The Good, Bad & Ugly of MY Writing Group

by limebirdkate

Okay, so I figured a fitting conclusion to my Writing Group Series is to talk a little bit about my writing group.

We call ourselves “The 5 Pages” because we bring in 5 pages of our work for critique. We meet every week in a hole-in-the-wall bar downtown where our laptops and enunciated reading voices are given more than one raised eyebrow. The music is loud, the regulars are scruffy, but the cocktails are cold and we get free admission on event nights like Fat Tuesday.

We have Wendy, an opera singer/Italian professor/memoirist who is in the midst of a family drama, writing about it, and feeling guilty over her confessions. She drinks lots of wine. At times she will burst into song, full-out opera, to illustrate a point she is trying to make. Actually, it’s quite effective.

There’s Rinaldo, a journalist-turned-travel writer who hands-down, flat-out refuses to write a single word of fiction in his pieces. He drinks a couple of beers, orders a basket of fries for the group, and complains about the loud music. He is kinda skimpy on inner story and explains his reluctance to sharing his emotions/feelings as not the reason he writes about his trips.

Ah, Liz. A retired grandmother who is not the chocolate-chip-cookie-baking type of grandmother. She orders extra, extra, extra dry martinis. Don’t write a metaphor or a simile and make her read it, or she’ll gouge your eyes out. Don’t describe the color of a house, because she doesn’t care. Don’t spend more than one sentence on inner story, she’ll be bored. Give her a writing prompt, and she’ll write something about her life between the time she was a babe to her 80th birthday party.

Guess we can’t forget me. The married mom of 2 who juggles fiction writing, blogging, caring for her own mother, a job as a writing coach, another job as a bookkeeper, and a third job teaching creative writing to kids. I’m the one who gives Rinaldo a hard time over the lack of inner story; writes metaphors despite having to dodge Liz’s talons; and challenges Wendy to write about the one person in her family that causes her so much grief. I drink Guinness to make up for the fact I have no time to eat dinner before our meetings.

We used to have Bernard, who was writing a spy novel. I think he’s been captured by the enemy because he hasn’t been around for a couple of months.

Now we have Jenn, sweet Jenn. She’ll drink beer, wine, or gin & tonics depending on her mood. She has self-published her novella, An Appointment with Murder, with plans to write a series. She is our group’s first glimpse into the world of E-publishing. Two weeks ago she brought along her boyfriend, Al, who has self-published his book, In Memory of Greed Al was generous and informative as he talked to us about E-publishing versus traditional publishing, pros and cons, truths vs. myths. (Both of their books can be found through Amazon.)

That’s a pretty diverse group. Imagine reading a story to such an eclectic group and dazzling them all with my protagonist, or descriptions of Broadway, or the conflict between the protag and her mother? It’s impossible. One member will understand why my protag has a weakness for her ex-boyfriend while another member considers my protag a doormat.

Split opinions can be confusing and daunting to a writer. It’s important to be prepared for different perceptions. My advice is to not do anything to your ms directly after your group disperses. Let the comments/suggestions/advice of your group marinate for a couple of days. As long as you have all of their notes to refer to, then it’s easy enough to go back to your ms several days after your meeting and edit accordingly.

Revising your ms right after a group meeting would be a tragic mistake. If you give yourself and your ms some breathing room after a meeting, you might find that all you need to do is clarify or modify it, either in a lead-up scene, or through dialogue, or through character description. Or leave it just how you had it.

Also, make sure the opinions are based on whether your storytelling is working. There is a fine line between disliking something because a critiquer simply wouldn’t have written it that way and disliking something because it is poorly written, illogical, or confusing.

Don’t forget. You can’t write to satisfy everyone. However, you can write, and you should write, to satisfy your end goals. To write a book that you’re proud of, and to be willing to work until it is the best you can make it.

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33 Comments to “The Good, Bad & Ugly of MY Writing Group”

  1. Great post – fascinating to get a window into another writing group, especially one so diverse. I’ve just joined two very different writing groups and learned firsthand what talons feel like, but for the most part the groups have been really helpful. I completely agree with allowing a waiting period between receiving feedback and editing ms.

