They say that’s it’s a brave writer who exposes their work to the critiquing of a bunch of fellow writers. And those who do it face to face, in a writing group, must be especially heroic. I am one of these people. I’ve belonged to a local writing group ever since I started writing seriously. I don’t consider myself to be particularly heroic, in fact it takes a certain kind of masochism to lay oneself bare like this, but I do think that the advice I get from this disparate group of like-minded men and women has helped my writing career progress.
Writing groups take different forms. Some read out all their work and invite comments from members. We do things slightly differently – producing hard copies for everyone to take home and study properly. As well as storyline, we look at grammar and punctuation (we are very hot on the apostrophe), layout and presentation, none of which is evident when hearing a piece read out loud. Some groups don’t meet physically at all, getting together regularly online instead. Saves on rent, and you can have members on all seven continents. Horses for courses, I guess.
I prefer meeting with a group of familiar faces. It’s not for the faint-hearted but it’s great of you want to learn. Too many adjectives? Missing apostrophes? Multiple spelling errors? Out comes the red pen. If someone has a problem with character, or point of view, or wooden dialogue we chew it over and offer constructive advice and positive feedback, with a lot of humour. We have seen members’ work improve dramatically over the years, in content and presentation.
That’s not to say that we always see eye to eye, or that anyone gets an easy ride. A few years ago, when I was about to start the redraft of my novel, I agreed to present a chapter a week to the group. I figured this would act as a useful part of the editing process. I didn’t want their opinion on the storyline so much as pointers to holes in the plot, unexplained characters and so on. I was pretty confident about the grammar and the dialogue but sometimes, as I was advised all too clearly, a person can be too close to a project. I remember an occasion when someone mentioned an aspect of a character that didn’t please them. A second member agreed. Then a third, who also offered a different issue for consideration. And so it went on, round the table, like a line of falling dominoes, until every single class member had delivered their opinion, all of it disparaging. That day I developed a thicker skin and learned never to underestimate the herd mentality.
But there are compensations. Which brings me to the title of this piece. There is one way in which the face to face meeting beats the online version hands down. The opportunities for cake.
Our group’s first anthology of short stories is available now from Amazon: