When I decided back in late 2007 to try to make a serious run at getting my first book done and in some kind of shape, I found and joined a writing group. There are different kinds of groups out there, and I believe there are several that meet in the Dayton area, but I didn’t really know what I was looking for, so I just joined the first one I found. Luckily, it turned out to be a good fit for me, and I’m still there.
My group meets twice a month in a local book store, and we meet for two hours or so per meeting. There are usually around ten of us, and we take turns reading our work and then providing feedback. The goal of this particular group is for all of us to be published authors, so the intent of the feedback is to provide valuable input from both a reader’s and an editor’s perspective. We each have experience and knowledge that we’ve gained from industry books and magazines, and from publishing contacts, seminars and conferences, and we try to bring that knowledge together to benefit the group.
There are other kinds of groups out there, and recently we’ve had discussions about them as we debated whether or not we’re doing things in the most productive way.
Most notably, the two other types of groups we discussed are “fluff” groups, which only seek to compliment each other’s work, and “destructive” groups, whose primary purpose is to tear each others work apart in an effort to improve it. Our group, we decided, is sort if in between “fluff” and “destructive”, which seems to work for us.
First, we try to highlight the positives we hear in the work, which I think is important to hear as a writer. Sometimes something like, “I really loved the tension between the two characters,” can be just the boost you need to keep going. Second, we try try be honest about what needs to be fixed or improved upon. If a character seems one-dimensional, we say so. If a conversation feels flat, we say so. If an entire scene feels unnecessary or awkward, we say so. Often, the advice can lead to extensive rewrites, but as they say, sometimes you have to murder your darlings.
In fact, it was a comment at a meeting that led me to completely rewrite one of the characters in my book. People kept saying that Jake, the teenage journalist in my book, felt too goody-goody. He was a great guy, and he was perfect, and everybody liked him, and he was… boring. When I first heard these comments, I dismissed them. Then I heard them again, and I listened. And I realized they were right. When I rewrote the character as a cocky, know-it-all kid with a chip on his shoulder about money and materialism, it provided a much richer relationship with his depressed and reclusive lottery-winning uncle. Now there was great tension there, and the whole story made more sense.
Besides the feedback and advice, there are many other benefits to joining a writing group. Just the exercise of reading and revising, with the feedback of several peers to draw upon, can strengthen you work. As you begin to hear patterns and constant reinforcement of good writing habits, your own writing will improve.
Reading aloud is also good for a writer. Sometimes you can write something, read it countless times, and you won’t hear something that’s wrong until you hear it out loud.
Another benefit is that by hearing the work of others and providing feedback, you will learn to analyze and provide feedback like an editor would. In time, this will help you to be more critical of your own work.
The other benefit to being in a group is that it will encourage you to focus on your work. Oftentimes, I find myself writing a scene and looking forward to reading it specifically to my group.
So if you’re an aspiring writer, and you’re ready to get serious about sharing your work with the world, start with a local writing group. Not only will you feel less alone as a writer, you’ll feel more focused and knowledgeable because you’re commiting yourself to improving your craft.