Writers’ Group: A fabulous institution

I was writing an article about convening Writers’ Groups for kids for the Australian Education Times this afternoon, and couldn’t help reminiscing about the Writers’ Group that began my own journey to publication. I was part of a fabulous Writers’ Group for a few years before my teaching and studies began to dominate and I took a break from the group.  I miss it. The following post was about the wonderful women that wrote and critiqued with me during those early writing years. I still call them friends.

books3A writer’s group exists to give feedback during the development process of writing a novel. Members of the group read, or hear the work read, and respond with constructive criticisms designed to enhance the development of the piece. Comments and criticisms relate to aspects of the writing such as character development, voice, point of view, consistency of tense, plot development and structure, among other things.

As anyone who has written (or attempted to write) a full length manuscript knows, it is easy to get lost in your own vision, your own story. I thought the first manuscript I wrote (the one that remains unpublished in the bottom drawer of my desk) was fantastic, a masterpiece! That was until I read it out loud some years later. Now I cringe with embarrassment when I think about it, and wish I’d thought to join a writers’ group way back then.

The manuscript I’m working on now (my third) will probably be my strongest. Why? Because each week in my writers’ group, my fellow Authors tear it apart. Well, maybe not tear it apart, but they do tell me what is wrong with it and why. Sometimes it is hard to hear. Sometimes the scenes I think are awesome, they suggest cutting (yes, every writer has heard about ‘killing your darlings’ but it doesn’t make it any easier). Sometimes the bits that I think are boring, they say are important for plot development. Sometimes I think one or more of them are wrong and I ignore them (at my own peril, I know), but mostly they are right - and I love them for it. Because I trust them. Because I know they have my best interests at heart, as I do theirs.

The inherent value that lies in constructive criticism cannot be underestimated for any author developing a manuscript. Any manuscript, in any genre benefits from this kind of deconstruction. So what happens when someone who struggles with accepting criticism, no matter how constructive, joins such a group?

A writing/critiquing group that provides endless empty positive platitudes is more destructive than it is constructive. It serves no purpose at all and is not fair to the writer sharing the work - it provides no basis for development. But what do you do when a writer receiving constructive suggestions fires back with personal attacks?

Well, you could do nothing, and watch as the group dynamic changes, regular members stop attending, people start feeling intimidated and getting defensive, until the group eventually dissolves. Or you could step out of the firing line and allow your fellow writers to be very clear about what is, and is not, acceptable within the context of a critiquing group. And if you are lucky enough to be part of a positive, productive, functional group of writers that holds high esteem and mutual respect and trust for each others work, this is exactly what will happen - in no uncertain terms!

Writers groups are a wonderful, valuable and I believe, essential means for developing a manuscript. But it is crucial to get the ‘right’ mix of people for it to remain so. I love my writers group.