Posted in Craft of writing, Writers' Groups, Writing, Writing Groups

Start your own Writing Group

START A WRITER’S GROUP

I have been a member of multiple writing groups since the early 1990s. Each one differs with advantages and disadvantages. Each time someone joins or drops out, it changes the dynamics. If you know you have thin skin, be willing to grow thick skin; or forego this until you do. It is not for the faint of heart. Knowing what you want out of a writing group helps you start one that meets your needs and desires.4men1womanblog

FIRST ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS 

  1. Do you need to learn to write first, before you start or participate in a writing group? If so, take a class or workshop, read and study the craft of writing, and/or just write.
  2. Do you want a group to edit your work only, analyze your work (plot, characters, and pacing), and/or to discuss the writing process? Are you willing to do the same?
  3. Can you find writers who offer you the same feedback for which you are looking?
  4. Do you work best in one-on-one pairs, small intimate groups of 3-4, or larger writing groups? I have found 8-12 is max for a dynamic group that allows time for all.
  5. How often do you need to meet in terms of your personal writing schedule? Can you draft enough writing to meet once a week, every other, or once a month?

MEETING APPROACH: Example #1

  1. Some groups have a leader that organizes and moderates the group time. Usually that is someone quite experienced and published. Members simply bring a copy of their manuscripts for each group member that cover 2-5 pages, perhaps a scene, or a short chapter.
  2. Everyone reads his or her own work aloud. If the writer wants to hear their work from another voice, then another member reads it.
  3. Reviewers then offer suggestions on editorial comments on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They provide what works in the piece and what does not work. They can also explain where they became confused or lost.
  4. Advantage: This particular way of running a group requires less time, by giving on-the-spot feedback comments.
  5. Disadvantage: Writing group members do not have in-depth time to review and reflect on the writing, so comments are usually limited to surface responses.
  6. Writing level: This specific approach is useful for experienced writers who do not need as much feedback and are skilled at writing and know what in a piece of work. They can offer feedback promptly.3women1guy

 MEETING APPROACH: Example #2

  1. There are groups that meet once a month or every other week to give them more time to write and more time for readers to review each other’s work before the meeting.
  2. In one case I have been part of a ‘leaderless’ meeting. We each took responsibility for different things that needed to be done.
  3. A group I belonged to years ago met once a month. Here is how it worked. For example, during the month of December each writer brings sufficient copies of their chapter to distribute to each person. During the coming weeks, we read and comment in writing on the manuscript. At the following meeting in January, we would take each manuscript and make our comments, explain why we made them and discuss issues of point of view (POV), pacing, character development, and other big picture issues. In that same month, we distribute next month’s work for review. We handed the manuscripts that we marked up to the writer for his or her revisions.
  4. Advantage: This gave us extensive feedback on a broader scale of what is happening in a novel or essay, and how to address the issues. We included edits, as well as the movement, rhythm, and pace of the story or article.
  5. Disadvantage: In this setting, we did not read our pages aloud, so we missed hearing our words, which often lets one hear awkward words or phrases, or missed words. During a month between meetings, so we could forget where we were in a story.
  6. Writing Level: This approach gives inexperienced writers and reviewers time between meetings to read, study, ponder, and decide how to reply to the writer. Inexperienced writers grow quickly into more experienced writers and reviewers.

FEEDBACK APPROACH #1: 

  1. The next example comes from my friend and mentor, Sheila Bender. You can signup for her newsletter at WritingItReal and consider membership. The 3-step feedback process proves to be productive for most any writer and reviewer.

Step #1: Identify the “Velcro” words, phrases, or sentences that stick with you in some way, that resonate in a good way. The purpose of this step is to give the writer positive feedback on what is working.

Step #2: State the feelings that the writing creates in you from mad-sad-glad to anxious-afraid-relieved. This report tells the writer whether she has achieved what she set out to achieve. It lets her compare the reaction the reader has to what she hoped to create in the reader.

Step #3: Inform the writer what questions you have after you have read the scene or chapter. Tell him what left you wanting to know more. Share your curiosity about unanswered questions with him. This allows the writer to know if he needs to flesh out the scene more or if he has overwritten it and needs to pare it down.

2. Advantage: This example provides objective feedback that keeps comments less personal and more focused on the writing.

3. Disadvantage: It requires reviewers to think deeply about the story, which may require more time and effort.

4. Level of reviewer: Anyone reading a scene or chapter is able to offer their opinions on these 3 items. It empowers inexperienced reviewers that they have significant input into another’s writing.3guysblog

FEEDBACK APPROACH: Example #2

This example is taken from a workshop instructor, Karlene Koen. I took her course, That Damned Novel, through the Writers’ League of Texas summer retreat in 2014. Her process is similar to but slightly different from Sheila Bender’s approach. Answer the following three questions to provide feedback to a writer about his or her work:

  1. What did you like about the scene or story? (I would add, what did you not like about it and why? That’s the key, “why.”)
  2. What do you still want to know?
  3. Where did you get lost?

