This week, here and at Words Mean Stuff , I’m sharing a bit about the writing group I’m working with. In this post, we’re talking about the experience from the perspective of someone who’s work is being critiqued. Some say it’s better to give than to receive. Well, that depends on what’s being given and received. And, sometimes it’s better to do both.
We put a lot of work into our writing (if we’re serious about it at least). Often, it’s fair to call it a passion, or labor of love (for those of us who’ve moved beyond our “I have to write this paper to pass the class” days). When you love something, when you’ve really put the work into it, it’s not a lot of fun to hear that people don’t see it the way you do.
It straight up sucks when your reader isn’t getting what you meant with that masterful metaphor or perfect prose. It’s hard to hear that you’ve misspelled the word “deaf” (yes, it’s deaf not deft…) multiple times over 10 pages. It’s annoying when you hear the reader likes your villain more than your hero. (These things happened to one or more of the members of my group within the last week). But, as my partner in prose said: It’s better to hear about it in writing group than from a submission editor, or worse, from a reader after you’ve published.
We have a rule in our group that, unless you’re asked a question, the author holds his/her comments until the end, after everyone else has spoken. That’s difficult. You want to step in and defend your baby. But, in the long run, actually listening instead of arguing helps us become better writers.
We don’t have to do everything the others say. By our rules, when critiquing we speak from our reader perspective and not “you should do this because that’s what I would do.” We as authors still have the responsibility and the right to make our own decisions. But others input can be really helpful. It can also be hard to hear.
Sometimes that “hard to hear” material isn’t directly about the text.
Within our group, I’m one of (if not the…) most experienced. One of the people joining us next month has had a 10-year journey with the story she’s working on (so it’s not just me and a bunch of new kids…), but I have at least three books out and others submitted for publication (I’ve learned over the years too…). I also have a master’s degree in psychology. So, when others see something in my writing that I didn’t, it can be painful. But, when one of the new folks cites research, or brings up something they learned in a writing class, writing book, or some other authoritative source that I hadn’t thought about, that can really hurt.
I spent a little time this week licking my wounds over one of those. But then I remembered something a professor told me once: there is more information out there and relevant to what we’re doing than one person can read, hear, and process by him/her self!
The reality is, I’m doing this in part to help other writers in their journeys. If I do I am succeeding (and in this case I believe I am). If the person I’ve helped helps me, so much the better!
Sometimes the writing group experience can cause us to question our selves and our abilities. That’s ok, a good group should do that, constructively. What matters is that we learn from that questioning and keep improving.
In our last meeting, I shared the prologue and first chapter of a story I’ve been working on for a while. The prologue was the last thing written. When I wrote it, I’d been striving with my characters for at least a year. I wrote a prologue that threw too many character names and too much stuff at the reader at once. It was obvious to me who everyone was. But it wasn’t obvious to the reader.
Because I practiced what I preach and listened to my group, I’m restructuring the prologue, moving some information out to other places and incorporating information from later chapters that my group hasn’t seen yet. I am making improvements to at least three parts of the work because someone spoke, and I listened.
The changes I’m making will make the book more readable and easier to publish. My group’s feedback means more work, but also mean’s I can fix the parts that are actually broken. By sharing and by receiving constructive criticism gracefully, my work becomes better. And I get to help others.
It’s not easy, dear reader. If there isn’t a group that works for you, you may need to build your own. That may mean organizing and managing, actually being a leader. It can be humbling and even intimidating. But in the end, if done with the right spirit and intent, you and yours can gain a lot from a well-run writing group.
What are your experiences with writing groups? Leave a comment and let us know. Either way, I’ll see you next post.