On Monday night I attended my first ever writers group. It was a pretty relaxed affair at the Barrie Writers Club meeting and only a small portion of the regular members were in attendance, which was a nice way to try out something new.
I’ve attended a local Spoken Arts night (Writers reading poetry and prose that is held monthly in Barrie) a couple of times, but just trolled from the back. Poetry really isn’t my thing anyway. I like hearing good poetry (a completely subjective definition of course, especially in the world of poetry) and I like to write bad poetry, but I don’t particularly understand most modern poetry. It gets too abstract for me, I think I get more analytical the more abstract writing becomes and that’s just not a good way to approach poetry.
Either that or it’s just getting harder for people to write poetry. By which I mean, if the ultimate goal, the ‘high destiny’ of poetry is to distill human truths into their most basic constructs, then there isn’t anything left to write about. After all, there are only so many human truths, and truths are timeless, therefore, once they’ve been distilled… well, everyone today is just playing with some other person’s metaphor.
Any who… Let’s save the poetry discussion for another post.
Writers groups are important for writers just starting out, and for many writers, will always remain an important aspect of their writing life. Today I wanted to look at Writers Groups and how you can benefit from them.
Let’s face it, writing can be a lonely endeavour, with long hours spent tanning in the artificial lights of our best friends… er, monitors. And most of us just aren’t designed for the level of solitude required.
A writers group can provide multiple levels of support and understanding of the process you go through. It’s the simple reminder that other people are interested and that other people are going through the same soul-searching, lonely work we submit ourselves to.
Also, at a writers group everybody comes with all that knowledge built in, they know how hard the process can be. You don’t even need to HAVE the conversation, you can see it in their pale faces and the slightly shadowed looks in their eyes – they know, and they know you know.
A Writers group is a community of shared suffering, and oddly enough, that’s a comforting thought.
We’ve all been there. Somewhere between draft 1 of chapter 9 and draft 5 of chapter 7 everything starts to spiral downhill. The characters feel wooden, the dialogue trite, the plot tenuously thin, and our skills no match to correct any of it.
Relax. It’s never as bad as we think it is (nor rarely as good unfortunately). Occasionally we just need to solicit a little feedback to keep us moving forward. Good or bad, the effect of having someone put your writing in place can be very calming. If the feedback is good, pat yourself on the back all the way home and then get back to work. On the other hand, if it’s bad, at least you come away with suggestions on how to improve it.
I’ve heard from a number of people that attending a Writers group regularly does more for keeping the fires stoked than almost anything else.
Knowing that somebody is going to be asking you how ‘that chapter’ is progressing, or whether you managed to sort out that ‘sticky plot problem’ you had, is great motivation to put in the hours. This is the GOOD kind of peer pressure folks!
…Oh, and bad jokes. Yeah, a writers group can be good for that too.
There are likely other benefits that I haven’t yet thought of. If you have any good ones, let me know in the comments!
So how did it go at the Barrie Writers Club?
Seeing that this was the first writing group I’ve ever attended, I don’t really know if the night was typical or not. But I enjoyed the experience and think I’ll sign up to become a card carrying member (although… I don’t know if they have cards).
The evenings format was pretty straight forward, writers read excerpts of their writing, either poetry or prose, and the rest of the group offered critical feedback.
I thought the feedback was a little light, some people are better at providing good direction than others, but that’s to be expected.
I know that critiques are among the most difficult things to ever have to sit through, worse than swallowing cod liver oil, worse than sitting in a dentists office awaiting the drill, but I don’t believe people should hold back either. How can you grow if people are too afraid to tell you the brutal truth – and don’t kid yourself, the truth always contains some brutal.
And while I’m torn about reading any of my work in front of other people, I can’t wait for my own chance to read. I’ll just have to breath through the chest tightening, short of breath anxiety the thought of a public reading brings on. Deep breaths, deep breaths…
But I’ll come out stronger and my writing will improve, and so would yours.