I belong to a writers’ group and the experience has been productive for me. Not always easy, but productive. I have lost count of the number of times my efforts have been savaged for poor grammar, poor plotting, poor character development, wooden dialogue, use of cliches, anachronisms, and the like.
It’s a lot like exercise. If you can get through the initial pain, you will get better.
The initial pain I refer to is the disheartening realization that your brilliant work of prose, the one you have laboured over for countless hours, actually kinda sucks.
Which brings me to Writing Group Newbies, those who have never been a member of a writers’ group nor had their work seriously reviewed.
Almost all newbies drop out after three sessions.
Three, that’s the magic number. They arrive at the first session to see what the group is all about. In the second session they bring their first piece of writing. They come to the third session to hear the critiques of their writing.
This, of course, is where it all goes horribly wrong, at least from their perspective.
Art by SYoshiko.
Approximately one minute in to the first critique it dawns on them that the group is not there to tell them what a fantastic writer they are. They wilt visibly at the catalogue of writing crimes recited by each critiquer. They may brighten here and there when a critiquer points out something done well, but for the most part the experience probably feels like a relentless assault on their ego. Suggestions on how things can be improved with just a little more effort here and there tend to go unheard. They gather up the copies of their submission, sit in silence during the rest of the meeting, then flee into the night, never to return. Too busy plotting our deaths most likely.
My writing group is a tough audience. We’re there to help a newbie get better as a writer, just as we hope the newbie will bring a fresh eye and perspective to our writing in order that we can get better. The process of correcting flaws begins with their identification, and usually there are a lot of them with new writers. Although we critique the work, and not the author (we’re very, very strict about that), critiques can be a pretty daunting experience for a newcomer.
They should stick with it, and endure the initially painful sessions. Over time they will get better. After all, they’ve already taken two of the first steps of a writer:
- They have committed words to paper.
- They have had the courage to put those words in front others for review.
Painful? Yes. Worth it? Definately.
And in case you are wondering, I admit that I still suck as a writer, but I’m pretty sure I suck less than I used to. 🙂