Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Writers Groups
Though I obviously LOVE writing partners and writers groups, I’m also a huge fan of spreading the word about the need to find the RIGHT critique partner or critique group. Not all writers groups are made equal, and you shouldn’t settle for anything less than perfect. A negative experience or dynamic can do more harm than good to your writing and your confidence in your writing.
Today’s guest post comes from Ladies Who Critique member Cyndi Pauwels. She’s telling us about the pinnacles and pitfalls of writers group using her own experience. Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us about your own pinnacles and pitfalls!
Guest Post: Cyndi Pauwels
Writing is a solitary business. We spend hours upon hours alone, immersed in an imaginary world that can become more real than the one we physically inhabit, crafting phrases and sentences into a semblance of mental clarity and grafting them onto a blank page. Eventually, for most of us, the tales of our imagination are ready to be shared. But with whom? Mothers are usually far too approving, ready to hang even the roughest effort on the fridge with a fluffy kitten magnet. If willing, spouses and roommates are convenient, but they’re not always the best judge of character development and plot holes. For more concrete results, excellent sites like Ladies Who Critique offer a way to connect to those with similar backgrounds and experience levels.
Each of these possibilities is useful in its own way, but to grow as writers, and sometimes to shore up our sanity, we need more. We need an experienced viewpoint, a patient teacher, and a calming voice. We need a writers group.
My weekly group is my lifeline. Part beta readers, part critique partners, part support group, we’re a fluid mix of six to eight struggling authors who share evaluations, encouragement, and kick-in-the-pants accountability. Our regulars each bring a different strength: Tami’s English teacher background corrects our grammar, Lori focuses on continuity, Jim ruthlessly eliminates excessive adjectives, and James shows us how to set a compelling backdrop. I’m a not-so-closeted punctuation junkie, and I’ve been told I craft authentic dialogue. We complement each other, and after almost two years together, we’re a family.
If you don’t have a group, ask around at conferences (you do attend writer’s conferences, yes?) or your local bookstore. Although I hesitate to encourage any of us to get lost in social media, Facebook queries can be helpful as well. My group has its own (closed) FB page where we share links to interesting blogs, submission outlets, and workshop possibilities. It helps knowing a familiar and sympathetic ear is only a click away.
But as in any venture involving fragile human egos, use caution! As much as I adore my current tribe, I’ve also been in groups that were toxic. One such biweekly meeting many years ago was led by a frustrated community college teacher who wanted everyone to write her way, and bow to her self-aggrandized expertise. We disbanded, finally, after one young lady caused an insurmountable rift by trying to pass off chunks of writing from a Dean Koontz novel as her own. More recently, another group I test-drove for a few sessions had a bully who castigated me in no uncertain terms for questioning his obsession with what appeared to be unnecessary graphic violence. Needless to say, I politely bowed out.
Run from such toxic groups. Run from groups that try to rewrite your stories, to fit you into a mold that warps your personality or stifles originality. Almost as bad are those gatherings that are little more than pep rallies. Mom can do that for you, and she might have cookies.
Whether you meet once a week or monthly, share pages ahead of time by email or read aloud when gathered, the mechanics of the group aren’t nearly as important as the personalities and intent. When you find (or create!) the right mix of people, seeking, questioning, prodding each other along, striving to learn something at every meeting, you’ll know.
Because your writing will improve. And that’s our goal, isn’t it?
My thanks to Ladies Who Critique for allowing me to guest post on their wonderfully useful site. Their matchmaking was so appreciated when I needed a new set of eyes to tell me why my novel kept garnering rejections instead of yeses. The critique partner I found is a welcome addition to my network (Thanks, Marianne!). Follow my weekly ramblings at http://cpatlarge.blogspot.com
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