Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writing Groups - Final, Final Thoughts (no, really)

As I mentioned, today I'll give some details on how my second writer's group works. The first group, Mimi's Boys, is a local group where we meet once or twice a month. Those are easy to put together and easy to find. Around here, the SF Bay area, a quick look through Craig's List can turn up any number of groups looking for new authors. The bulletin board at local bookstores is another good source to find a group. Or you can do it my way and form a group from the students in one of your writing workshops.

My second group is very different, since we've only met each other once, haven't seen each other since, but have been actively working as a group for more than seven months now. This is my internet based group.

The group came about at the end of an intense two-day advanced writing workshop with Bob Dugoni in Chicago. In hindsight, the emergence of the group seems obvious. Throughout the course, Bob often referred to the writing of four of the participants to give examples of plot, writing technique etc. As the course progressed, these four writers (one of which was me) were also the most vocal in asking questions and making remarks. That night, I met up with two of the guys and had a few drinks in the bar with several other participants and realized that we all had good chemistry.

The next day, I asked the two guys, Jeff and Paul, if they'd like to form an internet group to read and give feedback on each other's writing. After setting a few ground rules, they agreed. We did approach the fourth writer, a woman with a beautiful, mystical Celtic writing style, but she was already in two groups of her own. (so we're still shy on the female input, hint hint to any wonderful women writer's out there.)

So here's how this group functions. At first, we set the goal for submissions every two weeks, but we've been more flexible than that depending upon people's schedules. When I submit, I send about 30 pages of my draft to both guys. In the email, I include a very brief, one or two sentence, reminder of where the story left off. They guys then respond with their comments, copying everyone on their emails. One of them likes to email back the draft with line edits as well.

Typically, we return about one page worth of comments, good and bad, focusing mainly on plotting, character and other larger issues. I don't line edit because I feel my strength is the bigger picture. By copying each other on the return emails, we stimulate conversation amongst ourselves and explore deeper issues.

I've found this group to also be very helpful. Each of these two guys are good writers with different viewpoints than the writers in Mimi's Boys. Their comments have helped me to broaden my view on the story and I'm just about to incorporate a very small, but potentially major change.

This group works because I trust their opinions and we're all committed. Now, I met these guys in person first, but internet groups can be joined or formed by meeting other writers through online writing forums, bulletin boards, and chat rooms. Be careful who you join with. Remember my first two posts about what to look for in a group. And if it isn't working for you, don't be afraid to say so, or to quit. Also, if the group is good but there's one bad seed, never be afraid to trust your own judgment and ignore that person's comments.

So whether in person or over the internet, there are a wide variety of ways to be involved in a writer's group. In the end, it never hurts to have as many trustworthy eyes as possible on your writing.

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