Thoughts on writing groups

04/05/2014 10:18

I’ve been attending the Swindon Free Writer’s Group for six months now, having joined through NaNoWriMo 2013. I got asked recently by a work colleague about writing groups, so I figured it was about time I sat back and reflected…although I know some of the Swindon Writers read this, so I’ll be nice!

 

Conclusion: basically, it’s been amazing.

 

Ok, ok, I’ll write some more thoughts…

The major benefit of a writing group is having feedback on personal writing projects.

I have most definitely appreciated being able to get feedback from another group of writers. It’s all very well giving writing out to friends and family, and the feedback is often incredibly helpful, but it is hard for non-writers to give specific “this is what isn’t working” notes. Writers are able to pick out specifics, to ignore anything that you’re working on, to be detailed or high-level as necessary, and to understand and appreciate writing style. It’s also really good to be able to direct the critique, to discuss it, and to delve into the reasons if necessary – I find it hard on forums sometimes because all you get is a list, and you have no idea of why it’s been given (and in some cases, who has given it). The personal and face-to-face aspects are really helpful.

On the downside, it can be incredibly hard to have your work torn to pieces (although everyone is polite about it) and critiqued, particularly in person. It does take a large amount of courage to hand something over to strangers! However, the thing I have been trying to keep in my mind is that not everyone will like everything: critique is always someone’s opinion. I have always tried to appreciate what people are telling me, but if it doesn’t work – if I have written something for a reason, if I think that actually that style does work, if it simply comes down to “I like it” – then feedback can be ignored. You write in your own way. It can be improved, but it shouldn’t turn into anyone else’s writing.

Personally, I have found having the network brilliant. I have submitted Madcap Library and, to the most recent Writer’s meeting, a first draft of DS&S (see my previous blog post for what I submitted). The feedback has been really helpful, and it’s also helped my confidence: I was very nervous about submitting DS&S (ML at least I had ironed out the creases – DS&S was literally a first draft!) but everyone liked it, and the feedback I got showed I am working in the right direction.

[EDIT: a friend commented that sometimes having multiple writer’s groups can help with getting feedback, as everyone has different opinions, and some groups will be stronger on particular aspects/types of writing. Possibly good advice if you do write multiple types of things or like getting multiple opinions – and have time for multiple groups! I admit the thought of attending more is too overwhelming for me to want to go down that route.]

 

Other benefits: you realise you’re not alone, which is really helpful!

I sometimes feel like I am working in a vacuum – I write alone (Jon will tell you my reaction if I get disturbed when I’m writing…) and even sending things out to a publisher or my editor is an individual process. Being able to discuss wider aspects of writing – character ideas, plots, genres – and be able to do some odd writing with the various tasks and skits that we do is a break from the normal, and reminds me that there is a wider world out there. Discussing what we’ve read or seen recently, why we like something, getting book suggestions…it all brings me out of my own little world of “gottawritegottawritegottawrite”.

I’ve also been able to offer help and feedback to other people, and understand my own writing better. I admit that I fail badly at English Language and Literature – I don’t understand the basics of grammar, I don’t understand the wider genres, I don’t understand the wider aspects of how or why I write things. Hearing other people’s feedback and realising that I feel the same is a good way to understand what exactly it is I am objecting to or liking, and understanding my reactions to writing. I sometimes feel that I’m learning as much from the feedback on other people’s writing as I am from the feedback on my own!

 

And lastly: friends.

I’ve made some really good friends. I’m involved in several projects with people I’ve met through Writer’s, including music and RPG, and it makes for a nice dynamic in the entire group both inside and outside the monthly meetings. The external friendships also mean I can bug people for writing feedback on other things: several people have had the full text of ML, for example, which I wouldn’t want to give to the monthly meeting due to length. My social life has exploded (which has been moderately inconvenient due to work and house and the need to actually get some more stories finished) but that’s also been amazing. I caution that not everyone would get the same thing: I know several people are only really involved with the group for the monthly meetings, which suits them, but I seem to have got myself dragged into a whole world of external projects as well…

 

So, another conclusion:

I have found the Writer’s group to be a really positive experience. There’s a huge amount that anyone can give without submitting their own work for critique; and in fact, it’s better if people don’t – I’d hate to have 10 critiques to read each month on top of the rest of my workload! It’s been brilliant to simply have a forum to talk about writing (and anything else that comes to mind), share stories and simply meet people. I’d highly recommend to anyone who’s not involved in a group to check out if there is a local one, or get involved with NaNoWriMo 2014!

General ramblings

13/04/2014 12:35

Advanced warning: this one isn’t really about writing, so you can skip it if you’re not interested. I’ve been mulling over a few things recently, and I just wanted to get them out and onto (metafforical) paper. So, have some randoms…

 

Role-playing and writing:

I’m starting a new RPG with some friends*, and – due to the rather complicated nature of the world and the fact I’ve never RPG’d – I’ve picked a pure mortal as the simplest thing to play. I opted for a journalist, and then had to pick a name, and someone sprang into my head. Someone from one of my previous books. My main character from Shadows…Dini.

