Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Face to Face

There are only a couple of people on Earth who read my works in progress: Mighty Reader, Domey, Michelle and my agent (and his reader). I don't have a group of "beta readers" and I don't belong to a critique group, online or otherwise. I am not taking any sort of writing class and so, in general, most of my writing is done alone, with as little feedback as possible from other people. The main reason for this is that I know very few people who read the sort of fiction I write and will talk about the issues in my own work that concern me. If I ask someone to read something, I don't really want to hear about misspellings or split infinitives. I want to hear if the story and the characters work in the way I want them to work. In general, I trust my own instincts and taste more than those of anyone else, though I will of course listen to my agent and the three other people listed above.

Lately, however, I have begun to write more short stories, and I'm in a loose sort of online writing group who share our bits and bobs of stuff every two months. That's very cool, especially because I continue to struggle with the short story form and it's nice to have feedback from people who do it better than I do. It's also nice to be part of a writers' community that meets, virtually anyway, every so often. I also have a standing invitation to go drinking with a group of writers here in Seattle, but it's on a school night so I haven't gone yet, though I have gotten together a few times with one of these guys and it's a blast. He and I talk about writing in very similar terms and I get what he means and he gets what I mean even though the waitress and the folks at the next tables think we're just insane. Which is fine.

The thing is, then, that while I still see writing as primarily something done alone, in isolation, it is an activity that's brought me into contact with others doing the same thing. There is a lot of value, certainly, in the online community of writers. But the interactions I've had with writers in real life (and I include the groovy Skype conversations I've recently had with Domey and Michelle), including going to readings/book signings, means that writing has become something larger to me than just writing down stories. Some folks I know here in Seattle are thinking about organizing a regular series of public readings, and I think that would be a lot of fun and I think I'd like to try out my short stories in that venue.

Anyway, my point--if I have one--is that I think it's important to have real-world interactions with other writers if you can. So I'm wondering how many of you have met any other writers in real life? How many of you are taking a class or are part of a critique group/reading group that meets in person? How many of you take part in readings on a regular basis, either as audience members or as readers?


  1. In the Dark Ages, I attended a six-week-long intensive writing workshop which did me a lot of good but which also burned me out on classes/critique groups for ever and ever.

    BUT, hey, I recently had a great experience with fellow writers. I attended a science fiction convention, where I met my publisher (and publicist) for the first time, and participated in their Fall Book Launch event. There were five other authors present, and we each read from our books, chatted, signed books, and met readers. I got questions from folks about writing, editing, the road to publishing -- it was so new and strange to be on the other side of that table. I had a blast, and met some incredible young authors who impressed me greatly with their knowledge, enthusiasm, and professionalism.

    So now I'm all in favor of hanging with other writers, published or looking to be published, doesn't matter. It's the enthusiasm and passion that matter, and the folks at this convention definitely had that.

    I'm still not so gung-ho on classes and critique groups, though. Too many cooks. Just jawing casually about writing (and reading), that works for me.

  2. You forgot to mention that there was a swordfight!

  3. I belong to a critique group that meets online to discuss our works every week. I am lucky that my little town is home to quite a few groovy writers and I have met a number of them. Then of course, there are the people I meet at the comments section of various blogs. I value each of these groups. Don't think I can do what I do without them. Community is good.

    As for being able to talk on the same wavelength with another writer: that is quite a bit rarer. But that's okay. These kinds of understandings are not something that can be easily found, and in fact, every time some sort of true understanding takes place between me and another person, I am almost always surprised.

  4. Yat-Yee: Yeah, it amazes me constantly how often other writers and I talk at cross purposes, as if neither one of us has any idea what language the other is speaking. I once thought that, as we became more experienced writers, we'd all tend to agree on things and think in similar terms, but that's not the case at all. It's highly personal.

  5. It's scary for me to think about how writing had spilled into so many areas of my life. The majority of the friends I hang out with are all writers these days. I belong to a writer's group that meets every other week. I've been with them for possibly 9 years, which doesn't seem right at all, but I think it is. I started the group myself because of how isolating writing felt. I went through a period where I really hated the isolation, but lately I have been craving it again, at least as far as the actual sharing of my writing goes. Like you, Scott, I only share my drafts with a small number of people now. (And I'm honored to be in your posse.) I've even gone so far as to write decoy material to share with people while I privately work on my own things.

  6. I've met Michelle and Piedmont Writer from online in real life--both lovely people. I have several friends in my real life who are writers (one is actually pretty famous--we don't usually talk writing though, we talk about things we like and don't like: movies, books, politics, kids, etc). I have also joined with a critique group online. I don't go to readings or anything though. I went to the SCBWI conference in Sept. and met a lot of people in the industry. It was nice.

  7. I was in a real-life critique group once. I won't ever do that again, real or online - too many cooks, as someone above said. I prefer to interact with my beta readers (few in numbers these days) one-on-one to get their impressions on my writing, and then just my editor for grammatical/punctuation/phrasing critiques.

