Writing Groups – Part One
It can never be overstated about the amount of feedback a writer needs. In order to learn and improve having someone else comment on your work is vital. And whilst it is great when you first start out to have friends or loved ones tell you how much they love your work, as you grow as a writer you are going to want less sycophancy and more constructive criticism.
Writers’ groups offer a great way for writers to get that feedback. Who better to understand what works and doesn’t work with your story along with possible ways to fix it than other writers? But with a multitude of different types of writing groups out there, finding the right one for you can be difficult. So with this in mind, in this first of a two part article, we spoke to a number of fantasy authors about their experience with different types of writing groups and how they helped, and in some cases, continue to help their careers.
Laura Lam is the author of the novel Pantomime and says that writing groups played a big part in her career.
“When I first started seeking publication, I was a huge newb. I made several glaring mistakes, such as subbing a draft that wasn’t as polished as it should have been. I found the AbsoluteWrite forum when I discovered a manuscript I submitted to an open door month had gone to editorial, and I learned loads on the forum, including the skills to write a query letter that landed me my agent.”
Laura has continued to make use of writing groups even though she is now published.
“I also joined a private writing group on the AbsoluteWrite forums of other people who had made it to editorial for the same open call,” she explains. “We now call ourselves the Inkbots. Two years later and the group is still active and we’re a great support group, at different points in our careers.”
And if that was not enough, she also has another group away from the internet.
“I’m also a member of a tiny writer’s group with two of my good friends. We meet at a cafe every Tuesday and write, setting timers and comparing word counts, working out plot problems, etc.”
Finding a good group can be a challenge. A common problem is finding one that takes genre seriously. One group that does, is the British Science Fiction Association’s Orbit Groups. Although primarily focused on science fiction, online co-ordinator, Terry Jackman explains that Orbiters also caters for fantasy writers.
“In BSFA ‘Orbits’,” explains Jackman, “groups of about five writers, from novice to very experienced, read and comment regularly on each others’ work with the intention of helping each other improve. Content can be script writing, short story or novel-length. Originally via the postal service, Orbits are now online, usually by email.”
Writers are placed with others writing similar things, be they short stories or novels, science fiction or fantasy. They are required to be members of the BSFA (currently priced at £29 a year) but when asked whether they work, Jackman is emphatic in her response.
“Definitely, and I’ve been in short and novel, postal and online. Otherwise we wouldn’t have so many published members who choose to stay in. If one group isn’t right for you then you can ask to try another. But remember: we do not set out to be a mutual admiration society. The best response is what makes your work better, not what makes you feel better. Members are trying to let you see your writing from other eyes, maybe an editor’s. And they want you to do the same for them.”
Perhaps there is no better endorsement than the fact that Jackman’s own fantasy novel, Ashamet, has recently been picked up for publication by Dragonwell Press. Jackman thinks that the benefits of writing groups goes beyond getting to hear constructive criticism of your own prose.
“Critiquing others teaches you to assess your own work better,” she says. “Sometimes a member can suggest a market, or an angle, or a book. You’re no longer alone; others share the thrills, and frustrations. And then of course you get to read all those new stories, maybe before they appear in print anywhere else.”
It would seem that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain for a writer looking to make their way to publication then, but Laura Lam has this advice before going out and joining the first group you come across.
“I love writer’s groups,” says Lam, “but the most important part is to find a group of people who are, firstly, nice, but still honest and secondly actually writing, rather than saying they’re going to write ‘one day.’ Would I have been published without writers’ groups? Maybe–I’d like to think probably. Would I have made a lot MORE stupid newbie errors? Definitely.”
In part two we’ll be talking to Anne Lyle and Francis Knight about their experiences, and in doing so, looking at two different types of writing groups.