I’ve always been wary of writing groups.
But not because of other people; it’s a me thing.
I am hyper-aware that I’m not the most amazing writer in the world, so I am a very intense self-editor (and have been for a while). It’s a habit I’ve mentioned on here before–my tendency to edit my work directly into the ground. To take it from ‘bonsai’ to ‘twig’ to (somehow) ‘Chia Pet.’ And I’m aware that’s not the perfect metaphor (my editing always yields net positives, but sometimes those positives are additions with new grammatical errors) but it absolutely nails the vibe.
Anyway, that need to edit comes in when I read other people’s work, and that’s why I try to stay away from collaborations these days. I have upset people with edits that were too intense. Also, a few times, someone has said, “Read this and give me thoughts,” and I’ve heard, “Read this and correct my grammar!”
Not . . . the best look.
So if you asked me in 2019 if I’d ever join a writing group, I would’ve said, “No. For their sake.”
But then, of course 2020 happened.
By September 2020, I was wildly strung out. Already 6 months deep in the lockdown hole, freshly unemployed, routinely losing sleep to my then-roommate’s obnoxiously loud kids while the election loomed in the distance, I was perpetually tired. Of just fucking everything.
So trust me when I say that the moment a longtime friend of mine invited me to join a writing group with him and his buddy from high school, I was like, “YESWHEN”.
Was a part of me still worried about being a needlessly intense critic of my friends’ work?
Did I learn to curb that reflex out of pure, immediate necessity?
And . . . I almost feel like I have to thank 2020, because if I hadn’t been backed into a corner, forced to accept an invitation I might not have . . . I would have missed one of the best experiences in the entirety of my time as a writer.
A Writing Group with Close Friends
Is So Positive It Feels Wrong
Like, you know when you try a new fat free ice cream and it tastes better than real ice cream, so you check the ingredients and it’s like, “Molasses, Soy Lecithin, and Kitten Souls,” and you’re like, “Ah. Right. Of course”?
My writing group feels like that, only without the Kitten Souls part. It is so good it just has to be wrong somehow. But 4 months deep, it still . . . isn’t?
I meet with my friends once a week over Zoom so we can discuss progress on our work, and–most importantly for me–take criticism. Each week, one of us gets in the hot seat and sends work for review, while the others make progress on their own work for their next session.
And, somehow, despite everything being set up for this to go poorly, it just hasn’t.
My friend, his buddy, and I are just naturally careful about our criticisms while also (thankfully) being totally candid with them.
In a recent session, one of them suggested that I significantly change the intro for Memory because it was a little cliché. And, mind you, this is an intro that is relatively new; I’d hammered it out in the middle of 2020 when I started the outline for my rewrite, so hearing that it needed another change threw me a little bit.
But the approach to that suggestion wasn’t invasive or hostile in any way; this was a point made by a friend of mine who wanted to challenge me to write a better prologue. So, instead of clamming up, I sat down and reflected. Not just on the fact that I usually struggle with intros, but on the merits of the suggested change. If it had been suggested to me a few years prior, I might have waved it aside and tried to rewrite the prologue in some other way.
But, in 2020, I took an afternoon to review themes, plotlines, and character beats and realized . . . Yeah. That additional tweak to the prologue would just . . . work. Really well.
And, just like when I found Brandon Sanderson’s “Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy Classes” on YouTube, the realization that I could just have help really took me by surprise. A healthy writing group is something I didn’t realize I needed, but also something I stubbornly thought was impossible. Growing up in America makes me keep blinking like, “Wait. I’m supposed to pay for this somewhere, right?” Like one of my friends is going to copy and paste an invoice for $700 to the Zoom chat. Seriously, this is supposed to be, like, $80 an hour, or I’m supposed to go to a convention or win a contest to get this kind of constructive criticism.
But, no. I can just have this–all of us can.
My writing group is just real. None of us pull punches; from the very first session, they’ve been totally honest about the parts of my WIP they didn’t like, which is its own miracle. But on top of that, none of us are taking ownership of each other’s work, expecting the others to implement whatever changes we suggest. None of us think we’re better than the others. And none of us reject every single criticism we get, refusing to entertain change and growth.
It is . . . so healthy.
And extremely exciting. I drastically improved Memory over the Summer, and now I have two friends taking a close look at my outline and helping me improve it even more, and just holy shit.
Having a Writing Group with Your Close Writer Friends
Is the Best Thing Ever and Every Writer Should Do It
I can’t recommend joining a random writer’s group, because it is still impossible for me to believe that experience wouldn’t be problematic.
But if you have close friends who are writers working in the same genre . . .
As long as all of you understand how to be chill about it–how not to tear down each other’s work or demand that they start writing in your style. Read their works-in-progress, make suggestions that improve them, express your feelings about them in a way that isn’t needlessly harsh. Strike that balance of being open to changing your stories, but secure in the knowledge that if you don’t think a suggestion yields improvements, you don’t have to implement it.
And, okay, I kind of went on a rant there, but I didn’t write all of this just to gush. What I’m trying to say is writing sucks. It’s extremely rough and, in my experience, there are a ton of people waiting to take advantage of you. We are professionals who spend years working on singular pieces of art that we send to publishers and contests, hoping to get paid for a fraction of the time we put in. I know that you know, but just in case you haven’t thought about it in a while, writing is an insane, extremely unforgiving profession.
We deserve every bit of help we can get.
Thank you for passing by. Can you believe it’s only the second week of 2021? As an American, I . . . am . . . already reeling this year.
But whatever. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are. If you enjoyed this post, please drop me a like or consider following The House of Error via the button on the left side of the screen (on PC) or the top right (on mobile).
Either way, take care, and if you come within petting range of an adorable, friendly cat or dog this week, please give them a pat for me.