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Why I Love and Hate Writer’s Group

September 5, 2012 by Kiersi

Writer's Group on Facebook

Facebook: Where the writer's group hangs out between meetings

I have the best writer’s group ever. I mean, ever. Six women who all write YA. Six women who are monumentally talented,  and each in their own unique way. We have a fantasy writer (yours truly), one contemporary, two magical realism, one working on historical fiction, and even a graphic novelist (artist and writer, whoa). I believe something like four out of six of us have been published in the past. And, to the internet’s credit, we all met on Facebook. If you like, I can do a post at a later date about how I found and organized this group, and the critique method we’ve developed to make the most effective use of our limited meeting time.

So. I love my writer’s group. But now you may ask, “Why does the headline also say you hate them?”

Because they are always right. And that usually means I have to do a lot of work.

Lately I’ve been bringing the first sections of my novel The Aeronauts to group meetings. This book has been a pretty painful learning experience for me, because the story is A) more complex than anything I’ve done before, B) involves a purely fantastical world where none of our rules apply, and C) has a lot that happens off-screen (prior to the novel’s timeline) that needs to be folded into the text in a natural, showy-not-telly kind of way.

Boy, is that harder than it sounds.

My wonderful writer’s group gals don’t just point out what’s wrong with the story–they also provide some seriously excellent suggestions on how to improve it, and devices I could employ to solve my problems. And, because we have the whole hive-mind thing going on, the ideas get refined by each participant until they are, quite literally, golden.

As a result of all this, The Aeronauts is shining brighter than ever before. One of my girls pointed out I have a little bit of a “problem” with plot progression–and suggested to me this awesome video where South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone teach NYU students the key to good storytelling. Their best bit of advice: avoid “and thens.” They are boring.

The Aeronauts has a lot of “and then this happened, and then this other thing happened,” without much reason or result besides happenstance. UGH. So, while writing group has been immensely helpful, it has also been painful to step in front of the word processor and realize the scope of my required changes. And yet, there is this deep, fulfilling sense of satisfaction when the overhaul is complete.

The gem hidden inside the mush is shining brightly. Thank you, writer’s group! You girls are the bestest.


11 Comments »

  1. I feel this way about my editor! LOL. No, I don’t hate her at all. I love her, but her editorial letters can make me want to pull my hair out. Still, I know that my books are better for all the work she makes me do to them.

    • Kiersi says:

      I know just what you mean. Editors are like parents, who tell you what you know you should do, but don’t really want to!

  2. Writer groups are wonderful. Packs of writers from different backgrounds watching one another’s backs on this writing journey. 🙂

    • Kiersi says:

      Totally! We are all taking the journey together and having someone (or many someones) there to keep you on track and support you is essential!

  3. I’m still looking for that wonderful critique group. How did you go about finding one online?

    • Kiersi says:

      I joined a Facebook group called “Portland Kidlit.” It’s a pretty massive group that updates frequently. I simply posted, “Hey, I’m looking for serious YA writers who are published or looking to be published for a writer’s critique group.” I got about 10 replies, followed up with them via email, and hosted the first meeting at my house. All I had to do was ply them with good food and we were off and running!

  4. Kiersi, I think it’s quite difficult to find a writers’ group that meets the needs of all its members, esp. in one geographical area. The last group I was in spent hours every month on email trying to figure out when to meet so no one would have to miss…it drove me crazy. The group was good, but the chemistry wasn’t…je ne sais quois.

    I have a friend who could benefit from a great group in NY State…hard time finding anything. Do you meet in person? If you met only on Facebook that’s quite an accomplishment!

    • Kiersi says:

      We meet in person once every two weeks, but we stay in constant contact via Facebook. Members post links and exchange critiques between meetings.

      We’ve basically established a single day where we meet–Sunday afternoons–and for the most part everyone makes it and reserves that spot on their calendar. I think it’s essential for the members to make their Writer’s Group a top priority, and re-arrange other things on their calendar as necessary. I think half of our group or more have children and manage to balance both. Wild!

  5. Ryan says:

    I would love to hear about how you formed a successful group. There are lots of meetups in my area but with 2 kids – finding the time to get out and actually meet – is just to challenging.

  6. Nicki Mann says:

    I would like to go to writer’s groups, but I am too nervous… partly because I have trouble critiquing other people’s work. In most writer’s groups they want everyone to contribute something to each person’s work, but a lot of genres, like romance and science fiction, are hard for me to pay attention to. It sounds like one thing that works well for you is that everyone in your group writes young adult books, so you are at least somewhat on the same page. No pun intended!

    • Kiersi says:

      Critiquing is definitely a skill that must be learned and practiced.

      One thing, though, is that sometimes critiquing work that you’re not used to reading is really GOOD practice. You can bring a fresh perspective to the author and you might be surprised at what you might learn from other genres. I learn a lot from reading contemporary, even though I write fantasy. Contemporary can really hit home emotionally and I want to channel that into my fantasy and sci-fi 🙂

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