Answering these 3 questions has similar advantages and disadvantages to Bender’s approach and requires little experience as a reviewer. There many other versions and adaptations of writing groups, but this overview can get you started.

I can sum up my advice after twenty-five years of working in different types of writing support groups. Some have worked for a while, others have lasted years. But when one is still not viable, it is better to end the group than carry on in misery. If you are the only one unhappy, leave respectfully and gratefully for what it has given you. 

  1. You can mix and match the meeting and feedback approaches.
  2. Comments and recommendations always should be about helping each other grow as a writer.Constructive criticism is the goal.
  3. Writer, remind yourself often: Don’t take it personally.
  4. Reviewer, remind yourself often: Don’t make it personal.
  5. Feedback is about your writing, not you. It may feel personal in that someone is trying to help you specifically related to your writing.
  6. For the writer to defend or explain his or her work, wastes time and is not the point. It is best for the writer to listen and take notes. As creator of the work, a writer is free to disagree and can choose to use or not use comments offered. Own your work.
  7. Everyone in the group should be actively writing. Equity in giving and receiving feedback is crucial to the sustained health of the group.
  8. Groups often need a leader to organize and moderate the meeting. I have been part of a successful leaderless group, in which all members took responsibility for the meeting. You must decide on the right person for the leader.
  9. Help your fellow writers when they read your work.
    • Always double-space your work so others can edit between the lines.
    • Number the pages, so the group can reference page and paragraph when discussing it.
    • Put your name on the submission – it should be obvious why.

Now, what has been your experience with writing groups? What has worked? What has  not worked for you? Please share your experience with us.  

 

Posted in Craft of writing

REVISION of “DRAFTING A SCENE”

REVISION

Revision is the only way to improve our writing. — Rhonda Wiley-Jones

The only kind of writing is rewriting. — Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast 

Hopefully you saw the first version of this scene in the previous blog post, Drafting a Scene for my Novel. (If not, review it to get the most out of this post.) After taking it to my writers’ critique group yesterday, see my revisions below in red. They represent changes I made as a result of their comments and from my own need to clarify what I wanted to say. (NOTE: I use the word, Moslem instead of Muslim, because in 1906 that was the preferred word.)

THE REVISED SCENE

Pastor John led the way out of Ramita’s front garden, leaving the sweet smells of flowers. John opened the gate for Fiona to the street and the offensive odors that would come. He stepped behind her and then to the street side of the path. Fiona followed his chivalrous behavior wondering what he was doing, until she recalled Ramita’s words, “Pastor John needs a wife.”

Awkward and uncertain about how to behave around this attentive man of God, Fiona attempted to make casual conversation. Her innate curiosity helped. “I see different kinds of lettering on shop doors. At first I thought them all the same, but after a few days of observing them, I think they are different languages.”

“You have a keen eye.” He pointed to a small sweetmeats shop and said, “That is run by a Moslem. The lettering is Urdu, one of several major languages and the language of Moslem speakers.”

Fiona tried the word on her tongue, “Ur-du. Right? That feels funny in my mouth.

He laughed at her reaction and said, “You would like the taste of these sweets in your mouth as well. Bengal is known as the sweet tooth of India.”

Now standing in front of the bakery, he pointed out the wonders displayed. “That is called pathishapta. It’s a rolled pancake stuffed with a cream of coconut, milk, cream, and an ingredient from the date palm, jaggery. My boys love it.Image result for sweets in indian culture

“See those ball-shaped treats? They are made from a condensed milk and coconut, and often made to celebrate Lakshmi Puja.”

“What’s that?”

“A prayer ritual, usually performed during Diwali, a major Indian festival. The third day of Diwali is considered auspicious and set to greet the god Lakshmi. They believe that the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, comes to bestow gifts and blessings. She is thought to revere cleanliness, so devotees clean their houses and decorate with lights, and prepare delicacies as offerings. The more satisfied she is with the visit the greater the blessings, wealth and prosperity the household will attract during the next year.”

“Do they celebrate once a year or more often?”

“Only during the Diwali festival. But there are many festivals throughout the year. Unfortunately, there are no festivals while you are here. And that’s a shame. I wish you could experience one of them.”

“Yeah, me, too. And what is that?” Fiona said, pointing to another round treat.

“That’s a rasgulla. Of all things, it is a ball of unripened cheese soaked in sugar syrup. Actually, it’s pretty good.” He pointed to another item. “The malpoa has different versions. The one made in here in Bengal is a cream pancake deep fried with raisins and syrup applied later. That was Martha’s … ”

He stopped himself abruptly and then apologized. “I shouldn’t speak of my wife to you.  It’s not my place to burden you with my memories.”

