The Benefits of Joining a Writers Group

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!

A Writer's Path

by Cynthia Hilston

There it was for probably the hundredth time on the sign outside my local library: writers group, meeting 8/18 2-4:00 PM.  Okay, maybe not the hundredth time, but how many times did I drive past the library, which is about two point five miles from my house, and see that group advertised and not do a darn thing?  The sign was one of those LED types that showed all the happenings at the library, from book discussion groups to story times for children.  And my library had a writers group.

Of course, every time I saw that sign, I wondered, What do they do at those meetings?  Do they just sit there and write?  Do writing exercises?  Or do they read each other’s work while there and comment on it?

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2 Comments

Filed under Contests, Green River Writers, Learning to write, What Not To Do in Writing Novels, Writers' groups, Writing, Writing and Learning

2 responses to “The Benefits of Joining a Writers Group

  1. T Francis Sharp

    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
    reader’s head.
    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.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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.)

      Like

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