Monday, December 16, 2013

WRITING GROUP OR NOT: Combing Out the Ticks

(NOTE: Do whatever steps you want, if/You have cleared them with the Pontiff./Everybody say his own/Kyrie eleison,/Doin’ the Vatican Rag./Get in line in that processional,/Step into that small confessional,/There, the guy who’s got religion’ll/Tell you if your sin’s original./If it is, try playing it safer,/Drink the wine and chew the wafer,/Two, four, six, eight,/Time to transubstantiate!)

Writing is the loneliest craft on account of it’s hard to say “profession” when most writers barely earn $20,000 a year. The work is done in the basement or garage or unused backroom next to the camping gear used only once and the flies were too much of a bother to go out again. What many new and veteran writers complain about is the hours spent in search of the perfect sentence making the perfect story start breathing. Unless the writer is a career sociopath, he or she never knows for sure they are doing the right thing. They reach out for the company of other writers in the social circle known as the writers’ group.
GET TOGETHER
Writers’ groups are four to six people who support and critique each others’ work. They are only helpful when all the members are interested in the same kind of writing, whether fiction (literary or genre), nonfiction, poetry, or prose. Each is a unique discipline and a group will function best when it concentrates on only one. Cross-discipline groups suffer from confusion. Imagine a fantasy novelist trying to talk sense to an historian while the poet struggles through pages of blank verse. Since each is involved with communicating ideas through words, they should have parallel concerns. Not so. Now imagine a blender filled with car parts, starfish, and Ms. Turner’s seventh grade science class. Do you want to hit “frappe” on such a concatenation?
Groups fail when they attempt to accommodate everyone instead of being focused on the work. Inclusivity makes most writers stop before they start. One kind of writing is not better than the other, only different, and appeals to different readers.
NICE AND NOT SO NICE CRITIQUES
Groups meet once a week at homes, cafes, and coffee shops, where they are always nice to whoever will have them. The members make commitments to bring new and rewritten chapters or pieces, and some e-mail manuscripts several days in advance so others will have time to consider the works presented. Hard copies are brought and handed out, and then the writer reads his or her piece. Discussions over the quality and success of the work start about here.
The group must be a safe place without bickering or egotism, and allows real critiques to flourish. This means pointing out the strengths in a piece of writing as well as any weaknesses. A group that consistently trades in accolades and laurels is useless. Yes, a writer wants to know what he or she is doing right, but more importantly, what they are doing wrong. The focus for every member is making the writing better. Groups also have a certain amount of time they are effective. Once the energy flags in one group, disband and find another.
GROUP TAUGHT
Online is the best place to start your search for a writers’ group to suit your needs. Many online groups are available but the best is still the group that meets for actual, real live, social contact. Lying about why you haven’t done your promised round of revisions is real hard in person, and too easy by e-mail. Many groups operate of public libraries, making this one of the few instances of your tax dollars being used for something worthwhile. Take advantage while you can.
ANOTHER GOOD REASON
“That hair enlivened Marcia’s fingers, the crevices where they met her palms, the palms themselves. Her inner wrists shivered at the nearness of the silky warmth. Mesmerizing, how the classroom’s fluorescent bent one way on a curl’s crest and another in its hollow, while a single hair, fallen, made a sleek red thread on a sleeve.” This excerpt from the title story of red girl rat boy by Cynthia Flood (Biblioasis, 2013) is the best argument for buying a copy at your local independent bookstore or the publisher’s web site, www.biblioasis.com
CHANCE AT THE COUNTER
The advertising industry says an ad must be seen three times before a prospective consumer takes notice. Pish posh, we say. Consider this a billboard: “The award-winning The Dog Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish (Cypress House, $13.95) is available right now for writers and the readers. Dandy thoughts, directions, and curses about the writing of books are waiting for your ready hand and eye. Buy now, buy often.” The wonderful folks at www.indiebound.com will direct you to the nearest independent bookstore, where happy-go-lucky shopkeepers will be glad to take your cash or plastic. It’s never too late when you leave early.


NEXT: Reindeer in the Dog House

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