    There is a writing group here in town, but they meet at 10am on a work day, so that's out for me. I hear they're snooty anyways, though I suppose I might try it if I wasn't working. I don't tend to appreciate the kind of books our local reading groups are into, so I don't participate in those either. My mom does and I generally end up with a lot of the books anyways by default.

    I enjoy getting together with others doing NaNoWriMo in November where we all just meet at a bookstore coffee shop to write once a week or so - that's pretty fun, since we're all just writing, and occasionally stopping to "talk shop" or brainstorm - no critiquing. One of the other girls expressed interest in getting together once a month or so after last year, but it never materialized.

    I'd be good with a group that met once a week or every other week just to talk writing or whatever...but thus far, I'm too lazy to organize one myself.

  8. Writing decoy: Domey, that's pretty drastic! But I do understand the need to keep important things only to a few people you trust. i am letting fewer and fewer people read my works-in-progress.

  9. In college I did the interaction thing pretty heavily. As time went on I got tired of talking about writing with people who were in another universe. The folks who talk about the writing craft the same way I do, and who have similar enough interests in material, are few and far between and even more so where I live right now.

    I haven't talked in person to another writer in ages. Apart from snippets, almost nobody sees my stuff until I'm ready to submit it. If I have a question about something I'll throw it to one "beta" reader, maybe two, and see what they think. Like you, general crit doesn't offer me much value these days.

    I'm grateful for the online interactions I get. I don't exchange e-mails or chat with many folks in the writing world, but those are instructive, supporting, and encouraging relationships for me and I am incredibly grateful for them.

  10. In person? Not much. Online, yes.

  11. For me its all virtual. My dad is good friends with novelist John R Maxim, who has written numerous shoot-em-up spy thrillers, and I met John and spoke with him once before I started my first novel, and once after I was 100 pages deep into my first draft. He gave me good advice (write every day, even if it's only for 30 minutes) and told me things I didn't believe at the time (once you finish you'll need to re-write it).

    My wife will beta-read for me, but her feedback is different than another writer's feedback.

    I value groups like this. I've learned a lot from reading posts and comments here.

  12. I am part of a very informal critique group with just a few people who meet iregularly a couple times a month. I used to be part of a much larger work shop class. I think it did help me to develop some of the mechanics of writing and it is where I met the people I critique with now but after I reached a certain point in knowing where my writing was going I didn't feel like they could offer me anything new.

  13. A writing group is a necessity. I meet with mine weekly, to share, to commiserate, to be inspired. FAce to face is the way to go. If you can afford workshops and classes, take them. People in scholastic settings are sharper and more informed than most, and will set the bar higher for all of you.

  14. I just had to stop in to comment on this (the newest medicine I started today is keeping me awake at the moment...I'm still battling back, guys, working on it!)

    I've written in groups on and off (mostly on) for more than a decade writing sci-fi stuff and over the years have met in person a handful of the people I'd met online and written with. It's always a fascinating experience.

    But two weeks ago, I had an experience to top all.

    A writer whose work amazes me and whom I had written with for almost four years now but never met in person came to visit me. Knowing I've been so sick this year and how there are no guarantees with my eyesight, he decided to come here this year instead of next, despite the cost and distance.

    Despite my most recent writer's block and determination to take a break, (or quit entirely and yes this friend did do his best to talk me out of that) we did write something short while he was here and I had to admit I was pleased with it.

    I mean...no matter how determined you are it's hard to say no to someone who wants to write with you in person after doing so long distance for years when they come to visit you in Detroit...

    ...from Australia.

    So yeah, from my perspective you could say that it's very good to have writer friends :) Sometimes as I am sure you all know, they become the dearest of all friends.


    PS I don't do critique groups though and very, very few people get to read my stuff before it's 'done'. Even then, almost nobody and in future, even less *laugh* That is if I do keep doing it at all the jury is still out on that one. But there are one or two people I do feel comfortable showing most of it to.

  15. My comment turned into an essay...so I just posted it on the blog. Thanks for the inspiration, Scott. :)



  16. I have joined groups -- but I have yet to join one that I thought was worth much.
    (don't take that wrong - the people were nice)

    My problem was, I do want to hear about dangling spelling errors and split gerunds. I can spot a plot hole before you get there. I can often find them in your first five pages, but most groups don't do anything, and explaining why a story can't have a dead character brushing their teeth 60 pages after the tearful 3 chapter suicide, does not make you any friends.

    They want to hear praise and nothing else and they don't offer good criticism because they have been burned by the "love me you idiot!" mentality.

    My english teacher and I went round and round in high school. She read everything I wrote out loud to the class - no ID - but my paper would be covered with demands that I fix things, while a paper that got a C would have 2-4 suggestions per page.

    I finally had enough one day borrowed my friends paper and toss the two at her for comparison. "If you hate me so much why do you read everything I give you."
    She laughed and handed the papers back. "Because your friend is a sweetie, but she will never be a writer -- you already are. Red Ink Is Love and you are worth more of my time"

    Wow - never looked at criticism the same way again.


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