific picture in your mind of the scene, but
you’re just not getting it down on the page. Partly, it’s a matter of
obscurity for obscurity’s sake where obscurity isn’t needed. The key thread
is all the dynamics of the survivalist family, so the cause–be it a
cyber-attack or a biological plague or an atomic bomb–isn’t that important.
So why play with the reader? Tell us what’s going on, right from the
beginning. As much as the characters know what’s going on.
And the characters–who are superb–are introduced as if you expect us you
know them as well as you do. We wait almost to the end of the chapter to
find out that Mom’s an Asian. We wait much too long to even find out that
she and the twins are sleeping in the same room. We get halfway through the
conversation with Chris before we know who he is. We’re still puzzling over
Calvin, when Theo enters the conversation. And we wait almost to the end of
the chapter to discover as basic a detail as the narrator’s gender. Almost
no description of any of these people, as if you assume we already know
them. But of course, we don’t.
IMHO, the most important thing for a novelist is to clearly know and
differentiate his characters, and the odd thing here is, you more than
satisfy this “requirement”. And the writing itself is clear and fluid, with
almost nothing to nit about. But if the first chapter is designed to anchor
us in the story, it doesn’t quite do so.
The hero’s journey is one of the most honored themes in drama (from the
Biblical David to Luke Skywalker). This sounds like what you’re after here,
but you do yourself no favors by starting in the middle of the chaos.
Normally we see the hero tending his flock before events sweep in to take
him off to a new dimension, and this makes for a simplified structure. By
starting in the middle of the chaos here, you add all kinds of complications
to the plot and flow. If anyone can handle these, you clearly can, but you
need to slow down and let the readers climb onto the bus you’re driving.
Still not sure if I should submit this critique. It sounds a lot more
critical than I intend it to be. After all, the prose itself is beautifully
written. But if novel-writing is a two-way communication, odd as that
sounds, it seems here like you need to spend a little more time in your
James Lockhart Perry
Those familiar with my writing will note I didn’t take all his advice. But I did listen, learned, and got better. I was lucky. If this fine man hadn’t decided to take the time to give me an honest evaluation, i think I would’ve abandoned writing altogether. The words: DO NO HARM should scroll across every critters screen as they are reviewing.
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Wow, Tim, thanks for stopping by to add an important caveat to these posts. I often err on the side of focusing more on what flags me than on what works. This critique is a powerful reminder of how a good reader can make a difference without being harsh. As for whether you followed his advice, I didn’t find the first chapter of Second Dead hard to follow at all. So you did what needed to be done. (I recommend Tim’s books even to non-zombie fans. I wasn’t, but I’m enjoying Tim’s Second Dead serial a lot.)