Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Writers Groups

An email I received from a new friend (who belongs to a writers group) reminded me of the writers group I belonged to many years ago.

I went to the meeting with some trepidation. After all, it was held at a local book store where anybody could listen to our conversations, and I feared that somebody I knew might hear something I had written. I wanted honest feedback, though, and I wanted to offer honest feedback, so I joined the group.

I noticed one thing immediately. In this particular writing group, honesty was as far from the truth as Mercury is to Pluto. Everybody's everything was great, beautiful, a work of art, a masterpiece. How was I going to get honest feedback from a bunch of people who didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings? Should I step up and offer honest advice? Weren't we there to critique each other and not hand out awards? And why was everybody writing about bipolar disorder?

So I offered my own advice, something I considered to be genuine help, and apologized in advance if I hurt anybody's feelings. 

And now a little peek into my life. If you know me, you know that my life warps now and then into weird. That's all. Everything just suddenly becomes weird. And that's what happened with this writers group.

As the months went by, the writer's group become more a support group for bipolar disorder than a writer's group. So I quit.

I'm not saying that all writers groups are bad. What I'm saying is that if you want honest feedback, offer honest feedback. Somebody complimenting your misspelled grammatically incorrect work is not helping you to be a better writer.

My suggestion? Take an English course at your local community college. Invite your group to take a refresher class together. It can only improve your writing and having a third party who gets paid to read your work benefits you in ways you never considered. 

Find the instructor that expects her students to exceed. Immerse yourself in the class. She will provide instruction and feedback unlike anything you can get in a writers group that wants only to build your self esteem.

And if you want to build a strong writers group, critique each other in ways that will improve the writing skills of each member of the group. To critique is to criticize, but in a positive, reinforcing manner that points out the merits of the work and suggestions for improving the writing. Think of it as a Simon Cowell criticism with a healthy mixture of Paula Abdul.

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