Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Participating in Writers' Communities

Writing is a solitary activity. I feel like I can lose perspective when I get too engrossed in my works in progress. Everything I write either seems too terrible and disjointed to be worth revising further, or so outstanding that the world will love it, if only I could manage to figure out how to publicize it. Losing perspectives drives to to extremes.

Of course the truth is somewhere in between. I need not only input from others on my work, but I also need an opportunity to interact with other people interested in reading and writing the same kinds of things as I do. And associating with people who will expand my horizons is a good idea, too.
My critique group's anthology

My writing critique group put out a brief anthology, Swamp Mansion and Other Dark Tales, in early October. It was a great project—we each wrote a story and exchanged manuscripts until we were all satisfied with all the stories. We paid for a cover and then for someone to format it, but one of our group was able to put it on Amazon for us. We decided a commercially available print copy was beyond us, at least for the time being, but we did produce some pamphlet-type copies. We’re not making a whole lot on it—we’ll consider ourselves fortunate if we recoup expenses—but it was a wonderful learning experience. We considered putting out another anthology with winter holiday stories, but finally decided we needed more time, and would aim for that next year.

In the meantime, with an eye toward that or a future anthology, I wrote a holiday short story. I was quite pleased with it, and thought it had an excellent O Henry-type twist at the end. The first person I gave it to for review was my husband. He read it, and his response was, “Huh? I don’t get it.”

So much for overconfidence.

The critique group meets again this Saturday, and we will decide on our next project. But I think I will need to either totally revise that story, or dump it firmly in the not worth further revising category.
I’ve joined a mystery book club. When I was working full time, I didn’t have time for that. But this group selected Steeled for Murder, the first in my series, and invited me to discuss it with them. When they asked me if I wanted to join the group, how could I resist?

My Sisters in Crime chapter has scheduled two book talks and sales, one in November and one in December. I signed up for both of them. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, and I actually sold a few books! More important, though, is the opportunity to talk to and socialize with other authors and fans in the area.

When I discovered that another author with my publisher, Musa Publishing, had moved to the area, we got in touch. Her name is Carrie Russell and she had a reading from her first book, Drowning Cactus, at a local coffee house. Of course I went. It was very successful--the coffee house underestimated the number of people who would come, and it was overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked people had bought a copy of the book to have signed. The book is character-driven, and touches on many environmental and social issues. The protagonist, Gordon, is stealing cacti from a national park, but when his activities are discovered, he’s mistaken for an environmental activist who is engaged in protest activities.

Later, I looked information up on Carrie, and discovered that she has a Harvard law degree and has been working in environmental law. Just as well I didn’t know that ahead of time—I would have been intimidated. As it is, I feel like I have a new writer friend.

How do you interact with writers and fans? Do you find it helps to attend activities with other people who are interested in contemporary fiction?


  1. You are correct that without other people’s perspectives we are wandering through the wilderness on our own. I too joined a monthly book club after they chose Bad Policy as a read – not because of their choice of my book, but because I enjoyed the group and it would force me to read outside my typical range.

    ~ Jim

  2. I tried a book club once. No one had read the book except for about two others. We dominated the discussion, of course, which I found uncomfortable. It was a social group, not a book club so I never went back.

    The online critique groups work well for me. When there is a group or organization, I find real world politics permeates the review and critique of everyone's work. An unacceptable situation to me.

    Outside of online critiques and reviews, I stay away fearing that people's reactions to me (not my work) will infect their assessment. I don't want great reviews if I'm liked, but I don't want my work trashed if someone doesn't like me. I don't want personal--I want reader reaction.

  3. I've been in one great critique group but I haven't found a second one as good as the first. MY wife is my beta reader. it hasn't ruined out marriage.

  4. You're right, Jim. The book club has encouraged me to read things I would not have chosen myself, and I've been happy to expand my range. But as E.B. says, some are social clubs and don't focus on books.

    E.B,I'm a member of an online critique group, but find we are all at different levels and different genres, so it's not as helpful as I imagine they can be. One thing it has clarified for me is that I really don't care to know what designer clothes and accessories characters are using.

    Warren, I think I lucked out on my critique group. We all get along, give useful feedback, and have diverse backgrounds. I used to give everything to my husband to read--he spend years going over MBA theses, and is a good editor, but he doesn't like my characters, and it's too discouraging to hear what he has to say about them.

  5. I don't know what I'd do without the input from my critique partners. However, if you're going to be in a critique group, you should expect critiques, not whitewashes of your work. Critiquers should deliver their comments honestly but gently. Thin skin not allowed.

  6. I enjoyed reading the stories in Swamp Mansion and Other Dark Tales, KM. It sounds like everyone in your group works well together and enjoys each other's company. I'd love to find a critique group like that in my area.

  7. I agree with you, Polly. Critique groups that are primarily cheerleaders really don't help that much. Our group is kind but honest--we feel that we can say what we really think without hurting anyone's feelings, but we always try to be positive. And we understand that sometimes the one whose work we criticize will decide not to act on what we have said.

    Kara, I think finding a compatible critique group is a bit of serendipity. But they are out there, although sometimes you have to form your own.