After reading my friend, Tim’s, piece on the subject of writers’ groups (re-blogged on this site earlier in the month), I felt compelled to write a piece myself.
I am a member of a local writing group called Renegade Writers. Thanks to an accommodating publican, we meet up weekly in an upstairs room of a public house, although I’m sure our over-the-bar purchases help to swell his coffers.
Until about sixteen months ago, I had never thought about joining a writing group. Much of my writing until then was conducted in private. Just me, a PC and a deadline. However back in 2009, after giving up writing plays and educational workshops I began to concentrate on other forms of writing. First I devoted much of my attention to non-fiction for the UK and US magazine markets. I enrolled with the various bodies that support freelancers and became a member of The Association of Freelance Writers. This was all good and well as it opened a few doors, but didn’t help with my desire to write fiction.
Now anyone that meets me would never confuse me with a timid wallflower, more than likely an aggressive dog-rose. I’ve always been confident, especially in my career. As an actor I rarely suffered from stage fright. As a playwright, I seemed to instinctively know what worked and with magazine articles, as long as you do your research and can string together an interesting new angle, you are more than halfway up the success ladder. I also felt that the fiction that I’d already written was good, but didn’t have an outlet for it.
While doing some research for a feature at my local library I spotted a spotted a flyer for the Renegade Writers. After exchanging an email with Peter, I popped along to a meeting. I don’t know what I expected to find, but what I did find was several people sat around tables nursing drinks and exchanging pleasantries. I was welcomed into the fold and after a couple more people had arrived the meeting began. People read out examples of their works in progress and following this other members gave them feedback.
The following week I went back clutching one of my own pieces of short-fiction. I read out my story and upon completion discovered it was no where near as well written as I first thought. Pointers were given regarding my over-use of descriptive prose, the scandalous point of view changing that took place and the lazily constructed ending.
Yes, it really was that bad. (Coming from a play-writing background where I was used to conveying a story via dialogue meant that I over compensated in my fiction writing.)
Over my time as a member I’ve received many nuggets of wisdom from the other members and I have seen a real development in both my style and my work ethic. I look back at some of my earlier writing and can now see where I was going wrong. Without the friendship and support of a writers’ group I don’t believe I’d have developed into the writer I have now become. And don’t get me wrong it’s not all back-slapping and heaps of praise, there are still moments when it’s pointed out to me, that a certain portion of my text doesn’t work or the plot is compromised. The Renegade’s help to stop me climbing up onto a literary high-horse by keeping me grounded and as we’re a weekly meeting keeps my focus and desire to complete those projects started. Without the group I’d have never had the encouragement to complete, Willow and the Motorway Horses, my first full length work of fiction.
As a group we give each other honest criticism, we are confident enough to express our dislikes and comfortable enough to give praise. What seems to work for us, is honesty. We’re always respectful and never aggressive, and we are happy to toss new ideas into the mix with suggestions and support. I guess our group dynamic wouldn’t work for every writer and someone with a fragile personality could find some of our more rambunctious members too much. (that’ll be me then), and despite taking the craft of writing serious, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
If you’re happy to continue receiving praise from friends and family for your literary efforts, that’s all good and well. But I believe a writers’ group is essential for anyone wanting to develop and succeed as a writer. No advice can be better than that given by your peers.