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I am the Bane of Writers’ Groups (Part 1 of 2-3) by Chaaya.Chandra

A few reasons why I don’t use them, but maybe you should.

A writers’ group is a group of people that get together to discuss stories written by members of the group with the intent of improving authorial skill and assisting to build confidence.

Ready for some more black and white style Chaaya? Here we go.

I was talking to a friend recently who’d given a writers’ group a try and found it to be a really negative experience. I listened to her for a while and was surprised to hear it’d gone so badly. Not only had I read her work, her novel had been reviewed by RP Games (as a favor to me). The publisher gave some feedback on it and said it was a good story. He wished her luck on finding a publisher, since it wasn’t in the company’s genre, but offered to assist her in self-publishing if conventional publishing didn’t work out for her.

So basically, her novel was accepted by a publisher, not a very big one, but a publisher nonetheless. As I continued to listen to this friend, I realized she was pretty laid back about that acceptance. In other words, it hadn’t gone to her head. She understood she had room for improvement.

So here was a budding author, with enough skill to be able to help others and enough humility to recognize there was room to improve herself as well. These are two good qualities for a contributing member of a writing group. Without being in the group it’d be impossible to know how much was her and how much was the group, but I knew some good questions to ask, so by the end of the conversation I was pretty sure it was them.

I’ll start with what you can do to be a strong contributing member. Here are a few things to consider. Do you read enough to know what you like? Do you read enough to know that there’s more than one way to accomplish the same goal in writing? Do you find enjoyment in reading rather than just reading to enjoy?

You probably noticed that I didn’t say anything about your writing. Submitting your story to a group has a minimal impact on the group itself. It’s meant to have an impact on you, not on them. I’ve heard of groups with some people that never submit any stories. There’s a good chance those are the people you want to hear from the most.

So, do you read enough to know what you like? Seems like a pretty innocuous question doesn’t it? What kind of writer doesn’t read? You’d be surprised. It’s not just how much you read, it’s what you read as well. To really be effective in a group, you need to have read, not just the things you like, but a good portion of things you don’t like. I’ll get more into that in a moment, but for now, realize that when you’re going to comment on a story in a writing group, you need to understand the difference between something being liked and something being right. If you haven’t run into this with books, you’ve probably run into this with movies. There’s no way you’ve avoided having it happen with food.

How do you like your steak cooked? Do you know someone that likes theirs cooked a different way? Is your way right and their way wrong? It has to do with preference, not right and wrong. (Provided they don’t think it should be well done. That’s just wrong. People were never meant to eat charcoal.) Now let’s say you ordered your steak medium well and the server comes back with a steak that’s medium rare. Is it possible that your definition is a little different? Possible, so hopefully you’re one of those people that can graciously accept something being a little different. But getting the steak medium rare when you ordered medium well is wrong. It’s important that you understand the difference between those things in writing as well. This leads me to my next point.

I hope I’ve already brought this home to you through my other journals, but just in case, let me reiterate my personal philosophy on writing advice. There’re a few areas that are do’s and don’ts, but there are millions more areas that’re based on personal preference and style. If you’re ever in a writers’ group and you hear yourself say something like, “Well, I would have done it this way…”, please slap yourself for me. If you’re saying that, you’re wrong. You can say things like, “I think it would have been more impactful to…” or “A different order to this scene might make it a little easier to follow.” It’s not about how you would write the story; it’s about improving the story. I hope you see the difference. For example, let’s suppose I notice that an author is trying to make a character appealing, and I’m just not feeling it. I can say something like, “I honestly don’t find this character likeable. I feel that adding this might help make the character a little more universally appealing.” Blunt like I normally am, but still leaving things up to author. You’re not attacking the writing itself; you’re expressing a way that you feel might improve it. Contrast that with something like, “Wow, you really stink at making likable characters. You should do this instead.”

I have a friend who once spent some time working for a semi-pro magazine where she had to read stories to see if they could be published. The rules for reading volunteers required that, as long as it didn’t violate copyright or editorial standards, she read the entire story and make comments on it. It goes without saying that some of these stories were pretty awful. If you get into a writers’ group, you’re going to see some stuff that you wouldn’t read otherwise, so take a note from what they taught her and find enjoyment in reading, even when you can’t enjoy reading: glory in the awful. She worked for that magazine almost thirty years ago and the stories she remembers the best are the ones that were the most horrible. From what she says, they were more likely to pass on a story to another reader with the comment, “You have to read this one! It’s hideous!” than they were to pass it on saying, “This one is a good read.” She also points out that the bad writing became a good source for leaning where she could improve. She does good work now. I like her Everquest fan fiction.

Disclaimer: Just because you glory in the awfulness, doesn’t mean you should tell that to the author. I get the impression most people are more tactful than I am, but I figured I’d mention that.

In addition to laughing about the awful, you should also be looking for the good. Savor what’s done right. You can learn what to do right from a bad author too; people have a tendency to spend so much time criticizing that they forget to take the time to learn. You’ll want to find those things so that you can mention them at the next group meeting.

Well, that’s about it for this week. Next week I’ll get into why I don’t use writers’ groups and some of the things to look for in a group or in making a group. I’ll also talk about what my friend calls “inbreeding” in writing, since that goes along well with groups. If there’s time, I’ll get some info from my friends on how to start a group of your own.

Thank you so much to my few followers. I do this all for you. I like to present things in a fun and light-hearted way that avoids the authoritarian and angsty stuff you probably see way too often.

If you have requests on future topics, feel free to comment here or contact RP Games through social media (realRPGames). They’ll pass suggestions on to me.
May you keep running forward and never look back.

I am the Bane of Writers’ Groups (Part 1 of 2-3)


6 October 2020 at 12:39:50 MDT

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