Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Benefit of a Writer’s Group

If you plan to publish a novel or a short story one day, then be prepared, there is always the possibility of a negative review, the “real world” can be very critical. Critics are everywhere, your family, and your friends and your next-door neighbor the list is endless, but what do they know about writing? Most of the time they will not tell you the truth about your writing, they don’t want to hurt your feelings and then have you mad at them for the rest of your life.
Pray tell, no.

This is where a writing group comes in.
First let’s get to what can be considered the down side; you posted your very best story to the group, or an online group like the one I belong too, for an honest critique. You sit back and wait for the results, and you think this is the best of the best they’re going to fall all over themselves praising it…then reality hits you upside the head. It isn’t the best they have ever read, you’ve got potential, but your story lacks substance, the pacing is to slow, there isn’t enough subtext or description in the story. You are flabbergasted, all the hours you spent on the story, all of your hopes and dreams of being published on the onset just got flushed down the drain.
That’s reality.

Don’t go getting stressed out and thinking the world of writing has just ended for you, it hasn’t. There is nothing to say that you won’t get a positive review, but as upcoming and a wanna-be writer, I’d say the odds of getting a good review right off the bat is almost next to none. You have to study the craft of writing, for some like me it’s been a long haul down a never-ending road, and I doubt the learning process will ever end. As far as a negative review is concern, there is always value that can be gained from one. Trust me, you wouldn’t want your group gushing over every little thing you write, and if they do, you can bet your sweet-bippy something is definitely wrong, for in the real world it doesn’t happen like that.

Just recently, my group The Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo reviewed an interview with Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx and she said that she is still learning the craft and that she takes a scalpel to her own work in rewriting and she writes as many as 20 to 30 drafts of each story. “And I thought, thank God there is hope for me after all.”

As I mentioned previously that is the benefit of a writing group, is studying the craft, for there are many rules for the beginner to learn. There is much knowledge to gain through discussion, reviewing each other’s work, writing prompts and exercises.

Let’s say you going to post a short story or the beginning of a novel to the group and you want the group to critique what you have, first off know what it is you want from the group. Do you want them to do a LBL (line-by-line) or do you have specific details you want answers to, list those questions at the top of the page or ask the group, if it’s not online. In my humble opinion, a good critique whether it has some negative comments or not can give you valuable insight into your writing.

I’ll end my comments here for the time being and give you a link to Donald Maass Literary Agency and a novel he is giving away titled “The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success” you can download it from his website in PDF form.

Happy Writing.


  1. Joan,

    What a terrific post! I think you've put out a solid argument for belonging to a writing group. I know without our group I'd never stick to a schedule and I'd be unable to learn where to focus my efforts. As you said, sometimes we work so darn hard on a story we just can't see it getting any better. And THEN, a cool, objective eye produces astonishing feedback. And suddenly, it becomes clear. Because of the group, I've had more success in taking a story to the conclusion. I've also turned out six strong stories in three months. Most of these were stuck in revision. I rely on my group to be honest. When I send a story out, I know it's as good as I can make it. That's the best thing in the world.
    I never want to be ashamed of something I've submitted. Because of our group, I've been working hard on grammar. There's only so much play in the words, "I'm not good at grammar." Sooner or later, it comes down to hard work.


  2. Hi Raven,
    I do hope it convinces others what value they can receive from a group environment, but then also the group has to have the commitment our group in Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo has to make it work as well as it does.
    My writing has improved tremendously, like you, I need the grammar police, and having those that are committed to sharing their knowledge has helped me in that area as well.
    What I also find fascinating is the analysis of the short stories that the group does well as what each member takes away from the story, as well as the discussions afterward. It helps the wanna-be author like me, to focus on such details like subtext, setting, and what it adds to the meaning of a story.
    You’ve summed it up beautifully here, “And THEN, a cool, objective eye produces astonishing feedback. And suddenly, it becomes clear. Because of the group, I've had more success in taking a story to the conclusion.”
    Thanks for Sharing,
    Happy Writing!



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