    • Hi Buddhaful,

      Two groups! Fantastic! Are you reading the same piece to each group? How do you handle the talons? They can make for an interesting discussion, albeit, a feisty discussion.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • The talons came out during my very first time sharing a piece I had written so I was taken aback. But now that I’m becoming more comfortable sharing, it doesn’t bother me anymore.

        I’ve also learned to speak up when I think feedback has crossed the line from being constructive to destructive. Still, discussions do get feisty. The other day I used the phrase ‘desperate artist’ and was scolded and lectured (by an artist) for using and abusing a cliche. I hadn’t meant any offense, but I offended!

        I often share the same piece. Getting feedback from 2 groups is like getting a second opinion from a doctor. If the same comments keep coming up then I know that particular thing is something I have to work on. If the members disagree, then maybe not or maybe it’s something to think about.

      • Good for you for sticking up for yourself and swimming against the current. As frustrating as sessions can be sometimes I always feel better about my efforts when I know that I don’t sit there and just take it.

        Your group sounds as complicated as mine 😉

  2. Sounds like a creative and effective group, and I’m really glad you have access to that. It must be a lot of fun too!

    • Hi Neeks,
      They are fun. At least with a diverse group you get a broad range of feedback which can be really helpful, especially if you’re ever stuck with something.

  3. Love the advice about marinating, Robin

    • Hi Robin!

      I’m glad you liked it. That’s really how it feels, to just kind of let all those suggestions and advice sit for awhile to see how they blend together.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Great post! I miss my writing critique group (I moved from Oregon across the US to Ohio). What you said is SO true. I would have full on (friendly) areguments with members and usually they were right. I think the important thing to remember, which you hinted at, is that you can always say “no” or ignore a suggestion. Some suggestions are WAY out there – but if more than one person says the same thing – I always listen up. And I agree that waiting periods are essential – especially because sometimes it takes while to get used to the idea of having to change your ms! 😀

    • Hi Goofy,

      Yes, I probably should have stressed that point more–that you can always say “no” to someone’s suggestion. I have gotten some wacky feedback, and a few times I have made the mistake of thinking I had to make those changes. Knowing you have the ultimate control over what you put on paper is helpful when you’re engaged in assertive writing groups.

  5. Good post. It’s always nice to hear how other writers do things. Sounds like a good balanced group. Keep up the good work.

  6. I actually read an article in a certain writers’ magazine that said we SHOULD incorporate everything from our writers groups/beta readers. And I couldn’t accept that. As you so clearly point out, disliking something because I would write it differently is not a good reason for another writer to revise. Similarly, if I’m not a big fan of a genre (say, just for example, steampunk), take my comments with a grain of salt if that’s your novel’s market. My lack of interest or dislike for your genre may make my comments less than helpful. (And what if someone didn’t get around to critiquing your work until 10 minutes before the meeting because they just had the worst work day in memory?)

    I totally agree with you about stepping back before incorporating feedback. After it’s “marinated,” you’ll know if you should incorporate it into the final mix.

    • Hi JM,

      I’m astounded that a writer’s magazine would encourage such terrible advice. What a disservice to the writing community–especially to writers who are just starting out or who aren’t as confident about their skills.

      Genre plays a huge point in whether someone will like or be interested in your stuff or not, thanks for bringing that up. Gosh, that’s a whole separate blog post when I think about it. 😉

      Yes, definitely, if anyone takes anything from this post it is the importance of letting feedback wait in the wings before you pay it too much attention. It’s kinda like going into a store and seeing a pair of shoes I really love but am not sure about purchasing. If I don’t buy them, but they stay in the back of my mind for a couple of days then I know I should go back to the store and buy them. If I don’t think about them again, then I know that they aren’t meant for me after all.

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Thanks Kate, for giving us a glimpse into your group and some great advice. 🙂 I think marinading is something I need to hammer into my head. That, and I am allowed to say no. I need to remember it’s my story!

    Your good is so quirky, I love it and wonder if I could get along in one like it, haha!

    • Hi Ottabelle,

      That’s right–it’s your story and only you know how it should all play out.

      My group is quirky. If nothing else, they make my Tuesday nights interesting!

  8. So true. In my TAFE class, we workshop pieces of our fiction writing, and I always wait a few days before looking over it. I have notes that I write down, as well as what they’ve written on their copies of my writing, so I don’t lose any of the help I’ve received.

