Friday, January 22, 2010

The Value of Writers' Groups

I urge every writer out there to seek out a group you can work with. Over the years, I've been in several groups, and went to the first meetings of many more. Only two have worked out, My Hatchet writing group in the late 80's which eventually becamse the South Carolina Writer's Workshop, (SCWW) the most established statewide writers organization, where I learned to develop a thick skin, and the Reedy River Rats. All the other groups were not good fits due to their approach, level of dedication or style of writing. You have to fit, you have to all have the same values, even though you don't have to write in the same genres or styles or write poetry, prose or nonfiction.

Over the years, the Rats has worked with all three including some odd offshoots such as comics and gaming.
And we all agree how the melding has been something intangible, alchemical, and transformative, both in our writing and in our daily lives. We've become friends, cxonfidants, cheerleaders and editors for each other, but most importantly we all agree on what a writer's life understands. Something, many other people in our lives don't relaly comprehend.
The Rats has met now, in various incarnations since 2003. That's a long time. Many years we met every week and while some years it was off and on, we were always able to pick right back up and get to work. Each time a members has moved away, there were tough adjustments, as each member brought their own style of fascinating writing to the table, as well as their unique perspectives on writing, whether it be on the concepts, storylines, plots, characters, grammar or technical issues. I've learned so much from each person who has been a member and was sad when each person left, some of them moving away. I've especially missed: Wendy Swearingen, Chris Patrick, Shaggy Randal, Avery Moore. Throughout this life-changing meeting of the minds with these talented people, I became a better writer, editor and publisher. Mostly because we all learned to be honest and frank with our critiques, forthcoming with suggestions to back up the critiques, support when we couldn't write, enthusiasm when things went well and an open minded genuine interest in each other's work, progress and success.

Now we're down to Brian K. Ladd and B. Miller, both published authors in the horror, steampunk and literary fields.  We meet at Coffee Underground in the Red Room weekly and hash out novels, short stories, poetry.  We compare notes, share markets, go on literary field trips to readings, book fairs, workshops, and are now planning what conferences and cons we'll attend over the next couple of years.  B Miller is a specilaist in grammar, continuity,  action, crime and police stuff.  Brian handles history, philosophy, continuity, languages, research and character. Both of them are great with character development.  I guess my forte is plot, psychological aspects and motivations of character, some grammar and the publishing industry, markets, trends, agents small presses. 
The feedback we get can operate in many ways, encouragement as we're in the process, editing as we near the end of a chapter or short story, market suggestions and acknowledgement of when a piece is ready to submit.  Sometimes, the meetings take odd turns, the feedback is a surprise and sends our work reeling off into other directions, into novels or into realms we would never have attemped on out own.  From our most recent meeting I was confused as to what direction my story, "The Orchid Collector" was taking and the feedback was unanimous to take it out of the high fantasy realm and to put it back in the realm of steampunk erotica/dark fantasy since I'd already written another story Marquette de Fleur, which features one of the characters. So I played some steam wave music by Vernian Process and I'm on my way.
Don't underestimate the power of writers' groups.  If you're not in one now, try and locate one.  If it's a good match you will be amazed at how much your work improves.

1 comment:

  1. You're so right about the value of a group. Mine is small now (four people) and meets monthly. We let the writer whose work is being critiqued pick a restaurant, so our location shifts. It's fun and has helped my writing in countless ways.


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