Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

How to write a novel: 5 Writers’ Groups

There comes a point where, if you’re serious about getting your writing out into the world, you have to let other people see it. The first time I did this, about 10 years ago, was on a writing course. I wasn’t ready for it. I’d written very little, wanted to learn more, but felt compelled to perform. The class format was to write something in maybe 10 or 20 minutes, read it out, and have it critiqued. After a day at work, an evening of word-churning and being bashed back down wasn’t really for me. And so began an avoidance of writing groups.

At the beginning of this year, I knew that had to change. I was well into the editing process with The Syndrome Diaries, and it was time to see what others made of my writing. I made it my New Year’s resolution to join a group.

My first reading was nerve-wracking. I remember getting to the end of the passage, and being met with silence. I thought that I must have written a pile of rubbish and everyone was wondering how to tell me. But then the comments began: helpful, constructive and largely positive. I went home feeling that my writing was OK, and, more importantly, that I could make it better.

Since then, I found a group much closer to home, so I’ve been able to go more regularly than I was able to with the first group. Over time, I’ve come to recognise different styles of feedback and, when comments conflict, I can select which is most useful (which is not necessarily the most flattering!). That in itself is a writing skill.

You can’t please everyone all the time and that can manifest itself rather energetically in a group; this is another lesson I’ve had to learn. One week, Ben’s behaviour in The Syndrome Diaries sparked a particularly heated debate. I wasn’t expecting it and worried that I’d upset others in the group, and that my plot was ‘wrong.’ This is one of the disadvantages of a group: you read extracts, and without the whole, it can be disorientating or appear that someone’s behaviour lacks motives. That’s where your beta readers come in, and that’s the subject of the next instalment of the ‘How to write a novel’ blogs.

But let’s not forget: while a writing group might be your critics, they’re also your champions. Last night, a group member told me she was part way through The Syndrome Diaries, and that she couldn’t put it down. That was the moment when I first realised that the effort I’d put into my writing was now bringing enjoyment to a reader. It’s a moment I’ll always remember, and it’s a moment that I wouldn’t have had without the writers’ group.

Have you joined a writers’ group? Has it helped your writing?

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9 thoughts on “How to write a novel: 5 Writers’ Groups

  1. That’s fantastic news. I love it when someone says, “Hey, I need more of your book, where is it?”

    I have joined a writer’s group. It’s helped some, but lately it’s grown large enough that I feel like we don’t have time for everyone’s stuff anymore, even if we only bring 2 or 3 pages. I know, I’m just complaining. I just need to find another group or maybe suggest we split the group in half so we can all get the feedback we need.

    I’ve also tried out chapters on random people I know, but more especially people from the age group I’m targeting. You have to assure and reassure them that honesty won’t hurt your feelings. But they’re not writers, so sometimes their feedback isn’t always helpful. Still, it’s nice to know whether they’d be interested in reading the next chapter.

    So how did you go about finding a writer’s group? Maybe I can find another or an additional one?

    • The further-away one I found by looking on the Meetup website, while the current one I found through an advert in the back of Mslexia magazine – just luck, really. There are usually 10-12 of us, with 6 reading (if you haven’t read the week before you go first), allowing 10 minutes to read and 10 minutes for comments. We have half an hour at the beginning for chatting. It seems to work pretty well.

      • Well, if it continues to be a larger group like it has been I may suggest to the group leader something like this. Thanks for the advice! 🙂

  2. Been in a small writing group for years and now running it. Sort of. I take charge, but we take it in turns to work out what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
    It is sometimes good, sometimes brilliant and sometimes just OK. Depends on where you are in your writing, I think, but it’s always good to be with like-minded people. To support and to be supported is important.

    • Sometimes it depends on who’s there and what they’ve brought, but there are so many good writers that there’s usually something that grabs me. I always feel I’ve had a good night out as well as learned something: it’s the place I laugh the most.

  3. You’re brave. I haven’t done any writing groups, and I honestly don’t see myself doing so. I have no doubt the benefits are great; I just know how uncomfortable I’d be. 🙂

  4. Hi – I’ve nominated you for the brand new Most Helpful Blogger Award. Break out the tea and cake, we’re celebrating!

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