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Writing Groups
eliot
catvalente
Finished my wordcount early today. Funny how some days every word is a battle, and some days it all comes pouring out.

So I re-plug in the TV, catch up on LJ and Twitter, respond to various conversations on my beloved internet.

I read ellen_kushner 's post about her awesome writers' group, and feel pangs of envy. I've wanted a writing group since I started writing seriously in my baby-early twenties, and I've always struggled. Most often, the group just isn't interested in the kind of writing I'm interested in, and I have to sit politely through monologues about the benefits of transparent prose as though I had never heard of the concept before, and only write like I do because I don't know any better. It's even worse when I've done the work to give thoughtful critique on genres and styles that I'm not interested in, but the rest of the group just glazed over when they looked at mine and didn't want to deal with it. I like hard critique, I just don't like being told to become a writer I'm not, to give up everything I like in books and start doing something I don't. I'm not singling out any one group--I've had this issue since I was a teenager, when everyone got real quiet in my college classes and refused to say anything about my poetry. Also not helpful: I've always been the youngest person in the group. Hopefully that'll be irrelevant soon, since I'm not a baby twentysomething anymore.

My good experiences have been with writers' workshops, of which I've been to two and both of which I've loved. And I learned a hell of a lot, the kind of learning I crave having had pretty little in the way of formal writing training. But that's a week, and maybe it's personal shyness and maybe it's enculturated "I don't want to bother anyone," but I feel like it's not done to turn to those same groups for other books when the workshop is done. I fell like that's bad etiquette.

So in a lot of ways I'm on my own until I turn a manuscript in to my editor. I want a writing group, in person if possible, or on chat, or even a couple of awesome pro or semi-pro level beta-readers. (I have beta-readers, but they're all busy with their own stuff and about 70% of people I've ever sent a manuscript to for comment never got back to me.) But it seems so elusive, and I have no idea how to put it together. That whole not wanting to bother people with my silly drafts makes it all the harder.

I think I'd probably have a whole different process if I had a writing group. Sometimes I feel like groups are for cool kids, insiders, and I'm the perpetual geek among geeks, always on the outside. Sometimes I feel like I gave up and I just don't try anymore, so it's my own fault.

But like anything else, agents, editors, therapists, partners--having the right one is more important than just having one, and maybe someday the right one will come along.

At least I have justbeast , who cuddles up to my book and says: when you're writing it it's like a secret that's just mine, but soon everyone will know it. When you finish I'm going to steal it away so it stays mine and no one can read it. And I laugh, and have some margarita.

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I feel like I should know this, but I don't. What's transparent prose?

Transparent prose is when you don't notice the style at all, only the content. It's kind of BS, because it's actually quite a difficult style to accomplish, but it's pared down, streamlined, minimalist--not overly descriptive or ornate. Meant to be a transparent window on the story.

I feel like it's not done to turn to those same groups for other books when the workshop is done.

Have you thought about asking the people at the workshop if it'd be okay to hit them up for advice, but doing it before you go home? I don't know if it'd help with the "I don't want to bother people with my silly drafts" thing, but it might help with the feeling as if it's bad etiquette.

Caution: Contains Unsolicited Advice

inizitu

2010-01-29 02:50 am (UTC)

Hullo-

Have you thought of asking your agent if s/he knows any other similarly minded authors? And e-troduction from an agent might be welcome to other folks in the same position.

I hope you find a group. =)


Some of my writerly friends have an e-sit-by-type habit, where they've got one or two people on IM while they're writing, and copy/paste chunks for positive feedback and encouragement. This is not the time for a critical eye, but these people are encouraged to ask questions like "well, where did that come from" to help the writer catch things they missed.

It is not exactly like a writer's group, but it might be helpful.

I had a very odd crit group in Bloomington -- primarily ombriel, akashiver, and ninja_turbo, if you know any of the three -- the grad school connection meant we talked craft, but also lit-critty stuff as well, like the monstrous feminine or whatever. It took me a while to realize that not all groups do that, and in fact some will look at you funny if you do.

It's definitely like you said, though -- the right group is more important than just having one. I'd rather have one good critique partner than five who just don't fit.

See that group sounds awesome.

I've often wished for a writing group. Sadly, where I live it's just not likely. I've met some wonderful people at WisCon and through LJ and that helps, but it's not the same as being able to chat in person on a regular basis and exchange work.

Oh, well. Maybe someday.

Anyone claiming you're not a real writer can be hit upside the head with all the books you've published. If you ever decide to have a Cat-Con or workshop outside of Readercon's timeline, I'd love to help in some way. I can cook for hundreds of people. I can clean. I can set up rooms. I can do laundry.

