Saturday, 20 September 2014

Writing groups - essential part of my tool kit

Ever sat at your desk and felt the loneliness of writing taking a grip? I think we all have at one time or another. For me it was the early days, way back when I was shy about my writing. I was happy to spend hours writing alone but knew that I wanted, and possibly needed, the interaction and chat of other writers in order to achieve my goals. That's when I joined my first writers' group. I didn't stay for long as the members were very 'clicky' so didn't embrace new folk joining. I stayed for just six months, but hey, it gave me a taste of what I was searching for.

I have to say, there as many different types of writing groups as there are types of writers. The formal group with minutes, subscriptions and constitutions or the informal groups who meet at an agreed time and place - the go with the flow groups. There's pro and cons to both, one size doesn't fit all; I benefited by attending two groups: one formal, one informal.

The formal groups are more focussed upon writing as there's usually a narrow time slot of two hours for each meeting. The formalities helps to discipline the routine of the attending members and focus purely on the business in hand: writing - off topic chatter occurs at the mid-meeting break. The informal groups do as they please, no one person runs or manages the group so each meeting simple happens depending on what essence each member brings to the session. Off topic chatter can go anywhere, the focus can go anywhere too - which can be great or frustrating depending on your specific needs. One huge bonus with the informal group is its free, no subscriptions but the disadvantage is people can drop in and out when it suits.

For the last six years I've attended a local informal group and three years ago choose to travel to a formal group as well, getting the best of both worlds. This week that all changed.  Actually a few weeks ago that all changed.      

For me the greatest part of attending my groups is the interaction and support that is offered. I may not have work to share at sessions, I'll explain why later, but I always look forward to attending to hear what others have produced and hear their news. After a busy day at the 'day job' there's nothing better than kicking back to chat about writing. You have to support each other otherwise what's the point? I know I've spent hours listening to other peoples' work, giving feedback, buying their book and taking time out of my busy life to read and review, attend their spoken word projects taking notes then writing web reviews without charging for my time, even having to research genres that I don't read purely to understand their work and give constructive feedback. You do it willingly, if you believe in your group.

There are a couple of drawback with writing groups - not everyone reads or knows your genre but will freely give you feedback and their opinion. I made an enormous error with my first book, I edited based on feedback then later found my original writing was spot on, so had to undo and rewrite huge sections. I had viewed my fellow members as a reading sample, so felt their view was important - that was another huge lesson learnt.  I simply forgot that none of them write my genre so don't necessarily understand the essential structure. It was my naïve error not theirs. Which is one reason I don't read out current projects, plus the informal group meets in an open bar/lounge so I've been warned about sharing my commercial ideas so openly.  Industry professionals know what is essential to your genre, so follow their advice to the letter.

So why the recent change? Why this indepth reflection? Having spent six years giving of my time and effort I asked one favour of the informal group, which would have taken each member two minutes out of their week. No one could give me those precious minutes. It doesn't sound a lot does it? But to me, as an emerging writer who values their support it was a clear and simple message: my support wasn't there. I know that the next few years are vital to my progress; I know that I need support from others to achieve my dreams. My RNA friends knew I was gutted; they flooded me with similar stories of their own experiences before taking the time to complete the two minute task for me, many of whom I've never even met in real life. As for the informal group - just one person has since contacted me to apologise for being so thoughtless - the rest remain silent. It goes without saying, I've left. I'll still support them, wishing them all well but from afar.

So, after much encouragement by hubby, my next step has been to find a replacement group, a much bigger group in a city centre where I'm hoping the spectrum of publishing experience knows how to support. It's an ultra modern type of writing group with additional web forums and member page log-ins - all very different to me, but fresh and exciting.

The light bulb moment for me has been the realisation of how much I value my writing groups. My advice to any writer is to go and seek; find a local group - chat, enjoy and test the waters - you may find you're missing an essential tool in your writer's tool kit.


Anonymous said...

I am sorry you had such a bad time. I went to evening classes for creative writing. We each had to read out our work and people would give their opinion. The problem was no one wanted to critique anyone's work. It just became embarrassing. So It was then I applied to the RNA. And have some lovely writing friends who really support me, and we meet regularly for coffee to discuss our writing. It then encourages us in our own writing journey. Really interesting to read about the differences in groups. And glad we both found the support and friendship we want.
Lorraine H x

Bernadette O'Dwyer said...

Thank you Lorraine...when it happens it comes as a shock, doesn't it? I've attended for six years and thought of each member as a friend, not just a writing buddy. The positive aspect is my realisation that I need a writers' group network - which is one thing my RNA buddies know how to do very well, lets hope my new group do too x