Writing Groups – Part Two
This is part two of our interview series on writing groups. If you missed part one, you can read it here.
In my previous article we looked at how writing groups helped two writers reach publication. Laura Lam, author of Pantomime, told us how she used the online site AbsoluteWrite and Terry Jackman told us about the BSFA’s dedicated genre specific writers circle, Orbits. This time we’ll talk to authors Anne Lyle and Francis Knight about their experiences and in doing so highlight two different types of writing community.
One of those types is the shared course. This is where a bunch of writers, under the tutelage of a mentor or teacher, jointly complete lessons or exercises designed to improve and develop their skills. This happened to Anne Lyle, author of the Night’s Masque trilogy, back before she was published.
“Back in 2009,” she explains, “I found myself with a half-revised draft of a NaNoWriMo novel that I desperately wanted to turn into a submittable manuscript (because I loved the characters and concept) but didn’t know how to move forward. I’d heard of Holly Lisle via the Forward Motion writers’ community that she founded about a decade earlier, and tried some of her ebooks on writing techniques, so when I discovered she was about to start running an online course called How to Revise Your Novel, I signed up immediately!”
These courses are not cheap and represent a big investment for a writer aspiring for publication, especially as “one size does not fit all” when it comes to writing, so what was Anne’s experience like?
“The course comes in 20-odd weekly instalments” Lyle explains, “though you do it at your own pace – the latter sections, when you actually sit down to revise the manuscript, obviously take more than a week per lesson. I found it incredibly helpful to have a step-by-step guide to tackling this most daunting of tasks – line-editing is easy enough to learn, but restructuring a broken novel is a whole different beast! Holly’s also good at building communities, and the cost of the course includes lifetime access to her forums where you can discuss your work with other writers. Because all writers are different, not every technique on the course works for everyone, so it’s very helpful to compare experiences and swap tips.”
Would Anne recommend the course to other writers?
“I got a three-book deal out of the manuscript I put through “How to Revise Your Novel”, so the course really does work,” she says. “The focus of the courses is very much on professionalism and discipline, and I would strongly recommend them to any writer who wants to get published (either commercially or self-published – there are specific lessons on the latter in her general writing course, How to Think Sideways). My only caveat is that after many years of being published the traditional way, Holly is now a very enthusiastic proponent of self-publishing, so don’t let her opinions distract you if what you really want is to go the agent-and-publishing-house route.”
Francis Knight has found success with her ongoing Pain Mage trilogy, and has a caveat when it comes to writing groups.
“I think writers groups can be very helpful if you find one that fits with you,” she says.
She is a member of the T-Party, a group of UK genre writers. What makes it a little different from other types of groups we’ve highlighted, is that it only allows people who already have fiction publishing credits.
“I like the T-Party,” she explains, “because we’re all aiming pretty much for the same thing — working at writing, getting our stories published as best we can, however that is. It’s less about personal feelings and more about craft, at least when we’re in session. And to have a day every so often where you can talk about point-of-view or narrative arcs and everyone knows what you mean when you say that can be very liberating! Apart from that, we’re each other’s cheerleaders too, and lots of people find that heartening, especially if they don’t have supportive significant others or whathaveyou.”
With such a high standard of membership, surely there’s pressure on the writers?
Francis says, “the downside is, of course, that they’ll pull you up when you’re being lazy/cliché/or just plain daft (I have the scars to prove this), and we can be pretty direct about it, though there’s a lot of laughter with it generally.”
So with all this in mind, you are probably left a little confused about, which if any, of these types of groups are best.
“Writers groups aren’t for everyone,” says Knight, “and I’ve heard some horror stories about groups where it’s all about an individual’s ego. But if you think they might be worth a try, test a few out, go to a meeting or two and look at the dynamics, look at how they crit, and figure out what you want from the group and if they fit.”
Knight goes on to offer some advice for choosing the right group for you.
“Do you just want a bit of gentle encouragement?” she suggests. “Nothing wrong with that, but if so, then you’ll need to find a group that will give you that. Do you have your eyes set, laser-like, on honing your writing to a razor’s edge and getting published? Or perhaps something in-between, with lots of unvarnished crits but lots of laughs too? Then you’ll need a different sort of group.”
“In the end,” she surmises, “it’s about what you want and need as a writer.”
Title image by Unknown Artist.