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What every writer needs

Virginia Woolf famously said in an essay that if a woman wants to be a writer, she needs money and a room of her own. These days, it's not just women who need money to start with; it's hard to break into writing fiction as a career— even a second career, and writers need to eat, just like everyone else. Another thing all writers need is feedback.

When I was younger, I dabbled at writing. Or sure, I would write a chapter now and then, but it wasn't serious. I could stop any time I wanted; in fact, I managed to spend years on a book without ever finishing it. Then one morning I woke up and my addiction was out of control. I sat down and started a second, unrelated book and finished the first draft in less than two months.

Of course, it wasn't especially well written, but I didn't know that, because I was already working on book three. It went on like that for a while, until a friend at work handed me a slip of paper and said, "You should contact these people. They can help."

No, it wasn't an intervention or a referral to a 12-Step program. It was, in fact, the email address of some folks who were in a spec fic writing group called the Writer's Group From Hell (WGFH). It had acquired that name in an earlier and more contentious incarnation, but now (as it was and when I joined it), WGFH is made up of helpful people. Our membership has varied over the years— folks move away or stop writing or just don't have time to come to meetings— but it has stayed at somewhere between six and twelve people the whole time I have been in it. That's how I met scottedelman. He was one of the founders, and, at the time I met him, he was too busy editing Science Fiction Age, (a magazine that's gone now, sadly) to come to meetings but he does keep up with the holiday parties. It's also where I met mindyklasky, although once she had contract obligations, we lost her, too, which I suspect may also happen with stephdray now that things are looking good for her.

Belonging to a face-to-face writing group isn't the only option; there are online groups, too, for those who don't want or can't find face-to-face feedback. I mention some of the online groups on a page on my website where I talk about feedback. But one reason I have stuck with WGFH even though I let my membership in OWW lapse is that it not only gives me feedback, it gives me support. Writers get hit in the face with a lot of rejection. It's nice to have somewhere to turn where folks are pulling for you to succeed.

That doesn't mean you want a group where you hear only nice things. On the contrary. The WGFH is the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove. They will coat the bitter pill of where the problems are in your story with a sugared layer of what they did like, but you will hear about where your story needs to improve. What you won't hear are put-downs disguised as feedback, that make the critiquer sound clever and the writer being critiqued feel two inches tall. Balance is the key. You need honesty, not mere ego stroking, but you don't want "brutal honesty" that's more brutal than it needs to be.

So, where does a writer find a writing group? One way is to go to local conventions, to see who else in your area is writing. Another is to look online. In fact, jongibbs just recently started an online site called Find A Writing Group (FAWG) that's intended to serve as a clearinghouse for writers to make connections with others in their geographic area. If you're looking for a group, you can check it out.

So, am I preaching to the choir? How many of you out there already have critique groups? If you do have one, I'd be interested in knowing how you found them, and how often you meet.

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( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
I keep trying, and I keep striking out. I'm still waiting for THE group! The one in which I can give as well as recieve, one in which egos aren't first in the door and last to leave.
Jan. 30th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
Good luck. It is so worth it if you can find one. But you're right that the wrong group is worse than no group.
Jan. 30th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
Jan. 31st, 2010 12:28 am (UTC)
Boy, this makes a writer's group sound like a marriage.
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:30 am (UTC)
More like a long-term affair! -)
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
Oh great. Like I'd use that one on my wife.

"See you later Dear, I'm off to see the other women!"
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
Well, I said it partly because we do have one member who is in another group as well as ours. So it's hardly monogamy. Maybe polygamy would be a better metaphor.
Jan. 31st, 2010 02:03 am (UTC)
Maybe a better metaphor, but I'd still be in deep trouble. Deep, deep trouble.
Jan. 31st, 2010 02:21 am (UTC)
A marriage in which lawyers are not necessary to make a run for the hills!
Jan. 31st, 2010 03:41 am (UTC)
Boy, you make it sound so illicit!
Jan. 31st, 2010 04:56 am (UTC)
Better the forbidden than the mundane. =D
Jan. 31st, 2010 02:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the FAWG pimpage, Karen :)

I belong to three writers' groups (four if you count the New Jersey Authors' Network), but I only attend regular meetings of one, the GSHW http://www,gshw.net

We meet once a month (a business meeting, followed by a guest speaker). I belong to a critique group of 5 people, all GSHW members which meets every month too.

I know I've said it before, but I really believe I've learned as much, if not more, from listening to other people critique the same piece of work that I've critiqued as I have from receiving feedback about my own work.
Jan. 31st, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
>but I really believe I've learned as much, if not more, from listening to other people critique the same piece of work that I've critiqued as I have from receiving feedback about my own work.

I agree! It's also interesting to me that people are often better at critiquing than at writing and vice versa. The two skills are related but not identical.
Jan. 31st, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
Totally forgot to ask-- what pattern does your smaller group follow? I know some groups that ask the writer to read the work aloud at the meeting; ours asks that writers submit ahead of time. One thing I like is they will review whole novels. Some groups insist on reviewing them in chunks, and I hate that. We also don't have minimum submission rules, which some groups do.
Jan. 31st, 2010 09:58 pm (UTC)
The GSHW group does written critiques. We critique novels, I'm getting beta reader feedback for Waking up Jack Thunder at our next meeting, though most of the guys write short stories.

We've had people come and go, but four of the original group are still there. We don't have rules per se, just common sense guidelines, which seem to work well :)
Jan. 31st, 2010 10:17 pm (UTC)
Our group is pretty much rule-free except for common sense ones like folks need at least a weekend to read and critique a short story. We don't actually require the crit be in writing but almost everyone does that. And we go around the room in what we refer to as a modified-Clarion-style Everyone gets a chance to speak but the author (and even occasionally other critiquers) can interrupt if so moved. It works well. No teddy bears needed.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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