* * * * * * * * *
They say it takes a village to raise a child and I say it takes a writing community to raise an author.
I have said that repeatedly, because I strongly believe that behind many successful authors is a strong support group of fellow writers. I can’t help but look at my writing group, The Anita Factor, for proof of my hypothesis. When we first met we were all unpublished developing writers. Less than 6 years later and between us, we have 9 books published, with 6 of those titles released in the past 18 months. Last time I checked, we have 2 more under contract.
What is the secret of that success?
Surrounding yourself with others who share the same love of writing, makes you feel like you are a part of a team in what truly is a solitary endeavor. These are the folks who will celebrate with you over coffee, wine, or Chocolate Sin Cake on landing your first magazine article. They will also help drown sorrows and lift spirits when the 4th, 10th, or 21st, “No, we’d rather not” letter on your 150,000 word World War 1/sci-fi/zombie romance pops into your letter box.
When the rejections are flying in faster than a chocolate addict can inhale an extra-large Belgian chocolate bar, your writing support team is there to encourage you to go back to your desk/coffee shop/cave and work harder.
Writing groups are particularly good, if you follow a format that not only gives you a sense of belonging, but also offers useful feedback on your work as well as an opportunity to further educate yourself on the craft of writing. Sharing tips, techniques, and articles about style, grammar, voice, writing tools, resources, conferences, workshops, publishing are just some of the “teaching component” of my writing group.
How to run a critique group session ala The Anita Factor:
This is how a regular meeting of The Anitas goes down:
- Every second Thursday, we Anitas meet in McNally Robinson Bookstore where we get tucked away amongst the stacks. (This is truly the best bookstore in all the land. So says me.)
- We rotate the role of leader and that person keeps us aware of time, leads the “teaching component”, and ensures all who want to read their work for critique get a chance.
- We begin - somewhat promptly at 7:00.
- The Anita in charge shares a topic. This can be on anything related to writing such as; writing craft, publishing, marketing, or presentation skills. We’ve discussed voice, POV, plot structure, grammar, social media, book launches, networking, publishing, query letters – everything and anything.
- Next, if you have work to share, you read a short section – no more than 4 pages – double spaced. Each writer states the type of feedback they seek. Sometimes it is a general, “Does this work?” and other times a writer is seeking quite specific critique like, “Is my lead character’s voice consistent?”
- We then work around the circle giving our thoughts. We strive to always provide some positives which can be words or phrases that are stand outs or characters that are perfectly crafted, as well as any sections that may not be working well and need to be rewritten. Often, we point out what we call “heads up moments.” That is when we hear something that is so abrupt or out of place in the writing that it pops our heads out of the story. These can be either minor, like a word that is from the wrong era in a historical fiction, or major like a section of text that contradicts something already established in a previous chapter.
- Once all readings have been complete we share our writing news; the good, the bad, and the horribly ugly. Many nights this is done in The Prairie Ink Restaurant over a deep and deliciously baked masterpiece.
Where to find a writing group:
- Writing associations often have member boards where you can find other writers in your genre. A full list of organizations can be found here at Writers and Editors: http://www.writersandeditors.com/major_writers_organizations_57410.htm.
- Attend conferences and network to find like minds.
- Join your local writing guild. They often run writing group sessions.
- Consider an online writing group.
Good luck and keep on writing!
Thank you for the great advice, Jodi! You can learn more about Jodi and her books at her blog, Writing . . . and Other Life Lessons.