No man is an island. No writer writes alone. Sure, most of our work exists inside our own minds and all that time at the keyboard is a solitary duty. Even more, we edit and cut and revise so that only we really know what’s happening in the story. We hold all the pieces; alone. And if your writing is thereputic, or for you, then that is as far as it need go. Enjoy your time. Covet the story. Hold it tight and embrace the solitude.

However, if you write for others — to entertain, to teach, to share, to get paid, then you can only go so far by yourself. If there is one thing all agents and editors agree on, its that you must have a strong critique group. Not just friends and family. Not only the students in your class. Peers can help you find things in your writing that will make it better. You want readers to read your work, may as well start now 😉

So, what is a writer’s circle? It can be a great many things. Most often (and what we will talk about here) it is a group of people who meet regularly to share what they’ve written and give feedback. When the group is consistent, you can bring your entire novel 10 pages at a time and get great feedback from readers as they work through the entire story. This group has everyone bring enough copies for the entire group, has one person read each piece aloud at a time while everyone makes edits on the page. After a piece is read, brief comments about the overall story are discussed before moving onto the next writer. Before or after the readings, the group may discuss other topics related to publishing and writing.

Why bother?

There are many things a good writer’s circle can bring:

A fresh perspective.

You have been close to your work. You understand why your characters act as they do and where everything is heading. But you’ve no doubt moved things around, made changes, and sped through scenes. This happens to me all the time. In my memory, I’ve made something very clear (like how magic works or the backstory of a character), but the words aren’t actually as clear as I’d thought. Or, worse, I had removed or changed a significant part and didn’t realize how it would unravel everything else. Simply put, you are too close to your work to be objective, and objective criticism is absolutely necessary.

New ideas.

It has been said that your first solution to a problem (or first creative idea) comes from what was on T.V. last night. The second is from a book you read last year. It’s the third and fourth ideas that start to be unique. Nothing new can be created, but writer’s can string old things together in new ways. A good writer’s group can help with this. Peers will mention ideas, give you sparks, and challenge your concepts in ways you simply would have yourself. Because all people are different with different backgrounds.

Strength in diversity.

In my experience, the best circles are made up of writers from different genres. So one group may have mystery, suspense, fantasy, literary, romance, and young adult writers. When I first realized this, I felt like “how can all these mystery writers really help me with my science fiction? What can I say to them?” Then, it dawned on me that stories are still stories. Any good sci-fi will have elements of mystery. Any good mystery will have imagination (which is fantasy’s strength). Every story should have some suspense, and most have a romance in there somewhere. You will eventually come to a scene where the suspense just isn’t working. How great would it be to have a suspense writer be able to share their experience. Next week, maybe its the mystery writer who helps add some spice to your plot.

Stumbling Blocks and Word Choice.

You read what you write internally. Having someone read it aloud will help you see where others stumble over your words. How can this sentence be more powerful? When do I use a word too often? Do I need dialogue tags here? Trust me. Any writer’s group will help you spot these.

Market Info and Support Group.

They are all in the same boat you are. So, like any good support group, your writer’s circle will be the best place to ask questions about agents, new books, trends, publishers, query letters, and all that jazz. Plus, let’s be honest. Writing is hard. Rejection hurts. other’s don’t understand. Your circle will. We all need a little support.

Fun.

Come on. People who love books? Where else would you rather be?

So, What’s Holding Us Back?

I talk to writers who have avoided writer’s groups and usually get the same responses.

I’m waiting until I have something worth bringing.

I get this. You want to put your best foot forward. Still, this is pretty obviously an excuse. There are lots of different levels of groups out there, and many love inexperienced writers. You don’t need to bring a master novel, or a novel at all. Bring short stories. Bring blog posts. Bring something, and let them help you get your writing to the place it needs to be. They won’t bite.

My family reads my books. 

Good! Let them. Get everyone you can to read your work. But remember, your family may not know what to look for. What agents and editors and reviewers look for. What the current market trends are. What competition your story is facing. These are important considerations. Plus, your granny’s so sweet. Is she really gonna say, “The motivation of your main character in this scene seems too coincidental. Have you nailed his backstory to see what drives him through the conflict?”

I’d rather spend my time writing.

You should be writing. Getting words on the paper is difficult. But, how will you know if the words you have on the paper are the right ones? Besides, I have seen that bringing earlier chapters helps me write current or later chapters. And, its nice motivation to write when you don’t want to show up without something to read.

What if they don’t like my work? 

(Though we may not say it aloud.) This is a hard one. Criticism is tough. And, while the majority of groups have helpful and kind writers, there is always that one person who makes you feel like you don’t belong near words. Sorry. If you want your work to get out there, you will face rejection from agents, editors, readers, reviewers, and publishers. Believe it or not, a writer’s group is a great wading pool into this. Most often, they are kind and direct with their criticism. It helps prepare your thick skin for the 100+ rejection letters before your first sale.

In the next post, we will talk about what makes a writer’s circle effective and how to find the right one.

Thoughts? Snarky remarks? Let me have them!

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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