Sunday, November 28, 2010

An Indie Author’s Asset: The Writing Group

Being an author is a challenging job. Even well established, published authors have days where they stare at their computer screens (or composition notebooks) and doubt their own abilities. Writing means being able to tap into your creative side and create a worthwhile project, even when your day has been lousy or you have a headache. Independent authors have additional challenges to tackle: sticking to their own deadlines, finding willing participants to critique their work, and determining how to get their stories known. Additionally, writing is a solitary profession and one could easily find themselves feeling discouraged and isolated.

Many authors would be amazed by the power of joining a writer’s (or critique) group. In her book, Pen on Fire, Barabara DeMarco-Barrett notes that finding a writer’s group has the benefit of being able to share your ideas with people who likely see the world in a similar way. Independent authors stand to benefit incredibly from a serious writer’s group. Some examples of these benefits include:

1)Free editing: Let’s face it, no matter how many times we review books like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, or how often we scrutinize our work, we will always make mistakes. There are many errors to be made: spelling and grammar errors, plot holes, and vocabulary screw-ups to name a few. If you engage yourself in a serious writer’s group where everyone does their part, your material will be critiqued for free. Your counterparts may not be editors by trade; however, they have more knowledge on the subject than the lay person. In my writer’s group, we meet bi-monthly and bring corrections of one another’s work to discuss in each meeting. This keeps us accountable to each other and improves the quality of our work.
2)Ensuring timely completion of work: As noted above, involvement in a writer’s group brings accountability. Even on my busiest weeks, as the date of our next group nears, I find myself using my time more efficiently. I know my friends are expecting me to hand over a portion of my own project as well as provide feedback on theirs. My writer’s group has likely pushed my productivity forward two fold.
3)Hearing hard news from a soft place: Not one writer wants to hear that their work stinks. Even the most seasoned among us has failed to dazzle their audience with a scene or completely confused even their sharpest readers. Sometimes, we know something needs help, other times, we hand over a part of our work that we are sure will win awards only to hear the painful news that it needs help-and lots of it. Criticism hurts, but it’s less excruciating to hear from someone who cares about you and knows your potential than from a complete stranger who has no investment in your success as a writer.
4)Sounding board for frustrations: As a new writer, I often feel overwhelmed. Attempting to write my first novel, working full-time, and trying to have a social life has been a difficult endeavor. My writer’s group buddies truly understand the fears of failure, exhaustion, and continual roadblocks I face.
5)Learning from one another: We could spend every hour of every day for years studying the craft of writing and never exhaust all there is to learn. Spending time with other writers to share knowledge can ease this burden. For example, I learned about the opportunity to blog on this site from one of my writer’s group buddies.

I would encourage every writer to establish a group by identifying a few people that can meet regularly and appear serious about their goals. Word of caution: Keep the group small and establish some general rules (e.g. expectations of each member). My writer’s group consists of 3 people. I read and write fantasy, they are science fiction writers. All 3 of us write differently, and enjoy diverse types of stories. This is not a barrier, but adds interest and brings varying view points into our meetings. Not only have these writers helped to propel my writing goals, but they have become friends of immeasurable worth.


vigroco said...

I doubt any author can make it absolutely on their own. We all need relationships to function properly and that extends to the professional realm. I have always found that pooling ideas leads to the greatest revelations.

deepwellbridge said...

Great Blog. I agree 110%. Having a small succinct group of authors like myself has opened my eyes to various opinions... other than my own.

A few rules I'd like to add to your list: be sure that every person in the group has the chance to say what they want. Having a group where one person is speaking and everyone else is listening isn't an effective use of time.

The goal of the group is for everyone to have time and share their ideas equally. This is a meeting of colleagues, not a sounding board for one person to dominate. Think Democracy not Dictatorship.

Finding the right people is always the hardest part. Once you do it just fits like a glove.

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