    The only good that comes out of rushing into another revision is getting my emotions mixed into something that requires a selective process of rational decisions.

    • Hi Novel Girl,

      That’s good that you keep all the notes together, and that you make your own notes while you’re getting the feedback. Trying to sort through all of it can be cumbersome at times, but definitely worth it.

      Ah! The interference of emotion! Yes, that can be either good or bad when your emotion plays into revision. We have to be super careful in those instances.

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. Hello, Kate. Thank you so much for the kind mention. I feel diversity is a certainly plus in regard to writing group members. It’s similar to giving one’s ms to beta readers with different backgrounds and skill sets; the range of feedback will likely bring a veritable smorgasboard of comments/advice to fill your writing plate. To take your ‘marination’ analogy (excellent, btw) further, it allows you to sample many different flavors/textures of input to really make your final presentation the best it can be. Great post! Thank you for sharing it.

    • Hi Al,
      Yes, diversity in a writing group is helpful for that very reason. To explore all the options you have, usually options you never even considered.

      Haha, I like how you expanded on the marination analogy. But it’s true, giving yourself some time before diving into it after a review is very helpful in understanding which suggestions are the best.

      Thanks for commenting!

  10. Kate, sweet Kate,
    Thanks for this. I agree with everything, especially how you just can’t please everyone. I have enjoyed being a part of the group even though I find the feedback can be confusing at times, but it also challenges me in a good way. I am so very new at all of this and your support and friendship are invaluable.

    • Hey Jenn,
      Yup, feedback can be confusing all because everyone has his/her own idea of what works. That’s why it’s crucial you take ownership of your ms and make the ultimate decision in the best interest of the story.

      And I’m so happy to know you, too!

  11. Hey Limebird Writers, just wanted to let you know that you are a Preliminary Nominee for The Dark Globe Outstanding Artist Awards Blogger of the Year Award, as Nominated by Sharon Booth… In the end, there will only be 5 Final Nominees in each of the 3 Categories, which will be determined on December 20th… If you make the Final 5 Best Blogger of the Year cut, Voting for the actual Awards will begin December 21st through December 31st… And the Award Winners will be Announced on January 1st… To see your actual Nomination,and for the Official Rules, you can go here http://thedarkglobe.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/the-dark-globe-outstanding-artist-awards/#comment-281
    Gratz, and if you make the Final Cut, Good Luck! Either way, Kudos for being Nominated

    DarkJade
    Editor/Creator/and one of the many Writers of The Dark Globe

  12. Totally thought I had written on here Kate, but obviously not! This post was awesome, I loved your descriptions of everyone in the group and it sounds like a lot of fun. I think I need to find myself a good writing group… hmm…

    As always, I tip my hat to you. *tips hat*

    • Haha. Thanks Beth!

      Writing groups are plentiful, but to find a “good” writing group might take some perseverance and determination. I think you should definitely keep your eyes and ears open for groups near you. They’d be lucky to have you!

  13. This is a great post. I’ve only participated briefly in a writer’s group, but sitting through MFA workshops is similar enough that writer’s need to know how and when to take critiques of their work. I’m finding that a lot of the writer’s in my classes think that everything said about their work during workshop needs to be “fixed,” when sometimes it’s just a matter of different writing tastes. Giving yourself and your work a few days apart after a critique allows time to figure out what’s genuinely good advice and what to take into account, and what from the critique can be forgotten about. Writer’s need to remember that it IS their story, and it’s okay to develop what I call the “f*** off factor.” 😉

    • Hi Verified,

      Exactly. I think what gives us the urge to immediately revise based on someone else’s feedback is our vulnerability. It is so hard to share our writing, and many of us are eager to please that we just hop right to it if someone says they don’t like something.

      I like your spunk! Thanks for commenting.

  14. LOL
    Interesting read. I can see this group being fun. Can’t wait to see what next.

  15. Great post. It also helps to know what your expectations are of a writing group before you join one or set it up.

    • Hello e6n1,

      I apologize for not replying until now.

      Absolutely, knowing what you’re in for would certainly help alleviate some of the surprises, and therefore you’ll be less likely to bail when things get a little out of hand.

      Thanks for chiming in!

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