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?