Writing Groups–Helpful or Harmful?

Hey gang.

So, my first piece of advice was to write. This should be obvious to anyone reading this blog. I’ll not belabor the point.

So, you’ve started writing. Maybe you have a few stories finished by now. Maybe you’ve even been inspired to write a novel. Great! Now what? Well, the next step is to learn how to edit your work. Revision is the heart of good fiction; it is the heart of good writing in general.

One of the best ways to learn how to edit your own work is to edit and critique someone else’s work. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, I find it difficult to edit my own work. I seem to be blind to the mistakes I make, perhaps because I am so deeply entrenched in the piece that my mind automatically fills in the gaps as I read. But, I have no issues picking someone else’s work apart.

Second, as you edit someone else’s work, you begin to notice how the piece has been put together, and where the story structure is weak or fails completely.

So, the best way to edit someone else’s writing is to join some type of writing group. Preferably, this will be a live group that meets in person. This way, you make new friends, and get out of your own head for a bit. There also several online groups that can be very beneficial (I really like writingforums.com, and zoetrope.com). Once you have been in the group for a while, you will begin to get a sense of everyone’s experience levels, and personal tastes. This is imperative, as someone may dislike the genre you are writing in, and it could bias their critique.

So, what’s the bad news? Well, it is entirely possible that you may be surrounded by amateurs. While there is support in numbers, and supporting fellow writers is vital to your artistic development, it is also important to guard yourself against those who give bad advice.

They don’t do this intentionally. Most times, they are regurgitating some advice they found online or in a book on writing, and they may not understand how that advice fits into your style. Sometimes, they cling to these “rules” to point of being silly. For example, at a writing group I attended, a friend presented an excellent piece. One of the group said that she had heard that each page/scene should contain a sensory detail. She said, “this page needs a smell in it.” While sensory detail is great advice, suggesting there be a smell just to fill that quota is completely wrong.

So, be cautious when joining a group. They can can help you immensely, but can also cause you to develop bad writing habits.

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