G is for Groups – writing groups
Writing can be a lonely business. Especially early on, when it feels as though it’s impossible to know whether your writing is any good, or what you need to improve. You can share your writing, of course, and your family will give you all the encouragement and support you need to keep going. To learn writing as a craft, though, you need input from people who know the craft. This is where workshops and writing groups come in.
Sharing your writing with people other than your mum is always a daunting experience. Receiving a rejection from an unseen editor is bad enough, but having someone go through and point out all the weak spots and areas for improvement can feel like those dreams where you forget to get dressed and realise you’ve gone to work naked.
Oh, you don’t have those? Okay, moving on.
I’ve joined a few writing groups over the years and found them extremely helpful. Here are some non-profit ones I’ve taken part in (links in the titles where available).
I joined Critters way back in the late 90s, when I first started online. I thought it might help me with the writing portion of my university coursework, and it did. Through Critters, I got to know a lady who would become a great friend, and whom I’m still yet to meet in person. Hopefully, one day. I interviewed her – Elizabeth Kelley Buzbee – here on my blog, a couple of years ago about one of her novels.
Joining Critters taught me how to give and receive critiques of my writing. It also let me take that first step in sharing my writing with people for the specific purpose of receiving feedback. I’d recommend it to any writers in the SF, Fantasy or Horror genres. You are required to put in a bit of work to earn the critiques (at least one critique a week), but the reciprocity works out. Andrew Burt, the guy who runs the site, is a genuinely nice man. Not only that, but the site is completely free and relies solely on donations from good-hearted Critters.
I joined Dargonzine around the same time as Critters. It’s less a writing group and more of a shared world writing experience. It does have the same feel as a writing group, though, and all the stories are workshopped before they’re published. Again, it gave me more experience of workshopping my writing and what I learned there I could apply to my non-Dargon writing.
Beaverton Evening Writers
I joined this group when I moved to Portland, Oregon, and I was excited because they were my first face-to-face group. I was also extremely nervous! I needn’t have been, though, because they were lovely. They meet every two weeks, send writing ahead of time and give the critiques in person. This allows for a kinder, more gentle delivery of critical feedback, which I think is essential.
After I moved away from Portland, I kept in touch with the writers and we put a short story collection together for charity: Five Elements Anthology. I follow the blogs of two of the writers. Sheron Wood McCartha writes excellent Sci-Fi book reviews, and D. Wallace-Peach blogs about writing, her novels and all manner of interesting subjects. Check them out.
This is another online group, supported by the Arts Council of Great Britain. While the site looks a bit old-fashioned (it’s been around quite a few years and could probably do with some TLC), the feedback is pretty good, and if you get enough reviews there’s a chance to get feedback from people in the publishing industry. You don’t have to work as hard as some sites to get your work reviewed (critiques appear to be one for one, and they give you the first one free). They also offer a free self-publishing service on a partner site, Feed-a-read.
When I came back to the UK I missed being part of a face-to-face group and looked around for something similar to the way the Beaverton group worked. I found it in Northwrite SF, run by Jacey Bedford (you should check out her novels, she writes wonderfully engaging SF and fantasy and is published by DAW). I’ve learned a lot from this group. They’re all lovely people who read and critique with a keen eye, and give honest, constructive feedback. They meet quarterly in Yorkshire.
I also have a great critique partner, whom I also met while in Oregon but not through the Beaverton group. We swap about 3,000 words a week on our works in progress and look at the big picture stuff rather than pick over line edits. We keep each other going when the energy to write is low and one of these days I know I’m going to be introducing her debut novel, so watch this space!
As part of my coursework for my upcoming MFA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, I’ll be workshopping with my fellow students, which I’m excited about. I’m sure the experience I’ve gained through all these fab groups will help me support others through their learning progress and teach me more about my own writing at the same time.
What about you? Do you workshop your writing with others?