Wednesday, May 11, 2016

To Group or Not?

                                                                           Should I jump in?

Not everyone wants to get advice from a writer’s group, and not every writer’s group works well for every writer. But if you do decide to pass your work by some other writers, there are things you need to consider.

Writer’s groups come in all shapes and sizes. They have various numbers of members, meet at different intervals, and critique any number of pages. In some groups everyone submits a certain number of pages for each meeting. In others one person submits a substantial chunk. I personally prefer to submit a whole novel, or at least a big chunk because I want to know how a novel is working overall for readers. But I know others who prefer to work in 20-page increments, revising one scene or chapter until they feel good about it before they move on. It’s important when you decide you want to join a writer’s group that you choose one that has a structure that supports the way you work.

It’s especially critical that you join a group whose members respect each other. I’ve heard horror stories about group members who try to rewrite people’s books, who give nasty critiques, who argue when people try to provide honest critiques, and who don’t manage to read others’ work while expecting other members to spend time on theirs. You have to be able to trust that the members of the group have your interest in mind as well as their own, and that they can give and take honest criticism. It’s just as crucial to get real, honest feedback as it is not to get overly critical feedback. A reader should give both positive and constructive comments. It does the writer no good to only hear only bad news—it crushes the spirit and makes it hard to approach the manuscript editing with enthusiasm. But it also does no good to only hear how wonderful a piece of writing is. You don’t join a group just to get strokes.

I happen to belong to a group of four writers, and I’m the only crime writer in the group. The reason it works for me is that the others have respect for the kind of work I do, and even if they aren’t mystery readers, they understand the genre and critique my work according to my intention, not just for their reading preferences. I learn a lot not only from their critiques, but also from what they write and from the critiques they get.

At one time I belonged to a group of all crime writers and I really enjoyed reading their work and getting their feedback. Unfortunately the group stopped being the best fit for me. When we formed the group, the process was that we each submit an entire manuscript, which meant with six writers, one writer’s turn only came around every six months. It worked fine when we were all unpublished and did have not have deadlines, but once people started writing under contract, it was impossible to wait several months for feedback. That group still gets together on occasion to catch up with each other. It didn’t disband because of bad feelings, but because it stopped meeting everyone’s needs.

Because I have a June 1 deadline, I had my critique last week. It was very satisfying because what I heard was that the book works well overall and that it needed some editing. There were no surprises in terms of what needed to be done, and I’m already ripping through it beefing up the parts that weren’t up to par.

Next week I’ll talk about that “beefing up” process.

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