Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Writing Group

As a writer always looking for ways to improve my skills, I would often read articles in writing magazines about the benefits of belonging to a writing group. It was an opportunity that intrigued me, but, in the small town I lived in for ten years, there were only two I ever found, and the members and their work were not the right fit for me.
Once I moved back to a big city (ten years in a small town was never the right fit for me, either), I hoped I might locate a group and I got lucky a few months ago. My husband and I were having a pleasant evening at home with a couple we knew, and he casually mentioned that he did some writing and was part of a group. I felt as though a prize had fallen into my lap. I asked if he thought the group might accept another member, and he promised to bring the subject up at their next meeting.
I waited impatiently to hear from him. I was delighted - and somewhat daunted - when I received an e-mail from him, inviting me to come and share a sample of my work with them at their next meeting. After that, they would vote on whether I would be accepted into the group.
It is common to hear a writer say, "I'm working on a novel." Well, I am one of them. My novel has been a work in progress for about twenty years now. The idea first came to me when I was working a full-time job and, other than getting a plotline down, I did very little work on it for some time. Once I did devote some serious time to it, it took several forms, would be abandoned for long periods in favor of paying work, and, once I had finally typed, "The End" at its finish, I wasn't satsfied with the results, so it languished for awhile in a drawer. Recently, I began a rewrite, so I felt this might be the perfect place to get some feedback on just what I needed to fix, and inspire me to finally start submitting it to agents.
I spent several days on the first chapter and, armed with copies for the other members of the group, I arrived at the writer's group meeting nervous, but excited. This was something I really felt I needed to push-start my work again. I just hoped they would think me worthy of inclusion into their midst.
I sat listening to several other members read the pages they had brought to be critiqued. They were a mixed lot, but all talented. My friend who had obtained this audition for me read a short story that had me fascinated with his imaginative plotline. An older gentleman read a section form his novel that spoke to me emotionally, and surprised me with its candor. A quiet-spoken woman, near my age, read an historical fiction piece complete with exciting twists and turns, and a young woman, also reading from a novel in progress, had a tight, no nonsense style of writing. After each person read their selection, the group would discuss the work, offering suggestions to strengthen, correct, or get the work back on track. There was praise given, if warranted, as well. I began to relax, listening to them. I chose not to participate too much, since I was a guest at this session, but, when it came time for me to read my pages, I felt positive that my work would be accepted seriously by these writiers.
The experience was singular for me. The only people who had ever read my novel before were friends or family members. Though I respected their opinions, I usually felt that they were telling me what I wanted to hear, rather than giving me an honest critique. But now I had people whose opinions would not be colored by their relationship with me. This was writing business. I was bolstered by the good things they had to say; the opening was strong, they liked my dialogue, and they were intrigued to read more were some of the comments. But I was more motivated by the criticisms because they were inciteful for me. I couldn't wait to get home and act on their advice.
A few days later, I was formally invited to join the group, and the sessions that have followed have spurred my novel to a whole new level. When I am working on it now, I am mindful of their counsel with each page I revise. Not that I take every suggestion to heart because I have learned to be true to my own sense of creativity. I make the work better while still making it mine. But this small group of fellow wordsmiths have given me a new perspective, new incentives and a venue of criticism that is invaluable. And, along the way, they are becoming colleagues whose friendship is important as well.
I was lucky to find the perfect match in a writing group at that first get-together. I'm sure it isn't always that easy. But I would advise every writer to find a writing group that works for them. I can guarantee that, if it is the right one, it will be worth its weight in words to your productivity.

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