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Letters from Proxima Thule

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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.

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 can see how it might be difficult for people not familiar with more poetic prose structure to critique it. If someone's not used to writing like that, they might not know how to deal with the prose. And your plotting can be intricate in places as well.

Mind you, I love love your writing, but I can see how it might intimidate people who're part of a crit group with you. I'm sure rosefox could manage it, but she's a special case, and I might be a bit biased :-)

Heh. Rose doesn't like my novels, just my short stories. Plus, you know, she charges. ;)

She liked Orphan's Tales and Fairyland. But, yeah. She charges. One of these days she'll get work doing more than just copyediting someone's fiction. That'll be interesting to watch.

Hey, I trust her judgment a whole lot. I just can't afford to pay for crit, except in trade.

I have no interest in doing more than copyediting! I don't know what makes good writing work; all I know is how to point out where something is broken.

Well, pointing out what's broken is pretty damn important.

Sure, it makes me a good critic. But I don't think it's enough to make me a good editor.

Hm. Makes me want to work with you, because I suspect you'd actually be awesome.

I have liked some of your novels and many of your short stories! The first Orphan's Tales book absolutely won my heart.

Besides, if my critique summed to "I quite like this" or "Meh, not for me" it wouldn't be worth paying for. The critic brain and the personal opinion brain are quite distinct at this point, after nearly ten years reviewing very widely in genres that are not my preferred reading-for-fun.

Edited at 2010-01-29 04:09 am (UTC)

Us weird people have experience with the normal, we were forced into it as kids. Lots of people who don't read SF and fantasy do not have experience with anything weirder than Star Trek or Star Wars, they are probably confused by all of it, and have no idea what you're trying to do.

It's like...oh, like in calculus class, when I had things all figured out, and was certain I knew what the teacher was going to do next, but she did something different, made me wonder if she was proving something totally different than what I'd thought she was up to. And then she would ask me what the next step in the process should be. I floundered. (That teacher always managed to ask me what to do next right after she did something I would not have done. Sigh.)

They are wondering what the heck you're up to, and since they don't understand what your goal is, they don't know how to help you get there.