“No, no, that’s okay. You will always remember her fondly and why wouldn’t you?”

He pointed to a tobacco shop across the street and said, “Now see that smoke shop over there? That is run by a Hindu, because the lettering is Hindi. In missionary language school before getting Calcutta I learned that Hindustani is the mother language of Urdu and Hindi.”

Fiona tried to walk in the crowded streets without touching John’s shoulder, but she felt the moist skin from his arm from time to time. She stiffened when he reached for her hand. In tight places he slid his arm behind her and nudged her forward. She took measured steps.

“Ironically though, Urdu is written from right to left; and Hindi, from left to right, like we write. Hindi takes many words and expressions from the Sanskrit and Urdu more from Persian.”

“It looks nothing like our alphabet. How many letters does it have?”

“In Urdu, over thirty consonants and at least twenty vowels. Then in Hindi about twenty-eight consonants and thirty-five vowels. Of course, then there are exceptions and combination of letters, much like we have the “oy” sound for the words joy or voice. The written script may be different in the two; but if you speak one, you understand the other when it is spoken.”

“That doesn’t make sense to me. They seem…”

“Incongruent?”

“Yes, even paradoxical. Do you speak either?”

“I studied Hindi, but can’t say I’m fluent; I stumble along if a native speaker is patient.”

They stepped prudently around a Brahma bull lazily chewing its cud and ignoring them. Fiona from the top of the ghat, man-made stone steps from the upper street level down to the river, looked down to see women washing clothes, while locals and pilgrims bathed before prayers. The wide passageway led down to the Ganges, the holiest of all rivers, or in this case the Hooghly, a diversion from the mother of all Indian rivers.

“I’m so tall and white; so out of place, like a pot roast at a bake sale. What’s the word for foreigner?”

Pardesi, which is Hindi. Though this is the Indian continent, did you know there is no such thing as an Indian race?”

Fiona cocked her head, puzzled. “But they are all dark skinned.”

“Yes, more than you and me, but the range of color is golden to mahogany to black. The Aryans are fair-skinned, more like us; while the Dravidians are Negroid typed.” He saw her perplexed face. “It is believed that Dravidians from the South invaded the North and then integrated, marrying lighter-skinned Aryans;  creating many skin tones.”

“And those two strains of people have inter-married with Mongolians from north of India. When you take into account all these factors, you will see why Indian complexions vary widely.”

Avoiding the marriage subject, she said. “I suppose sun exposure deepens the skin tone, as well.” Then she sniffed the air, like a dog and asked, “What is that  strange scent? I see men smoking pipes and dipping snuff from gourds or pouches, but this scent is unfamiliar.”

He looked about and then pointed to an old gentleman pulling a long drag from an elaborate silver hookah. The device, elegant and expensive, sat in stark contrast to the man with tattered clothes. His only other possession appeared to be an amulet pouch on his belt. The turbaned man with eyes closed sucked on a tube from the instrument.

John said, “That’s called a hookah,  a smoking machine used for opium.”

“Hook-ah, you call it. What is opium, like tobacco?”

“Similar, but more potent. Historically it may have been used by priests or healers to produce effects that made them seem like men with special powers. Today it’s used by pilgrims and priests to attain a meditative state.”

He guided her closer to the contemplative. “In addition to its prevailing use as anesthesia and a painkiller, doctors use it to treat respiratory and stomach ailments.”

Fiona  pointed to the man. “He seems to be lost in thought. Why do you think he is using the hookah?”

“He might say he’s trying to get closer to God.” He chuckled and then sobered.  “I would say there is only one way to God through Jesus Christ. Prayer also helps.”

Fiona  fought her discomfort fueled by his closeness and attention. She fiddled with the compass in her pocket that she found after thinking she had lost it on ship. The compass had been Uncle Louis’  parting gift  to Will. And he  left it with her so she could find her way in the world without him.

The compass reminded Fiona of how much she had wanted to make this trip with Will. It provided the only certainty she had about anything right now. North was always north.

THE PROCESS OF REVISION 

Can you see the improvement in the second version of the scene, especially the added paragraphs of new content the group wanted to see in the scene?

  1. When you return to the first post, you see “Stepping a Character” aids any writer in developing a scene that is lively with action, dialogue, and utilizes more of the senses. I didn’t use all the elements I anticipated, but it gave me ready-made content to work with as I drafted the scene.
  2. Next, you see the value of a good critique group in this post and how it improves our writing (my writing especially). Never shy away from getting feedback from other writers and/or readers and for heaven’s sake don’t ignore it. Weigh to see if it fits what you want to accomplish in the writing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I make changes.

What is your experience working with a feedback from other writers or readers?