Tag Archives: writing groups

Choosing a Writing Group #amwriting

Last week at a write in, a new writer asked me about writing groups and how a person goes about finding one. It seemed as if it was time to revisit this subject here. Nothing has changed since I originally wrote this post, and it’s NaNoWriMo—I can plow the extra time into my NaNo novel. (Insert happy face here!)


Every writer needs honest, constructive feedback to grow in their craft. Many will join critique or beta reading groups. These groups come in all sorts and sizes, some specializing in general fiction and some in genres like mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or romance.

Most communities have clusters of authors. You will find groups for beginning writers and some that cater to more advanced crowds. I guarantee there will be one to fit your needs.

You may stumble upon a group who seems cliquish, unwelcoming, and daunting to new arrivals.

You are not required to return to a group if you were given the cold-shoulder the first time.

The seas are rough out there, but most writing groups are really good, supportive gatherings of authors who stay for years and welcome new authors into their group with open arms.

There is a difference in types of writing groups. Some are traditional critique groups, people who usually read a few pages aloud at their sessions and the others discuss it in detail in a round-table fashion, while the author listens.

Often, these groups are large and because they are pressed for time, they don’t allow the author to ask questions or clarify points of confusion. Despite that flaw, this sort of focus on your work can be just right for some authors.

A group like that can tell you if you have made editing errors. They will point out errors within the few pages they have sampled, which gives you a jumping off point for the rest of your novel.

For authors strapped for cash and unable to afford to hire an editor, this sort of group is an invaluable resource. What you learn about your writing habits in those pages will carry over into the larger manuscript.

However, because traditional critique groups focus only on 3 or 4 pages at a time, they lack the context to be able to discern inconsistencies and flaws in the overall story arc. They don’t see enough of the work to tell if your protagonist is developed sufficiently by the first 1/4 of the tale, or if you have flattened your arc by placing your inciting incident too far from the beginning.

Unless you have submitted your entire novel over a period of time, formal critique groups usually can’t see subtle problems with

  • pacing
  • the overall story arc
  • worldbuilding
  • character development

They can’t see these things because these larger elements can only be judged by sampling more than three or four pages of a novel.

One way around that is to seek input privately from one of the members if you have found someone who reads the genre in which you write. It must be someone you feel comfortable enough to share that much with.

If you are looking for input on large structural issues, my advice is to find a beta reading group.

But how do you select a group? Before you join a critique or beta reading group, you have the right to know what that group focuses on. Attend one of their meetings as an observer and take notes.

When you get home, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did they address places where the submitted chapter bogged down?
  • What did the group think about the characters?
  • Did they address places where they became confused?
  • Did the group point out spots they had to read twice?
  • How did the group address areas where the story became unbelievable or too convenient?
  • Did the readers care enough to wonder what would happen to the characters next?
  • How did the group phrase their comments? Was it supportive as well as instructional?
  • Did they encourage conversation about the chosen work?
  • Is discussion discouraged? If the author was not allowed to discuss their work or ask questions because of time constraints, it may be the wrong group for you.

Ask yourself, “What vibes did I get from this group of people? Will I benefit from sharing my work with this group? Did the comments they made to each other sound helpful?” Hopefully, the answer to those questions will be a resounding “yes.”

If not, run now. Run far, far away.

If you are considering joining the group, ask the leader/chairperson these questions:

  • If the group is a beta reading group focused on first drafts, what do they consider a first draft? Do you have to hire an editor and have it thoroughly edited before you submit it to this group? Because that is not a first draft, and that group would be a waste of your time.
  • Will you receive insights into your manuscript on points you hadn’t considered, or will the focus of the discussion center on minor editing issues that you are already aware of?
  • Ask the leader to define for you the specific areas that readers will be looking at: Character development, the arc of the scene, conversation arcs, pacing, and worldbuilding.

When you have found a group that you feel comfortable sharing your work with, and you trust them enough to submit your first piece to them, take notes on the experience. When you are home, ask yourself:

  • Do I still feel positive about my work or do I feel like my work was treated as being less than important?
  • Did I gain anything from the experience that would advance the plot, or did I just hear a rehash of armchair editing from a wannabe guru?
  • When I was discussing the direction I wanted to take the tale in, did I sense that they were interested in my story?

