Writing has long been portrayed as a solitary endeavor. So many have an image of the angst-driven artist, pounding away at a keyboard in a lonely loft, far away from the masses. Or perhaps he’s sitting at a corner table in Starbucks, oblivious to the comings and goings around him.
All well and good, because a part of writing is us emptying our heads and sometimes our hearts. For this, no one can help us, so getting the story down is a work we must take on alone. Sort of.
More than one author testifies to the advantage of writers’ groups in helping to formulate story ideas. Christian suspense author Brandilyn Collins, for instance, has had a group of authors she met with for years in a large part to help each other brainstorm ideas for their next novels.
Other writers find groups that help cheer them on to the finish, or at least hold them accountable to complete the next chapter. Young adult fantasy writer R. J. Anderson said in her recent interview at Novel Rocket
I use critique partners at nearly every stage of the process. During the first draft, I have a couple of trusted readers who read each chapter as soon as I’ve finished it–that gives me a sense that I’m telling the story to an audience, and a reason to keep going so I don’t keep them waiting too long for the next bit. I know I can trust them to let me know if something I’ve written really doesn’t make sense or comes out of left field, but by and large their job is to keep my spirits up and reassure me that it’s worth it to keep slogging through the hard bits.
Critique groups also help raise a writer’s level of prose. This I know from my own experience. Shortly after I began writing full time, I received an invitation to join an online critique group. I had been praying for a group, though I thought this would be a physical group, and had gone onto the Internet in search of a writers’ organization in my area. One thing led to another, and I ended up in Working Writers Critique Group for three years or more. These dozen or so writers gave me feedback that showed me what worked and what didn’t. They helped me learn writing techniques I needed, and they gave me experience doing critiques. As I turned a critical eye on other manuscripts, I began to see my own in a much more objective light as well.
Along with a critique group, I prayed for a critique partner. In answer, I’ve ended up with several critique partners and a real, face-to-face writing group. Recently one writer in that group noted that before he began meeting with us, he had several partial manuscripts. Now he is a published author with a second book due out in May. Coincidence? he asked.
I’ve been blessed to find not only writers willing to interact with my work but writers who have become friends. Whether long distance or local, these authors understand the struggle. They share their own experiences regarding the process of publication, and they are generous with their time and resources.
In short, writing may be possible as a lone occupation — up to the point of turning a manuscript over to an editor — but why not reach for a little writing help? Why not take the initiative to invite a few friends to swap chapters or meet together for coffee just to discuss the business? Why not research to find a group near you or one online that meets your needs?
If you decide to break from Lone Ranger mode, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Groups work well when there are experienced writers to emulate and writers less experienced to help.
2. A group works best when all members have the same level of seriousness about their writing.
3. Groups only work if those joining understand the level of commitment expected and agree to meet it. (If a writer has the need for flexibility because of other responsibilities, it would not be a good plan to join a group that has strict guidelines and an enforcement policy, for example).
Perhaps you are already in a writing group or have been in the past. What things have been important to its success? What do you like most? What would you change?