Writing Groups: Lessons Learned

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:

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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?

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About Dyane

Dyane Forde’s love of writing began with an early interest in reading and of words in general. Writing has been a life-long passion and she writes all types of things, from short stories, novels, flash fiction and poetry. Dyane writes to communicate, meaning that writing becomes a means through which she seeks to connect with people on a level deeper than intellect.
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17 Responses to Writing Groups: Lessons Learned

  1. Great blog, Dy. And yes, the first novel is damn near impossible to make good. As you know, I’ve written only one and am just finishing it up, but in reality it’s my third, or second and a half, since I scrapped it and started over twice (not sure that was the best way to go about it, but there it is).

    As for writing sites, I’ve only been involved in two and they were both extremely helpful in their own ways. I think it just depends on what you put into it–for instance, if you’re involved in so much of the community side you forget to self evaluate your writing, you may not improve much but your networking outreach will be fantastic.

    Looking forward to reading the next post. 🙂

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    • Dyane says:

      🙂 Thanks! And congrats on finishing that book!
      I agree, and definitely think that people getting involved in a writing site should think about what they want to get out of it so they don’t get sidetracked as well as know when it’s time to move on. If you’re not careful, they can do more harm than good.

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  2. Very interesting post Dyane. I’ve been curious about writing groups for a while, but I just can’t seem to allow myself to join one. I guess I’m just not that type of writer. I don’t like sharing my work with too many people before it’s done. I prefer to write fast and furious, and when I’m done have a professional editor take a look at it, or at least someone I know is a very good writer. I’m very open to criticism as long as it comes from the right person with the right intent. I wouldn’t hesitate to re-write a chapter, kill my darlings or delete scenes if that’s what it takes for my book to be good. I have to know that the person telling me to do these things knows what they’re talking about, and has my book’s best interest in mind. Believe or not there are people with bad intentions out there. I have had some bad experiences with this, but I won’t go into that now. I guess my point is that writing groups can work for some, but they’re not for everyone. I’m editing my second book “Lilith” with a professional editor, and already I’ve had to re-write the entire second chapter! I have learned so much. I’m sure I’ll be an even better writer after this process.

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    • Dyane says:

      🙂 Well that’s the point: there are many different roads leading towards the same goal. Each person has to choose the road that best works for them. I looked into editors but had no idea how to tell which one would work best with me and I didn’t have the resources to take that risk. Not to mention I’d heard of horrible experiences where people paid lots of money only to get shoddy work in return from so called pro editors. There’s good and bad on all sides but I think that part of this journey requires us to be discerning in order to make the best choices. Thx for commenting Vashti!

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      • I agree Dyane. It can be difficult to decide which editor would be right for you, but you can ask for samples of their work before you hire them. It took me quite a while to hire the one I have. You’re right though. Everyone has to do what works best for them.

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      • Dyane says:

        I’m very glad you found the right person to work with. It gives me hope. 🙂

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  3. Very interesting post. Informative and honest. Whilst not as far ahead in the the writing journey as some of you. I have to say that I am learning a lot from the open discussions with people in the writing communities that I am involved . My first experience at any sort of editing was with a short story I wrote recently and the advice I got was invaluable … You know who you are:-) I would be interested in any recommendations in respect to writing groups or editors.

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    • Dyane says:

      Hi Yolanda,
      The biggest thing I can say is do your research. Vashti mentioned the invaluable help she gets from her editor, and I envy her that. But just as she had a great experience with hers there are many stories of people who’ve been ripped off. There are different kinds of editors and they don’t all do the same thing, so definitely shop around and get what you need. On the other hand, not everyone has had a positive writing group experience like I have had either. In the end, everything involves some risk but we hope for the best. Good luck!

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  4. L. Eleana says:

    I participated in a writing group locally and I met a lot of great writers, that in my opinion should be published. What I found is they seemed to enjoy the idea of the group more than getting published. All that said, they gave me the confidence to venture into fiction, something I had no intention of doing. Now I need to commit to the editing process and move forward.

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    • Dyane says:

      Hi there! Thx for sharing. I think that’s an important point. It’s easy to get sidetracked in these groups so knowing your goals and staying focused is really important. 🙂

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  5. rajcmallu says:

    This has been very educational and influential for me. Thanks for sharing this.

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  6. I’ve belonged to the same online writers group for about 4 years now and I really don’t know what I’d do without it. These people are more than friends to me, they are my writing family. I share all my triumphs and joys with them. They’re the best bunch of people I’ve met. There’s so much you can learn from other writers, I think a good quality group is one of the best resources out there.

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  7. Good post, Dyane, thank you. I agree with you, I think it’s invaluable to join some kind of writing community either online or off. There is always something we can learn from other writers…and there’s always something we can give.

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