I’m apprehensive about the fact my mind decided to pick her. She fits in the RPG (with a few tweaks), but I admit I am worried about what the game will do to her. I do want to continue rewriting Shadows at some point, and I’m slightly scared that if she gets twisted by the RPG, she won’t be the same person in my head. But…she fits. She’s a good character, I know her, and it works. So I’m rolling with it for the moment, and I think I’ll simply have to give it time before I write again if the game does start warping her.

 

Talking about writing:

One of the things I am still getting used to is being able to talk about writing. I’m an odd writer: I jump around and don’t plot, I write novellas, I don’t write one genre, and I have several things on the go at once. All of those things mean that I have found it hard in the past to talk about what – and how – I write. But I’ve now been plunged into a group where everyone writes differently, and there’s someone else who writes weirdly (although he does end-to-beginning), and everyone writes different things…so it’s really strange, but really nice! The one thing it hasn’t done is made me write more, but I blame the social life for that: I am choosing to spend my time on other things at the moment! I’m sure that will change when Sammy sends over Green Sky changes and then starts asking for more books.

 

Websites:

I’ve been working on my websites for the Madcap Library and the Bibliothecary. I wrote most of the code from scratch (ish), and then one of my friends came over to help me make it responsive and tweak it to what I want. I absolutely love coding: I love being able to write and then see the changes, and I love tweaking the designs. Being able to learn more from Sam has been amazing, and I’m so grateful for his time and effort. I’ve got to finish sorting the domains and details out, and then I’m pretty much done with coding, which is sad – it’ll be on to e-book creation and all of that stuff, which I’m not quite so enthusiastic about at the moment…

 

Balancing everything:

One of the things I’m still trying to balance at the moment is the demands of various parts of my life. My job involves a long commute, which does give me time to read, but eats into my time at home. I’m struggling to balance being out with friends and staying home; I want to be involved in all the projects I’m doing and I enjoy hanging out with friends, but I appreciate that I do need time to just relax (or work) at home – especially after last year. Jon’s pretty worried about it, which I appreciate, but it doesn’t make the “I’m-missing-out” feeling any easier. I also have multiple personal projects, including writing, websites, trying to find a new house and finish the old one, and a new musical project – plus the standard demands of keeping the house tidy and being nice to Lizard. I’m hoping that it’s going to get easier: I’m slowly finishing projects, or pushing them to the stage where they’re background rather than lots-of-work, and slowly learning to balance. I think all it will take is time!

 

And finally…

On a personal note, I’m feeling older and wiser about making friends and getting to know people. I’ve screwed up pretty badly with some things in the past: I hurt people, including myself, and I really don’t want to do that again. I think I’m doing ok so far: I’m feeling fairly pleased that I’ve recognised some awkward situations and avoided them, and I’ve hopefully put measures in place to prevent things spiralling too far in the wrong direction. I really want to make this work and not make things awkward, so we’ll see. I sometimes think that being grown up simply means you discover a whole new set of complicated situations that you can make bad decisions about, and you can’t blame your sister for breaking it any more…**

 

*I should add in some background here, I guess. I did NaNoWriMo in 2013 for the first time, and met an absolutely awesome group of people. In addition to writer’s meetings, I’ve somehow got myself into a number of different projects, games and late-night-chocolate-eating sessions with various members, which has been ridiculously wonderful and I am still in shock about. It appears that I now have a social life again…

 

** Not that I ever did. We were quite nice children and I don’t think we really broke much, but I’ll have to check with my mother because she’s probably got a completely different opinion!

Three days of hard work

28/12/2013 11:29

Sooooo…

…I may have spent the last three days writing. I’ve met my Nano wordcount (28,000) and am due to exceed it today, which is frustrating. Well, ok, it’s nice. But why could I not have produced that sort of wordcount in that time back in November?

I’m re-writing Shadows, and my strategy of actually plotting things out does seem to be working. I’m on chapter 7 now, where my plot sort of faltered, and I’m now actually having to think about what I’m writing. I’m also at the point where the relationship between Eli and Mike gets complicated, and that’s making me think too. Ho hum.

I’m going to get some time off for the next few days, as we’re down in Devon at the in-laws for New Year – and I refuse to take my laptop. I may take my sewing, but at least I am likely to talk while I sew. 

 

That’s all, folks. Happy New Year if I don’t get on here before the 1st!

Nano Update: week 2

11/11/2013 07:36

Well, Week 1 went ok…I did a chunk at the beginning, didn’t write much due to work/family/the kitchen being spread liberally all over the house, but then got 5000 words done on Saturday at the write-in. So I’m up to 14000 and still roughly on target!

 

I’ve split Connections into three parts. Part One is Isolation, focusing on Janny and her community, and what happens when she brings two strangers into that. Part Two is Connections, which goes into the community in the Sky Tower (space elevator/ring), and introduces Janny to that world. Part Three is still relatively unplanned, but is currently titled Networks. I’ve got some plans but I’ll have to see how everything works out.

 

Part One is almost finished; I’m aiming at 15000 words for each section, which seems to be working so far. So this week I will be working on finishing Part One and then will start Part Two at the write-in on Friday. It’ll be a bit of a mental change as well, so in many ways I’m glad to be writing sequentially (unusually for me – I usually jump all over the place in my stories). It’s been fun to look forward to what’s going to happen as well, and subtly foreshadow bits of it.

 

Week 2 and 3, here we come!