Some Very Good Reasons for Joining a Writing Group.
For some people, writing a book is like writing a journal. It's private, therapeutic, a way to express ideas and experiences for our eyes alone. But for the writer who wants an audience for the story, writing groups are a great place to test out ideas on those who understand the writing process. Writing is a solitary activity and being with other writers and sharing ideas, knowledge and enthusiasm is a lovely way to re-energise. Writing groups encourage members to share work in progress, which can be daunting; but we're all in it together and handing it over work be read, or reading it out ourselves, shows we are serious about our writing and brave enough to ask for an opinion. Listening to other writers' opinions means getting praise and inevitably, criticism, and that's something we have to get used to. JK Rowling and Stephen King have had their share of rejections; instead of putting us off, writers use it to improve creative skills. The truth is, there's always more than one way to tell a story and the challenge is in finding the right way. Getting used to acting on advice is also good preparation for handling advice from agents, because agents know what sells and with their specialist knowledge, they will suggest ways to make the manuscript more marketable and accessible. Listening analytically to other people's work helps to hone one's own writing and here’s what to look out for as you go along. Ask yourself whether your characters are proactive or reactive. Protagonists work better when they are proactive, so try not to have them waiting for others to solve their problems/have people rescue them/have them come into money or property as a solution, or be offered a job out of the blue unless it's a sinister plot twist. We want to identify with their struggle and we’re looking for character-building problem-solving. (I mean, that’s the way we would do it, right?) Check whether the romantic content reflects true love. The conflict in a love story should be believable and stem from the characters rather than from misunderstandings that could be put right by a simple question such as: Are you married? Whatever the conflict is about, lovers should never walk off in a huff. They should stay and fight. If you’re writing about love, make it a love worth fighting for. When you have finished your book, stop being a writer and think like a reader. Be aware of the expectations of the genre you have chosen. Think about your writing. Are your characters engaging? Basing a story on unlikeable characters for the sake of conflict is not a good idea. The jeopardy loses its force because the reader thinks: so what? Readers should get involved enough with the characters to care about the outcome, whether they love them or hate them, whether they are rooting for rewards or revenge. Finally, choose a group that balances criticism with encouragement. At ours we share our work in progress, market news and ways of getting around anything that stalls our progress. Writing is easy - as Nancy says, it's 'Words, words, words!' But like Lana in The Forgotten Guide to Happiness, we know we don't have all the answers and for writers in all stages of their careers, groups are a source of friendship, solidarity and support.
The Creative Writing Student's Handbook by Cathie Hartigan and Margaret James