Friday, July 30, 2010

Writers' Groups: Yes, No, Maybe?

My first experience with a writer's group nearly made me swear off writing altogether. Five of us, all of different styles and temperaments, met in a farmhouse kitchen in Charlottesville, VA, with manuscripts in hand. Two were published writers in Virginia Civil War History, one had hopes of promoting her family memoir, and the last person---me---had little experience in the "real world of publishing." Two hours later, I wanted to give up writing altogether. The various pieces of "sage advice" were enough to drive me to drink, and my short stories hung in rags, torn apart to shreds by non-constructive criticism.

The senior member of the group monopolized the meeting with his long, drawn-out lecture about his ideas on finding a agent. I excused myself and left, and never came back. The traumatic experience spooked me for a long time. It drove my writing "underground": I never introduced myself as a writer and hid all my work.

Now I look back on it as a learning experience. A writer needs support from other writers, both professionally and personally. Yes, this is a good way to network, find out about agents and publishers, and promote yourself and your writing. When you share your rough drafts, an objective (and gently critical) eye helps you improve your content and style. What techniques do others use to get through the slow days? How do they stay motivated? Can they share any anecdote to help you avoid a pothole in the road of publication?

A writers's group can build up or tear down a novice. The make-up of the members is critical. Diversity adds spice to the interaction; if one person dominates the conversation, it defeats the purpose of a writer's group. A writer with his/her own axe to grind cannot help anyone else. There has to be some give and take. How can someone improve their prose? A critical eye is important, but temper it with at least one good thing to say. Any writer's ego can be bloodied and bruised, especially a new one.

I actually did stop writing for a while after that traumatic writer's group. Several months later, I found the courage to take up the pen again. I became more selective with whom to share my work and found others that were willing to be open-minded and offer the support I needed. With today's social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and MySpace, it is easier to find other writers and keep in touch with them.

Reach out and connect with other writers, but use your good judgment and discretion in doing so. It will be a rewarding experience for you and all involved.

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

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