So this is Part 3 of the series I began a few weeks ago, where I discuss some of the different steps I took towards self-publishing my book, The Purple Morrow (soon to be released). Actually, my intention was for The Eagle’s Gift to be my first published book, but as we’ll see in the article following this one, writing a first book is BLOODY HARD. So I abandoned it temporarily to write something else, and that’s how Morrow (and its sequels) came to be. So far in this series, I have discussed my history as a writer and what motivates me to write, as well as how to deal with troll reviews. Now I am moving on to another stop along the writing road, writing groups.
People seem to have varying opinions about their role and usefulness. I’ve run into people who view members of these groups as a bunch of no-talent wanna-be writers, or the groups themselves as cesspools of iniquity where people steal (plagiarize) others’ work, or that these groups do little more than pat members on the back despite producing sub-par work. Those opinions may very well be true, and I admit, I have heard some pretty disturbing stories along those lines. For these reasons, I believe that anyone considering joining one of these groups should do their research to make sure they know what they are getting into beforehand.
But years ago, when I was just coming into the writing world, I felt I had little other choice open to me. There weren’t many writing groups in my city and the one I did find was difficult to attend. That left the online world, and after looking at various sites, I settled on one I thought would help me the most. I also appreciated the fact that I could participate when I wanted and as much or as little as I wanted. This experience, which lasted about a year, was great for a few reasons:
1) For the first time, I was involved in a writing community and had access to writers of various skill levels and genres and formats, as well as support groups and tips. For someone who wanted to get serious about writing but was just starting out, this was fantastic. Not to mention that after coming off a long bout of The Block, my confidence was low and being surrounded by supportive people really helped build me up as well as enabled me to learn to trust myself and what I had to say as a writer.
2) I learned how to write. Now before you start scratching your heads, let me explain. I knew how to write. I started writing when I was very young and have written all kinds of different things over the years. But suddenly I was learning how to write better. Not only in terms of grammar, but also in terms of how to maximize the use of various aspects of storytelling like setting and dialogue. Basically, by joining a few critique groups and spinning out a bunch per week, I learned how to analyse a story. I learned to think about what I liked or didn’t like and why. Eventually, I was able to integrate the process so I could apply it to my own work. When I finished writing something, I was able to figure out what sucked and then make the necessary corrections.
3) I met my writing partner. Now, we met in a strange way. I had been writing a science-fiction piece in three parts, and had just completed the second one. I was nervous about it because I sensed it wasn’t right which is why I posted it for review. Sure enough, I got back what I expected: a withering review. I think this was my first experience with something like this and it was difficult to handle, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I recalled reading that writers should be open to criticism and that they should go after the people they feel can help them improve. So I did. I emailed the guy and very politely asked what he thought I could do to improve the story and he very kindly told me. That was over 2 years ago, and ever since we’ve been tormenting each other with the goal of becoming better writers. I learned many lessons through that experience, but I also gained a friend and a staunch cheerleader, in addition to the honest criticism needed to improve my writing.
After about a year of being on the site, I started to realize I wasn’t growing as much and, more importantly, that I wanted to pursue novel writing more than short stories. As the site wasn’t really geared towards novels, I began to look elsewhere until I found the site I would stick with for about 2 more years. But I’ll save that experience for another post, as there is simply too much to tell in less than 1000 words.
What I can say, is that for me, despite the potential risks, I have found writing sites to be extremely useful. There are things I learned and gained from them that I don’t think I would have been able to anywhere else.
I’d like to hear from some of you. Have you had positive or negative experiences in a writing group, online or otherwise? What did you learn from your experiences?