Writing Groups II

Shoreacres gave a good and trenchant response to my post on writing groups:  “Here’s the key phrase in your post: …having a good writer look at your own stuff…. ” and goes on to say, “(I)f we’re going to listen to other voices, we need to choose those voices carefully.” See her blog at shoreacres.wordpress.com

As I said in the first ‘writing groups’ post, I’ve joined a couple of groups.  I agree with shoreacres that we need to choose carefully.  The hard part of ‘carefully’ has been, for me at least, not choosing just people whose writing I admire most.  I love fine literary writing, and there are a couple of people in my writing groups who are great wordsmiths.  Their critique of my stuff helps iron out the plodding bits.  But I’m writing genre fiction, so I need to listen to folks whose work I don’t read by choice.  In my quest for ‘comps’, which is to say, writers I can compare my own writing to in queries to agents and publishers, I’ve been reading a lot of mystery/suspense lately.  Right now, I’m reading one by a best-selling author whose writing is considerably weaker than at least four (unpublished) writers in groups I’m in.  The characters are square-chinned, chiseled cardboard, and the prose varies from workmanlike to plodding … but the plot drags me along.  For me, it’s a lesson learned.  Reading other genres exposes me to gag-me-with-a-spoon phraseology, but phraseology that’s appropriate to the genre (we’re talking chick-lit, here), but also to writing that has great mechanics (clear description in the right places, despite the heaving-breast breathlessness).  So, I appreciate shoreacres’ insight and would only add that ‘good’ writers’ groups include all sorts of writers.

5 thoughts on “Writing Groups II

  1. I was going to make a similar comment, John. The premise of “good or better” is very tricky, especially in genre writing, but this can even be true of poetry or song. In fact, it is quite possible for a person whose innate talent is limited and whose acquired skills have not been fully developed to have insightful or useful observations. For a subtle writer, or one using irony or satire, it may also be useful to have feedback from one who does not understand your piece. Two things may happen: others in the group may respond and enlighten the bewildered—this discussion can be both enlightening and vindicating; or the puzzlement may allow the author to examine the complaint as if from the “average” reader and, as with any criticism, take it or leave it. Certainly, if one is surrounded with gross incompetence and only limited or mediocre minds, the exercise may be less than rewarding, but I would be surprised to find too many groups like that continuing for any length of time.

    • I was going to make a similar comment, John. The premise of “good or better” is very tricky, especially in genre writing, but this can even be true of poetry or song. In fact, it is quite possible for a person whose innate talent is limited and whose acquired skills have not been fully developed to have insightful or useful observations. For a subtle writer, or one using irony or satire, it may also be useful to have feedback from one who does not understand your piece. Two things may happen: others in the group may respond and enlighten the bewildered—this discussion can be both enlightening and vindicating; or the puzzlement may allow the author to examine the complaint as if from the “average” reader and, as with any criticism, take it or leave it. Certainly, if one is surrounded with gross incompetence and only limited or mediocre minds, the exercise may be less than rewarding, but I would be surprised to find too many groups like that continuing for any length of time.

      By the way, John, I am attending my fourth annual (I think they are on the 10th) Steve Gillette Songwriter’s Workshop in Santa Cruz. Besides participating in the song discussions, I have videoed the night time performances for the past three years. The workshop is next week, and I am finally finishing the DVD’s from last year’s session. That will give me at least a couple of days to actually pick up the guitar and try to learn a few of my songs, both old and new. Last year I was still finishing the final DVD’s the morning that we left. As I so often put into practice, “Don’t do today what you can put off until later!” or “All things in their time.” Fortunately this year, their time appears to have come—barring any last minute computer, hard drive, or printer problems.

      Thanks for your musings. They are fun and interesting.

    • Thanks, Tim. Just as a sidebar, Tim’s a talented song writer. For me, at least, listening to good songs (and good poetry … same thing without the extra, non-vocal instrument) is essential for any writer of longer material.

  2. I don’t mean the following as a contradition of anything you or Tim have said, and I’m not certain I agree with it fully. But one of my own readers plopped it into my comment section today. I don’t remember ever hearing it, and it’s one of those cautionary quotations that belongs in the file labeled “inspiration” or “writing” or “easy for you to say’. 😉

    “In an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, Faulkner remarked, “Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.”

    Wouldn’t you love to have a chance to sit down with some of these people for an hour? Of course, the good news is that we can sit down with their words.

    • That’s always the rub, isn’t it? Filtering the critique, trying to take advantage of good ideas but not being directed away from that voice which is essentially your own.

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