Monday, December 23, 2013

First Drafts and Writing Groups

I belong to a writing group that meets once a week. During the two hours we are together, we each share ten pages of something that we are working on. We read the pages aloud and then we (or at least I) refrain from breathing while the others critique the work.

I have had mixed feelings about being part of a writing group and it has nothing to do with my fellow participants. It has to do with those inner voices that keep asking, Why are  you doing this? You are wasting your time. Haven't you seen the plethora of work on Amazon? How dare you think you can compete in this new world of publishing! You get the picture. You hear the voices too, right?

Despite all of this, I have continued to show up each week without fail, and here's what I have learned from participating.

1) My confidence level and my enjoyment of the group process are in direct proportion.

On Writing Group mornings I wake up and read through the draft I am going to read aloud to the group. Some days I think to myself, Damn good work, girl! If I am confident in the quality of the work I am about to share, I look forward to the meeting. On those days, I enjoy the discussion of my work, and, if I take the suggestions to heart, the work reads better. On the days I don't feel so confident, I slink around the house and try to think of a reason to stay home.

2) My fellow writers are competitive.

I see this as a good thing. Who doesn't want to be the teacher's pet? We've all felt that way since kindergarten, haven't we? I believe that this competition forces me to take a good hard look at my own work in a sort of pre-critique proofread. I often find myself making changes and finding weird typos that I swear have been typed in by another hand. It helps, when reading aloud, not to mention to mention the same phrase twice. You take my meaning.

3) My fellow writers are rooting for me.

Did I mention that I just finished a first draft of a novel? Oh, I didn't? Well, I have just finished the first draft of my novel. Anyway, here is the best part of being in the group. It takes a writer and readers to craft a great story. Over the past few months, I read the serial, 10-pages-at-a-time version of my novel to the group members, and they followed along with keen ears. They cared about my characters in the same way that I do. They asked good questions. They helped me through plot weaknesses and logistical issues with setting. They want to see the book become a success as much as I do. I know this, because I want the same for them.

What it all boils down to is that writers are equal partners with readers. You need readers (other than your family members), so go out and find a group of people who are thoughtful, critical readers and who are committed to helping you draft the best possible version of your story or memoir. Cling to them like a lifeline, even the ones you disagree with, and they will get you safely to shore or at least through the first draft.