Went to my first writers group meeting last night.
I'm not a joiner by nature. Maybe it's the old newshound in me, but I've always been more comfortable as the outsider, looking in. But I thought it might be time, especially since I no longer have Tori's students on the island to test my stuff on. Too bad, they were quite a good critique group. I've always been kind of a loner – as I think most authors are. Except for the brethren of pirate enthusiasts, of course. I've always been a keen member of that group.
This writing group is sponsored by the local library. They put on the talk by book marketing guru Anita Paul last week, and Tori encouraged me to give it a go. So I went.
Writers groups can be places for feedback, for support, for critiques and just for the company of other people who are going through something similar to you. It's all a question of trust, of course, and I don't know these people, and they don't know me. We'll be learning together.
There were about 14 people, counting me, sitting in a circle in the library meeting room. Everyone seemed a little surprised, apparently it's usually about half that number. I guess the Anita Paul talk was a good recruiting tool. We were a wildly varied group, from several quite a bit older than me (yes, there are still a few people quite a bit older than me,) men and women, a 15-year-old girl who seemed to be suffering from the need to prove she belonged there. There were two people who have been published, one woman who writes fantasy that most seem to agree is the best writer in the group. A couple who've been published. Interestingly, not the woman everyone agreed is the best writer there. Isn't it always the way?
The oldest guy there had just attended a writing conference and handed out a precis of what he'd heard – it was mostly technical, grammar and sentence structure stuff, the kind of thing I've been trying to beat into the heads of young reporters for years. Then we went around the room introducing ourselves. I said I'd been a journalist for 40 years and was in the third revision of my YA novel. That was all.
Then the regulars started giving critiques. Six of them had submitted material a couple of weeks ago and each member had been given copies. They went around the room giving their feedback while the author listened. The rules were, the person being critiqued is supposed to sit there and listen without getting defensive.
I was a little surprised. I expected something a little more positive, and a little more literary. Virtually everything I heard was grammar and syntax, whether a word should be capitalized, better ways to attribute quotes, things like that. A couple of the older women (by which I mean – my age) discussed POV switches that confused things, but mostly it seemed like syntactical sharpshooting. I would prefer something more along the lines of whether the piece works for the reader generally, why or why not?
Of course, those of us who'd never been there before were lost, we hadn't read the material, but it was still interesting and I still was able to chime in once or twice. For instance, a woman had written something along the lines of – "I'll get it," the morbidly obese woman said. Several of the critiques pointed out that this was telling, a label rather than a description. The woman who had written it looked a little confused, so I suggested that instead of telling the reader the character was obese, she could show it by describing how the woman moved across the room, or sat heavily, filling the small folding chair. I think I saw a look in the woman's eye that indicated she got it.
Anyway, it was an interesting hour and a half. I'll certainly give it another few meetings before I decide for sure if it's a good fit.
Sometimes we have to force ourselves to do things that take us outside our comfort zone. Otherwise we never really grow.
Scurvy Dog update: 1,003 words today, pretty good job of inserting the new material and bridging the gap with the older stuff. Lots more work to do, though. Yesterday I spent some time with a pen and notebook just trying to sort out where I am and where I need to get things to make it all work, and that was time well spent, although my wrist was killing me when I was done. It's the 21st century and I'm just not used to writing by hand any more. Still, I've got a road map now of what needs to get done. I just hope I don’t' go veering off onto any more scenic detours. August 20 is fast approaching.