I belong to a writers’ group. We get together at a library once a month to read and critique each other’s work. It’s awesome.
It’s like church for authors– a really cool church, where each word worshiper is welcome. We’ve got poets and novelists, journalists and comedians, musicians and bloggers– each paying homage in his own unique way, all sharing communion at the altar of words. Ours even has a “missionary.” I didn’t know the group existed until a member saw me reading The Writer magazine one day in the library and approached me with the group gospel. Now I’m a believer!
It’s also kind of like therapy. Writing itself is therapeutic, as it provides a safe and legal way to wrestle with thoughts and feelings, to put into words what needs to be said, allowing us all the paper and ink we need to figure it out along the way. The group can be as therapeutic as the writing. Honest criticism of the piece presented, never of the writer, sprinkled with generous encouragement for the timid and heartfelt enthusiasm for the successful, is like water to a parched soul.
It’s also like school. I get so many great tips and ideas every month that make my writing better. Lessons range from the simplest notes to “number your lines” to more advanced esoteric discussions. To prologue or not to prologue?
Here are a few gems I jotted down at our last meeting:
- Don’t say “he seemed to…” or “it reminded me of…” just say what it is. And you’re the writer, so you get to decide what it is.
- Use italics to indicate internal monologue… or say ‘he thought’… but not both.
- Ease up on the ellipses…
- Make details do double duty. When “Rick threw a tube of Ipana into his cart” in Loren Estleman’s Motown, the toothpaste not only set the scene in a grocery store aisle; it placed the whole story in a bygone era.
- “The reader won’t buy it if you don’t sell it.” That’s worth the price of admission right there. (That’s quoting our moderator. She’s the boss for good reason!)
So I say yes, hallelujah and amen to joining a writers’ group. Just like churches, therapists or schools, there are good ones and bad ones. But check one out, because they’re also a lot like library books. If you hate one, dump it in the return slot. You’ve lost nothing but an hour or two of your time. And you can always write about that.
- The Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners
- Writing Groups: Yea or Nay?
- Benefits (and Pitfalls) of Writing Groups
- Writers Groups – Are They Worth It?