Saturday, June 28, 2008

Revising the Novel - Writing Groups part 3

In the last two posts, I wrote about what you need to be aware of before you decide to join a writing group. Understanding that a writing group that fits you well will be a tremendous asset to your writing, today I have to give the biggest warning of all.

I firmly believe that a writing group should be used with caution when you're writing a first draft. At this stage, you should be a burning cauldron of creativity. Your entire focus needs to be on getting the story out of your head. You don't want anyone or anything to squash that, particularly not the opinions of others. What you need to do is close the door, lock yourself in a nuclear bunker, and write, write, write. Get the draft done. Get your thoughts onto paper (computer?). Once that draft if done, you can unbarricade the door, readjust your eyes to the light of day, take a deep breath of fresh air, and let your group know you're ready.

You may disagree with me on this point, thinking that it'd be helpful for someone to give an opinion as you're writing so you'll know if you're off base or not. It isn't. All it does is stall your creativity. Finish the draft. Create your characters, follow your plot. Write your novel.

When you turn in first draft passages to the group one of two things inevitably happens.

1) The group focuses on the millions and millions of small mistakes you've made; grammar, punctuation, spelling, name inconsistencies, date inconsistencies etc. Those mistakes are supposed to be there, it's your first draft. But when you turn in a segment, looking for critique, and what comes back is a long list of grammatical errors, it drains your strength. Plus, invariably they haven't really tackled the big picture questions that you need to know, such as, does this make sense? The small errors become too much of a distraction.

Or even worse;

2) The group will offer their opinion on what they think you should be writing, where you should take a character, how a character should act, where the plot should go. While this sounds like it may be of some value, at this point it's really more of a hindrance. Until you've finished the book and you know where those points are going, the opinions of others are roadblocks. In the end, they will only confuse you, make you doubt your own story.

Both of these common responses from a writing group to your first draft will result in slowing your writing down, not helping it.

Finish the first draft. Pound it out. Get it done. Then, once the draft is finished, it's time to share it with the group. Use the writing group for revision.

That's where the value of the group lies. In the revision (hence the inclusion of writing groups in my Revising the Novel posts.) Once you're in the revision stage, then you want all those grammatical errors pointed out. Then you want to fix inconsistencies in character, plot, time and setting. Then you want to know, does this whole thing work?

And for these issues, a good writing group can be invaluable.


Nardeeisms said...

Great points! I love your perspective(s) - Nards

Beth said...

Excellent insight, Todd.

I used a critique group once for my fiction. The real writers of the group were obvious--helpful and constructive in their criticism. The others were negative who found fault with my writing because they didn't do enough of their own. It was a tough choice to leave but it was better for me.

Trust your writerly instincts and do what feels best for your writing.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Finding the right fit with a critique group is tough. As Diana Peterfreund once said, she had to kiss a lot of frogs before she found her prince. :)

I have two groups now too. One that seems to focus on nitpicky grammar stuff and one that sees the bigger picture stuff. It's a nice balance for me.

Todd D. Severin said...

Thanks, ya'll for your comments. While it seems so simple to join a group, I agree with all of you, it requires a lot of attention to make sure it's the right group for you.