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September 4, 2013

            I’ve mentioned the writer’s group from hell. I’ve also mentioned bad writer’s groups, and not necessarily those that torture the reader. There are groups that are just wrong for the writer. A case in point inspired this week’s article.

            Before I go into the subject of today’s title, I want to go off on a rant. Therefore, I’m going to call this part 1. Next week, I’ll talk about the differences between literary and action (in other words, genre) writing.

I was in a discussion with a new friend who just published a book. A very good book, I might add. I loved it. We got to talking about writing, and I mentioned how I get so much out of my writer’s group. Well… that’s not exactly the case with him.

Since he writes genre fiction, in other words, he writes plot-driven stories that actually move… go somewhere… the writer’s group he was in didn’t do him any favors. He got in with a “literary” crowd. They were from the character-driven school and hated his stuff. They tried to bend him to their tastes, which luckily for him and for me, he didn’t follow!

This wasn’t so much a case of a writer’s group from hell as just the wrong group to be in. That crowd had a specific agenda, and wasn’t open to any style of writing. Unlike my group, who doesn’t care what you write, his group leaned toward literary writing only, and tried to steer every writer into their mold.

Folks, that’s no way to run a writer’s group, unless you specifically advertise the group as a Literary Writer’s Group. If that’s the case, you know what you’re dealing with and if you’re a genre writer like me, or a memoir writer, or basically ANY writer that isn’t literary, you can avoid them. It would be the same for a science fiction writer’s group or a mystery writer’s group, I suppose. Now, if this group had advertised and promoted themselves and a literary writer’s group specifically, my friend could’ve avoided them in the first place, but apparently, that wasn’t the case and he found out the hard way.

When and if you use a writer’s group, which despite all, I strongly recommend, shop around! There’s no point in joining a group that doesn’t do you any good. Also, I need to define a writer’s group by saying a critique group. A writer’s group is too vague. If it’s just a group that gathers once a month to discuss writing “stuff,” or to listen to presentations, fine and dandy. However, its’ not going to help you substantially with your actual writing. You need others to read your work, critique it. A second, third, twentieth set of eyes! You need to get up in front of people and read it to them. You need to be under pressure in front of an audience, a gentle audience. Listening to other people talk about writing is no different from reading lots of books. You can go to the library and do that. You can’t take your writing to the library and get it critiqued by an inanimate book or somebody speaking on an unrelated subject at a podium at some meeting!

Critique groups serve a dual purpose. Besides getting multiple eyes and ears looking at and listening to your work, it gets you in front of others. Remember, when you finally get that book published, you’re going to have to speak in public, maybe do readings, interviews. It’s called public speaking. Better get used to it now in small doses!

I talk from long experience. A writer’s (critique) group has helped so many writers I know, many now published. The key is finding a good one. One that isn’t going to judge the genre, or the person, one that isn’t going to judge the story either. They’re going to judge the structure and the technique and the mechanics.

Within my group there are genre writers, literary writers and everything else. With that mix, I get a healthy spread of critiques and suggestions. After being at this for so long, I know what to listen to, what to disregard outright and what to consider carefully before acting upon. That’s what a healthy group is all about.

A true open writer’s critique group, like mine, will take any writer of any genre. Well, except maybe extremely offensive material…

In the next article, we’ll get down to the actual title of this piece and break the differences apart.

Happy writing!

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