I’m always going on about how great my writers groups have been, so it should be no surprise that I think every writer should have one. I credit most of the improvements in my writing to both my writers groups. It’s not just the benefit of hearing the critiques they give on my writing, but also what is said about the writing of others.
I know the idea of a bunch of people telling you what is wrong with your story sounds a bit daunting, but if you want to get it published it will have to happen eventually. I think it is much better if the people telling you the issues with your story are a group of people who want to see you improve and succeed, rather than a publisher who is looking for an excuse to reject your story.
You also need to find the writers group that fits you. I know there are a lot of groups who believe in only saying positive things, and will focus on the bits you got right rather than the opportunities for improvement. That sort of group is not for me, and I don’t think will help improve my writing, but if that is the encouragement you need to keep writing, then go for it.
The key is to make sure you know what you are getting into before you commit. Most groups I’m aware of offer new recruits an invitation to observe and, if you like what you see, they let you submit a story for the next meeting. I have to confess I also saw a lot of people never return after that second meeting, but that’s how you find your fit.
If you don’t know any writers then contact your local writers centre. While they don’t always run writers groups, they often rent out space to writers groups, so can put you in contact with them. I’ve also seen groups advertised at Libraries, and on association pages. If you are a genre writer finding a group through a relevant association can be particularly useful as you will get more relevant feedback from others who write in the genre you do.
Another great opportunity to start up a writers group is to gather people from conventions or courses you attend. So keep that in mind when you are at your next writer event, as it can be a great opening to start talking to others. And remember, when you find the right group there is a good chance you are also finding life-long friends.
The Australian Horror Writers Association Short Story winners have just been announced – and I’ve got an honourable mention for my short story ‘Glow’. I am so excited that I’m almost shaking!
I started this story three times. I finally finished the first draft in March and two days later put it through my Adelaide writers group. There were problems with the story. I re-wrote it, re-wrote it and re-wrote it. Finally I subbed it to the competition nearly a whole week before the closing date (I was determined NOT to be the final entry as I normally am). By now I both loved and hated this story.
Then I got the news that there had been a record number of entries. There were nearly double the number of what they had received last year. My heart dropped. This story had been banging about inside my head for four years, why did I pick this year to give it life?
Of course you know the punch line, so I won’t labour the point, but I do have to give a massive thank you to Lilliana, Sam and Margot from my writers group for their fantastic feedback. I thought the story was finished and they all explained to me the many reasons why it wasn’t. It was a much better story after I added and cut what they suggested, and this honourable mention is proof of that.
For all of you out there who think a writers group will crush your creativity or box you into a style that is not yours, I want to say that’s rubbish. You have been going to the wrong writers groups. I’ve been a part of two so far and they have both taught me so much. I am a better writer because of them.
Occasionally I stop obsessing about how to be a better, more dedicated writer and I think about how to be a better, more dedicated person. Part of me was seriously considering inviting friends and family to give me a 360’ review so I could better identify and deal with my faults.
For those not getting crushed by the corporate machine, a 360 review is where you get (usually anonymous) feedback from your staff, managers and general colleagues. In other words it is a bit of a slag fest from people who work with you at all levels (hence 360’). It is usually confronting, upsetting, unfair and often ignored, but only because most people are not used to being critiqued.
As much as I love self improvement, and books from that section do take up a big chunk of my non-fiction reading list, I must admit I wasn’t sure that I was quite ready for that level of honesty.
Then I started reading a (self-help) book that told me that really, we all know our faults and issues, they are the things we project onto other people. Suddenly my 360’ review is not necessary! All the things I complain about in others are apparently the things that deep down I know are wrong with me.
The weird bit is that I never complain about others being slackers and watching The Voice when they should be editing. And I haven’t yet got upset about others promising to focus on one story and then immediately starting work on another. I’m not sure if this means that these things are not faults, or if it just means that they are not faults that I need to fix.
Maybe I need to read a different self-help book?