Well, the not a real writer stuff was back when I wasn't one, just a student. Now it's just sort of standard...this stuff is weird, I don't know how to critique it. Which always confuses me.

I would tend to agree that having the right people for feedback matters more than just having a generic circle of folks. It can take a lot of sifting and searching, but I have a couple of people whose opinions I trust -- and a big part of that is because I understand what their tastes are like, *why* they like the things they do, what it is about my own work they might like or not like, and -- biggest part -- how to interpret what they say as either a mere expression of taste, or as an incentive to action.

Every time someone posts about their awesome writer group I get so depressed. I've always wanted an awesome writer group to call my own, but aside from difficulties in the "fit" area, my experiences have led me to believe that all writer groups inevitably dissolve into a morass of infighting and backbiting. Interesting that workshops aren't like that, I guess? My bad experiences with The Drama have kept me from interactions with other writers unless they are friends I've known for years.

...Hmm, that comment went somewhere different than I expected. Uh... good luck in finding a group of awesome, supportive writers!

I feel you, though. I so want that connection, that sense of shared work.

I definately feel where you're coming from on hard critique. My own stuff usually benefits from a firm hand, or at least hard questions, and I know my biggest jumps forward with writing have come on the heels of having someone kind of knock me around a little. Who would have thought it would be hard to find people thoughtful enough to be blunt?

If I weren't in Michigan I'd be all over the writing group you propose. But, yeah... Michigan. If you don't mind beta readers who get back to you through the internet, I'd love to help any way I could. Just throwing it out there.

It is pretty much impossible to find a writing group where people will accept extremely thorough, knowledgeable, no-punches-pulled critiques from someone who's a very inexpert fiction writer, so I've given up on trying.

Meaning you want to be in a crit group to hone your editing skills or as a writer who also crits? Because I've been in a ton of groups with a really wide range of experience and no one faulted the more inexperienced ones.

I know what you mean. I did a poetry writing workshop in college and every time the class critiqued one of my poems you could almost hear crickets in the background. No one, not even the professor, had any idea what to do with my poetry. Personally, I'd take your kind of poetry any day over the self-indulgent, shallow crap that got all the attention at Smith College.

Yeah, the college creative writing class I was in either told me not to do what I was doing or just so totally didn't understand the story that their comments just made no sense. It was a total waste of my time.

I think writing groups are romanticized and highly overrated. I have been in several and they have all either self-destructed from drama (so-and-so gave her a positive critique but said my stuff needed work! or so-and-so spent more time on his mss than mine!) or have faded into oblivion despite the best efforts of the one of two people who actually cared to begin with.
I take this kind of stuff seriously. This is work. If I am in a group and I have critiques due- I will not let my group down. I section out time and make sure I have everything done, like an assignment for a class. But when I show up, I am the only one there or the only one who has done the work.
And then it becomes a slog of me handing out critiques to the group, often cutting into my own writing time, but I get nothing in return.
So, yeah, I am bitter about writing groups. I would like to see one that worked. Supposedly reannon has a decent one, but that is only a vicious rumor.

At this point (and I'm barely a Double Trout, so YMMV), I'm way more pro-beta readers than a writer's group, honestly for several reasons:

1. If your beta readers are not at all into what you're doing but not offended by it, they're going to focus on what's broken and what was surprisingly pleasing to them.

2. A writer's group is not your target audience, ideally your beta group is because they're more readers than writers. In my xp in writers' groups writers are either going to rip you to pieces because they're insecure asshats or suck your ass in the hope that you'll become famous one day (or are already famous) and will help them. I've witnessed this several times in my xp. If your readers group are voracious readers, they know what works in a plot, can pick up grammar issues, inconsistancies, etc.

Your challenge, Cat, is going to be to find a group of beta readers who will be really honest with you with their opinions because you're an award winning author so now you have the opposite problem to your prior experience. Readers are going to potentially feel like, OMG, Cat's written a ton and is famous, what the hell do I know in comparison?

I've done two writing workshops, and after each we set up a Yahoo groups message board (they can handle files) and have organized online crit groups. Being from those groups, we've been "vetted" and know *how* to crit and, as important, how to take a crit. Granted, over time certain people disappear from the group and some post things but don't put much effort into critting others' work, but for the most part there is someone out there you can ask to do a serious read and give great feedback.

