Friday, February 6, 2009

An Ode to My Long-Suffering Writing Group

Maybe some writers sit in solitude and easily, brilliantly turn out incredible, award-winning pages on the first draft without ever getting even the slightest bit of feedback. Maybe pigs fly, but I just don't look up enough to see them. It's not like I'm claiming I know everything there is to know. But I do know that my writing group is a vital part of my writing process.

It's easy, when you figure out something in your head, to leave out major, vital bits of information. It's easy to leave out words, write choppy dialogue, or think something's working when it isn't.

I meet with my writing group every two weeks. We show up with three copies of our recent pages, read aloud, and then talk about what's working and what isn't. Everyone makes notes on their copies and gives them back when we're done with the discussion. These notes are so helpful later on in the editing process.

I've been in a writing group of one form or another since 2002. People have come and gone, - moved, stopped writing, started writing again, etc. - we break for holidays, and take some time off in the summer or if everyone's life seems to be getting a little too crazy. But overall, I've been going to writing group consistently since I graduated from college. I credit this for the fact that, almost seven years after graduating, I'm still writing.

At this point in my life, I know I'll never stop writing. I've got enough ideas and characters backed up in my head to keep me going for ever and ever, but in those first few years after school there was this tenuous balance between writing and the rest of my life. My writing group is what kept me from teetering. It's kind of like Writers Anonymous. Hi, my name is Allie and I'm a writer. Because, let's face it, there are easier interests to have. Stamp collecting, for one, involves very little rejection, and is far less time consuming than writing a novel.

Having a deadline and knowing that I don't want to show up without pages, plays a big part in my productivity level, and my work is so much better for getting consistent feedback. But the other thing that's wonderful about writing group is the people and their work. Right now, my group consists of me, Joan, and Mel, and our meetings are one of the brightest spots in my life. Not only do I get help with my writing from smart, perceptive, creative ladies, but I get to read their writing. Sometimes, their work leaves us on a cliffhanger, and I can't wait to get back to group the next time to hear how it all turns out.

Joan and I have been working together forever now. She has amazing patience in reading through countless edits of the same scene, and roots for my characters as much as I do. Her ideas for my work are amazing and her writing is even more so. I've watched her work evolve. Her stories have made me cry on more than one occasion, and I still think about characters she wrote years ago. She did a reading at Writers and Books recently, and blew everyone away. (If you want to curl up with a cup of tea and read some great stories, check out this one and this one). And I feel so lucky to have had her as a constant in my writing life.

Mel joined our group this fall. We took a novella class together years ago, and she and Joan and I were in a master class over the summer. Mel writes middle grade fiction, and it's so much fun to read. She works with kids and is so in tune to the perspective of grade schoolers. Recently, she wrote this vivid scene about a kid in the nurse's office that gave me crazy flashbacks to faking sick so I could get out of long division. Mel also does fascinating things. She spent a summer studying Harper Lee in Monroeville. She's always reading a great book, and she takes really neat classes.

Working in group has taught me how to take constructive criticism, how to have faith in my work, and how to be a better writer and reader.

If you're interested in writing, my best advice would be to find a group - people you trust, who will work hard, and be honest, kind, and supportive. But you can't have my group. I'm not giving them up for anything.

3 comments:

Neil said...

2002 was a long time ago, too. Did you know that in 2002 the greatest storage capacity of an iPod was only 20GB and France agreed to return the remains of Saartjie Baartman to South Africa?

anni said...

I say ..follow your dream. If the group keeps you going you're lucky to have it.

The Modern Gal said...

Ok, did you know you'd sold your book when you wrote this? Because if not, what timing!

I need to get involved with a writing group. It's the very reason I loved my creative writing courses in college. I guess the feedback I get from my editors at work daily turns me off of sharing my personal stuff ... but a personal writing group would be much more supportive than the evil editors, I suppose.