What I Forgot about Writing Groups

I’ve now had my second meeting of my new online writing group, and I can’t say enough about what a great experience it’s been. I thought I remembered the perks of being in a writing group, but that memory had gotten hazier than I’d realized over the years. What, exactly, has it done for me?

First of all, there’s the value of immediate feedback. Being able to hear from other authors about a specific bit of prose I’ve written highlights all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. Some of this should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t. (Because I forgot, and because I’m dense.) Everyone has their own worldview, and it’s difficult to look outside that view, because it defines who you are. In many ways, you can’t know you’re missing something, because you don’t even know there’s an area you might be missing.

When you’re writing a novel, you get very involved with the plot and the characters. Sometimes you don’t even realize there’s a huge glaring error on the page, because you’ve been working with it so long you no longer see it as an error. Having someone else read it, notice it, and then having a group of people confirm it in one fell swoop is lovely.

I also gain a lot by reading other people’s writing with an eye focused on what I liked, what I didn’t like, and why. That’s different from how I read most fiction. I consume it instead of reading it critically. (Why? Because I don’t enjoy it as much when I’m reading with a critical eye. And I read for enjoyment, most of the time.) In the conversations that follow a critique, I get to see how many evaluations stacked up against other people’s. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong or right, or that they are, but it gives me multiple data points to evaluate things on. That’s helpful.

Some things are very specific helps. The book I’m workshopping right now is SILVERADO (codename for now), the YA steampunk alternate history fantasy that I’ve been tinkering with for quite some time. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how the world works and how the magic system operates, but that’s not something I typically handle. Most of my writing has been urban fantasy, where so many of the details are the same as the regular world. Only the magic has changed. In this book, the magic has permeated the entire society, so I was trying to play that out, even though I’ve never done it before.

One of my writing group members, however, writes epic fantasies. Fantasies that very much deal in sprawling worlds and magic systems. So to have him be able to look at how I’m introducing my world and magic system and give some pointers is invaluable. (Pro tip: I was introducing it all too fast.)

That same concept applies to tons of other things. My viewpoint character this time is a girl. I am not a girl. Someone in my writing group is. Do you think it might help to have a female perspective? (Duh.) I’ve never lived in San Francisco, where my book begins. Someone in my group has. Again: helpful.

And beyond all of that, just the experience of talking to other writers again is wonderful. Hearing how they deal with different challenges. Hearing what the word on the street is about different genres and agents and target audiences.

All. Helpful.

Worth some time out of my schedule? Undoubtedly. Here’s hoping it continues for months and years to come.

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