I tried out an in-person crit group with (dare I say it?) unvetted writers, and it just didn't work out as well for me. It can be really uneven: the level of talent and seriousness about writing as well as the level of critique that is expected and how to deal with a negative crit were all over the place. While my words aren't precious, I want to know that the person reading my stuff is on the same wavelength and is going to give it the same consideration--and nitpick to the same degree--that I am with his/her work.

Finding a good group is hard work, and I wish you luck.

So in a lot of ways I'm on my own until I turn a manuscript in to my editor. I want a writing group, in person if possible, or on chat, or even a couple of awesome pro or semi-pro level beta-readers. (I have beta-readers, but they're all busy with their own stuff and about 70% of people I've ever sent a manuscript to for comment never got back to me.) But it seems so elusive, and I have no idea how to put it together. That whole not wanting to bother people with my silly drafts makes it all the harder.

I’m guessing I might qualify as “semi-pro.” I you were to send me a draft manuscript, I would read it and tell you what I thought of it, and I’m sure I would enjoy doing that, particularly if you were to find my criticism useful. But, unfortunately, it would take me a long time. I read slowly, and I don’t have as much time for it as I would like. But we could give it a shot.

I can be very direct.

That's a very sweet story about justbeast.

I had the best writing group in the world once, but people moved on. I don't expect to find another like it. But you should have the same experience once. I really hope for you to have it. I can't advise you well because ours just fell together by good fortune.

P.

I'm not sure what I think about writing groups. Sometimes, I wish I had one to show my work to. And then, I remember the horrible, horrible, HORRIBLE experiences I had in college writing classes. It's a good thing that my primary reader is my girlfriend, who has a great critical eye!

Aww, D is uber-awesome. That last paragraph made me smile so hard, I barely know what to do with myself. Give him an extra hug for me!

I don't have a writing group - so yeah, it's kinda tough going it alone. But I have learnt so much. Steep learning curve!

ETA: If you ever want beta-ing help, hit me up and I'll see what I can do?

I'm in what I suppose would be a writing group. Some of us are published, some are agent querying, some have chosen different publishing paths, but even when we have our drama moments, I really could not ask for a more supportive and helpful bunch of people. Reading through this post and the comments has made me realise just how damn lucky I am.

Have you considered starting your own, closed writer's group on lj? Online isn't as good as in person, but it's something. I, too, have looked unsuccessfully for a rl group and couldn't find sufficient numbers of like-minded people . . . then joined an lj group and wham! people were giving concrit.

You just said what I was thinking - a small closed writing community would probably work. I've been in a postal writers group, and in an online group, and real-world groups, and I really think that LJ could work in a manner similar to the postal forum, but with the faster response of the internet.

I have a group of 5 or so beta readers I regularly send stuff to with the disclaimer "if you're too busy, it's cool, but if you can, would love to get your comments on this by X date."

Generally, 2-3 people will get back to me. Sometimes 4 or even the whole 5, but it ensures that I at least get 2 viewpoints diff't from mine. It's a mix of Clarion buddies and pro buddies I've picked up over the years. They've really been invaluable.

It doesn't hurt to ask. Even just sending a select group of folks with wide reading tastes your latest with the disclaimer is generally cool to most folks. Most people are really honored to be somebody's beta reader. I know I am when mine send me stuff.

Clarion peeps seem to be tight though--I never went.

I'm one of those baby twentysomething students that's been hungry for a good writer's group since I knew what one was. I'm sorry that I don't have any advice to add to the suggestions above, but it is a comfort to know that an author I admire has experienced something similar. Best of luck finding the community you seek!

Cat, I'm a natural editor (do it for free for friends and strangers alike) and don't remember not being able to read (and I remember my first bday :) )
I love your writing, it's meaty and tasty; however, your online copy of Fairyland ... I wanted so bad to email the edits to you ;) please don't think I'm picky about style; I'm not. But punc and usage, well, maybe LOL
I'm also a Reader. I keep loose track of my yearly reading: in my library there are over 6000 books, and yes, I've read most of them. I'd be honored, no, blessed to be a Reader of yours, and give honest feedback. I have no aspiration to be a writer (tho I've done a little-who hasn't nowadays?). If you'd like to take a chance with me, you can contact me thru my sometime blog, againstthegrainz.wordpress.com. I think you were there once.
Being an artist, I understand about wanting the Group thing... It took many years for me to find one; I finally do tho; and even a few artist friends who like and even enjoy my art style! Persist in your search, it's there tho it might be only Net not in person... Maine us not heavily populated (one if its attractions for me:) )
Meran

Oh, and I'm a fast and thorough reader. I'm still in the 'figuring out how many pages I read last year' mode.
Meran

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