If the answers are anything other than a resounding “yes” you have the right to leave the group.

The answers to these questions have to be that you feel good about your work, that you saw through their eyes the weaknesses, and you now know what you need to do to make your story great. You must be filled with the conviction that you know what needs to be done, and you must still have passion for the story.

Authors attend their first meeting with hope and trepidation. We are filled with uncertainty and fear the first time we meet these people.

At the end of the day, you have to feel as if you have gained something from the experience.

Hopefully, you will be as fortunate as I have been, and find a group of authors who will support and nurture you in the craft of writing. The way to repay them for their help is to support them and their efforts wholeheartedly.


Credits and Attributions:

Choosing a Writing Group by Connie J. Jasperson first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on 28 June 2017. It has been dusted off and refurbished for your reading pleasure.

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The harsh truth, and cold comfort

GRRM Meme 2Authors are not really great at social stuff. On top of that, we tend to be horribly insecure about our work, but it’s all we can think of to talk about.

We are thin-skinned and bleed profusely when you cut our work to shreds. Some of us handle that with grace and dignity, and others go ballistic and make an uncomfortable situation worse.

Now we come to a problem affecting a friend who lives far way from me–authors undercutting authors. She has left her writing group and will not be going back because one new member is harsh and unfair in the way they critique this author’s work–under the arrogant pretense of “just telling the truth.”

The new member is published, an indie, and seems to be selling a fair amount of books. She was invited to join a group of authors who are not not yet published, but who all hope to be. Each member is in various stages of courting agents and editors. An editor for a respected mid-sized press has shown interest in my friend’s manuscript. The new member started out friendly enough, but began by making belittling remarks about the way the group had been doing things, implying they were just playing at being authors. Then, suddenly feeling inferior and hoping to be more “legitimate,” the group allowed her to take charge. Things went downhill from there, with the new queen-bee as the center of attention.

quarrabtine symbol

Now I don’t know if my friend will ever write again. I do know she won’t join another group, which is sad, because MOST groups are not like that. Yes, they dig deep, and work on structural issues, but they don’t phrase their comments in a deliberately cruel manner. She knew her work wasn’t ready for publication, but she didn’t know it was “crap.”

And it isn’t crap.

I hate that she has put aside the makings of what could someday be a great novel, all because a person she respected as an author belittled her attempts in such a way that she is now afraid to share that most intimate part of her soul–her creativity.

But this is a problem that affects authors of all stations, not just indies and hopefuls. People feel its acceptable to say the most disparaging things, especially if an author has become successful, as if that author’s success negatively affects their own chances. And they seem to to take it beyond criticizing their work–they get personal about it.

Indie authors need to help each other advance, not tear each other down. The world is full of readers, so there is room for everyone, and if we ridicule each other and make disparaging, mocking remarks about the quality of others’ work just because we don’t care for their style of writing, shame on us.  There is an ocean of difference between badly crafted work, and work that is written in a style you don’t care for. I read many things written in a style I don’t care for, but if it is well-crafted and written with some attention to the aspects that make a good tale, I will give it a decent review, and I refuse say negative things about the author who wrote it, no matter how popular it may be to do so.

Successful author bashing has become an acceptable topic at parties due in part, I think, to the fact that with the rise of ebooks and Amazon’s eagerness for buyer reviews, any reader can become a critic, regardless of the quality of their “review.” This is both good and bad, because you do sometimes get a real-world view of what readers think of a book. But conversely an illiterate review that gives only one star and just says (in misspelled words) that they hated it and didn’t read the book doesn’t help help anyone.

Neil Gaiman quote 3

Trolling and internet bullying has become an addiction for some people, and it’s apparent that their anonymity gives them a sense of power. To be able to destroy a person with a few well-chosen words–they see themselves as king-breakers, and they like that.

Even mega-successful authors like George R.R. Martin deal with an avalanche of poison and angst from trolls–I hope that what he deals with is not typical of what successful authors must endure, although Stephanie Meyer, E.L. James, and J.K. Rowling have all endured this sort of spew. Of course George’s TV series is the source of most of his grief, but still–these people show so little respect for a kind, decent man who sincerely cares about his craft and whose work has provided them with countless hours of entertainment.

