The other day my friend Julie Glover posted an interesting piece on critiquing vs brainstorming. (Click here to read it.) It got me to thinking about my own experience with writers’ groups.
I joined my first writers’ group back in the mid 90’s. After a couple of years I dropped out and didn’t join another one for a decade. In my second group, Kristen Lamb was the president, and I soon became vice-president. We both sought to make the group a better resource for writers, but, like my first group, it involved having everybody bring five pages to read to the group. Then the people would take turns critiquing it.
Two major limitations to that kind of group almost leap out at you. The critiquers have about four seconds to think about the piece before jumping in with their comments and suggestions. This spur-of-the-moment reaction doesn’t yield much in-depth thought.
Even worse, this method takes five pages out of possibly 100 or 200 and expects meaningful critique without context. We don’t know where these pages fit into a story or what the characters have to do with anything, and yet we’re supposed to be helping.
After three years of this, Kristen and I decided to form a subgroup designed for novelists, and we called it The Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp. The idea was to gear the group and the meetings to be able to help novelists with their WIP as a whole instead of picking apart random pieces of it.
Before long we were divorced from the parent group. I don’t even remember whether we elected to leave or they kicked us out, but that’s irrelevant. The point is that the two concepts didn’t mix well.
Our group met for a couple of years and enjoyed a degree of success. We set up a Dropbox account so anyone with something to be discussed could post it and give others a chance to read it ahead of time and give some thought to comments. We also discussed things such as antagonists, protagonists, conflict, character profiles, and so forth that were completely overlooked in both of the earlier groups.
After a couple of years, we got to a point where most of us had learned—at least to some extent—about the nuts and bolts, and when it came to discussing actual WIP’s, we began to have some of the same problems as the earlier groups. Add some personality conflicts, which seem to be unavoidable in groups of people, and this group ran its course, too.
About this time, Jillian Dodd was beginning to sell a lot of novels, and she and I decided to try forming a new group on a totally different concept. We started with six writers who were serious about the craft, all but one of whom is published. We didn’t want a big group—just a few who were serious.
This time we didn’t try to do any critiquing or formal teaching about antags, etc. We designed this group around the idea of brainstorming. We have no set agenda when we meet, and we don’t bring pages to read. We discuss ideas and concepts. One of us may describe a situation a protag is in and where we want him or her to be next and then ask for suggestions about how to get from here to there.
We have found this to be a much more valuable use of our meeting time than the things we had done in previous groups. Our small size allows us to meet in the coffee bar of a Barnes & Noble instead of trying to find a place we can rent or begging for a place to be donated, which removes a lot of pressure.
The small size has its drawbacks, too. Sometimes a meeting consists of just two or three of us, but we still prefer this to the old, larger groups.
What do you do in the way of sharing ideas with other writers?
For more information about David N. Walker, click the “About” tab above.
For more information about his books, click on “Books” above.
Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.