Sunday, January 27, 2008

Still Pushing, and the Joy of Writers' Groups

After three weeks and 120 pages into final edits, the light at the end of the tunnel grows a little brighter. Mind you, I have over 250 pages to go, but I'm actually enjoying the process of checking every word, every comma, correcting, and proofreading, and correcting some more. I continue to faithfully read every chapter out loud as I go, and occasionally take troublesome pages to my local writer's group.

I'm lucky to have found a wonderful bunch of writers to share my work with. Our core group is about ten people, with others coming and going as schedules allow. We meet for two hours once a week and take turns bringing our work for critiquing. I'm the only mystery writer in the group at the moment, but my colleagues are all avid readers and writers, and several have published novels, stories, essays, and poems for presses large and small.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of writers' groups, and there are clearly mixed opinions about their benefits. Having been in at least four different groups, I can see why. Groups are as varied as the people who join them and it can take time to find one that works.

If you're thinking about joining a critique group or forming your own, here's what works, based on my experience. First, make sure that everyone shares a common purpose, i.e. to be willing to give constructive criticism and receive same. Needless to say, maturity and carefully controlled egos are a huge asset here.

Second, appoint a moderator for each session. It's far too easy to drift into social or political discussions that have nothing to do with the piece the writer wants critiqued. Also, if six people want to read during a session, time limits need to be set. In my group, there isn't time for everyone to read each week, but few of us have material prepared every week anyway, so it seems to work.

Third, bring enough copies for members to read, even if some have to share. Spelling and punctuation errors are easier to spot while reading rather than listening, and you'll get far more helpful comments.

Fourth, treat writers and their work as you want to be treated. Respect and patience goes a long way, even if the writing's poor, or the topic or genre isn't to your taste. It takes a lot of courage for someone to read out loud.

I'm sure there are other rules and tips I've forgotten, but these are the main ones. I can't imagine where I'd be without my group. They've helped me polish two novels and more stories than I can remember. Stories that have found their way into paying markets, and for this I'm truly grateful.

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