GRRM Meme 3All that aside, NO author, no matter how famous, crafts perfect work that resonates with every reader, every time. We sometimes hit a pure note with one particular piece, but we will spend the rest of our writing lives trying to live up to the potential that piece had, with varying degrees of success. And when we were writing that story, perhaps it didn’t go the way the reader thought it should, and someone had to die.

That happens all the time, because the READER DOES NOT WRITE THE BOOK.  Readers who want to write the book badly enough become authors and DO it, instead of whining about it.

So we authors try to develop a thick skin and continue doing what we do. We keep learning. We keep working on the craft, and we never stop striving to be just a little better with our next short story or novel. And if, when you are in a writing group and another author makes cutting remarks in regard to your writing style, ask yourself why they feel that your style deserves harsh criticism. Don’t feel badly about walking away from that group before it gets to the level that my friend experienced, even if you like a few of the people who remain–because you won’t gain anything by staying around for more humiliation.

JK Rowling MemeMy friend–there will be other groups, and with a little checking around, you will find the one that welcomes you and your work.

Or maybe you need to go solo for a while.

That is cold comfort if someone you once respected has trashed your work and humiliated you, I know. But keep learning and keep writing. Rise above the naysayers and don’t let them steal the joy you have in your craft.

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My love affair with Willam Butler Yeats

Yeats Mural and quoteWilliam Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms.

His poetry is one of my favorite sources of inspiration.  In his early years he  was not afraid to write of faeries, and mystical things that fired my childish imagination. Later, as he grew as both a writer and as a person, he also wrote wonderful works that were more firmly rooted in reality.

William Butler Yeats, painted by his father, John Butler Yeats, 1900

William Butler Yeats, painted by his father, John Butler Yeats, 1900

Born in Ireland on June 13 1865, Yeats was born into the Protestant, Anglo-Irish minority that had controlled the economic, political, social, and cultural life of Ireland. His free-thinking, bohemian parents counteracted that cultural bias, and raised him to be proud to be an Irish poet and writer. He was raised in a home where art and literature were celebrated, His father was a famous artist, John Butler Yeats, who was renowned for his portraits, though his work never earned enough to keep the family financially secure–thus they moved around a lot.

The entire Butler Yeats family were highly artistic; his brother Jack became an esteemed painter, while his sisters Elizabeth and Susan Mary—known to family and friends as Lollie and Lily—became involved in the Arts and Crafts Movement. That movement of decorative arts was exemplified by traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and it often used medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. It advocated economic and social reform and has been said to be essentially anti-industrial.

WB Yeats early essaysIn December 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, just after Ireland had gained independence. Fortunately, the prize led to a significant increase in the sales of his books, when his publishers Macmillan  capitalized on the publicity. He was able to repay not only his own debts, but those of his father–this was a huge source of relief for the whole family.

To a certain extent,  Yeats was a product of the arts and crafts movement. His poetry was whimsical and serious, and completely reflective of his passionate, turbulent life.  He has been quoted as saying a poet should labor “at rhythm and cadence, at form and style, ” and was a founding member of the Rhymers’ Club, a group of London poets who met to read and discuss their poems. The Rhymers placed a very high value on subjectivity,  how someone’s judgment is shaped by personal opinions and feelings instead of outside influences, and on craftsmanship.

william-butler-yeatss-quotes-4This emphasizes to me the value of a writing group–even Yeats had a group of people to bounce ideas off, and that group improved his craftsmanship.

Reading the work of W.B.Yeats greatly shaped my own view of poetry and literature in general. His life was unconventional, and chaotic, and his love affairs were famous, especially his life-long, frequently unrequited love for the Irish revolutionary/actress, Maud Gonne. He struggled with love and morality as did all free-thinking artists and writers in his day–but his struggles and the struggles of his contemporaries freed their imaginations, and they produced great works.

Of all his works, this is my favorite:

The Stolen Child by  W.B. (William Butler) Yeats

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

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Loreena McKennitt, the Stolen Child  (via You Tube)

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