Thursday, June 24, 2010
A Comfortable Fit
By Deborah Sharp
It was a Tuesday in the distant past, and I was trying out another writing group. A fellow aspiring novelist read what he'd labored over, something about Russian immigrants and snow.
My God, this room is cold. Is that an ink stain, or are my fingers actually turning blue? I glanced around the air-conditioned room. Maybe I'll move. Wonder if that side is any warmer?
My interior monologue on the AC thermostat didn't bode well for the reader, or for my membership in that particular group. I'm a huge supporter of writing groups, but it's important to find the right fit. When I left journalism six years ago to try my hand at writing mysteries, I heard the same advice I now give beginners: Join a critique group. There's nothing like getting other eyes -- or ears -- on your work. But finding the right group is easier said than done.
I worked harder at finding a writing group than I did at finding a husband (Thanks to my persistent husband, Kerry, for finding me!) Choosing a group, I was like Goldilocks and beds. One was too hard; the next was too soft. One was too big; another too small. One group hadn't even moved beyond talking about writing. It was less a critique group than a support group.
Me: My name is Deborah, and I'm addicted to the idea I may write someday, just not today.
Group: Hi, Deborah!
Another group fancied itself Serious Novelists. They all wrote Literary Tomes about Important Themes. Now, if y'all know anything about my Mace Bauer Mysteries, featuring Mace's wacky mama . . . Serious, Literary, and Important do not immediately come to mind. One member was writing about a post-apocalyptic world, after almost everyone died of the plague.
Woo-eee, sounds like a knee-slapper! After 20 years as a journalist, I'd had enough sad stories. I wanted to write fun, frothy books. The serious group clearly wasn't the group for me.
All this is not to say you have to find writers working in your exact genre, with your exact style. I ultimately found two groups in Ft. Lauderdale, and I still pop in occasionally (the pace once you're published makes regular attendance more difficult). Both have members with a wide range of styles, including Young Adult (YA), historical, and even a few Serious Types. The key, for me, is the mix. Not too lofty; not too lowbrow. Similarly proficient in the basics, like punctuation, spelling, and the ability to write in paragraphs. Supportive, but also willing to give honest critiques.
Your writing group should be like a favorite pair of shoes. You wouldn't buy a pair you couldn't walk in, would you? (Okay, I've done that ... but still). The shoes don't have to be perfect, just comfortable.
How about you? Do you go to a writing group? What's the best -- or worst -- thing you've gotten out of it?