A Writer’s Best Friend(s)

Last October I wrote a blog post called “Writers Need Wingmen” about the importance of writers’ groups. Writing is a solitary task but a writer’s mission is to connect with other people through their creative calling. Our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets is a collaborative memoir of our group as we learned from a variety of writers how to craft prose and poetry to make it an enjoyable experience for readers. After all, readers are the consumers of all our efforts to communicate. In the last year since our book was published, I made the acquaintance of more writers, some have created their own critique groups. Our Oro Valley Library hosts a forum twice a month with up to twenty-five or thirty authors and would-be authors. We talk about our experiences with the writing, editing, and publication processes. It is a valuable asset for writers.

Sally, Diana, Jackie

Before you get an agent, before you get an editor, before you find a publisher, you need to produce a novel, short story, memoir, or poem that showcases your talent at its best. A strong support for a writer, especially one that is starting out, is a small critique group with four to six people; other writers who take your endeavors seriously and comment on what works and doesn’t work when you send your creative emissaries out into the world. Writers’ groups develop over time as you learn to trust someone else’s opinion. Others in the group are not there to change your story, poem or essay or rewrite it, but to help you give it the best polish, to make a great impression.

One of the publishers we interviewed before we published our book gave us very valuable insight. He said we were writing to each other, not the world at large. Our group has been together for over twenty-four years so we know each other very well and understand how we each work. He said some of our memoir left out details that WE knew but to which readers were not privy, the important backstory. In other words, we weren’t telling the whole tale. A wake-up call. We got busy filling in the details to make our story more accessible.

A writers’ group is designed to do that for each member. Our book has suggestions for creating a group and general rules that make it work. We wrote together, learning how to create story and build characters, even in memoir writing. We held each other accountable to do their best work, to communicate fully.

One of the writers I came to know this last year is Debra VanDeventer. She wrote an engaging book with humor about the transition from thirty-seven years as a devoted teacher to joining the real world, Out of the Crayon Box – Thoughts on Teaching, Retirement and Life. She has a blog site, Seams Like a Story. As the title of her blog hints, she is a seamstress and weaves bits and pieces of her other creative endeavors into her writing posts. Yesterday, she wrote in her blog about her critique group and what it means to her and her writing. I recommend you read it and then, if you are interested in furthering your writing, get a copy of our book to start your own group.

Writers Need Wingmen

Writing is a solitary endeavor. When one conjures the image of a writer it is often of a lonely soul sequestered in a garret pounding away on a computer or scribbling with a pencil to transcribe the dispatches from their imagination. In truth, writers need wingmen. 

I recently reread Stephen King’s On Writing. He describes the first draft as being written behind closed doors; no one allowed as the muses impart their magic. Then in successive drafts, the door is open, inviting input as he edits. This is where a writers’ group becomes essential. Even though I am not a professional with professional editors, I do want to improve my skills. That makes writing more fun. I take classes to learn how to create scenes, characters, and dialogue. I enjoy employing the tools of the craft to make better prose and poetry. My writers’ group is invaluable as a means of testing those skills. They are my wingmen. They support me and protect me from the threats of dangling participles, passive voice, misdirected sentences, and weak prose. I get positive feedback from Jackie and Sally when they read my story. Positive feedback doesn’t mean making only affirmative comments. On the contrary, it means they look for the divots in the course. Does the story hold together? Are the characters believable? Does the narrative draw the reader in? As a solitary writer, I know what I want to say but sometimes it gets stuck in my head and doesn’t make it to the page. They spot places where something is missing in the narrative or a character. Their critique lets me know if a sentence doesn’t make sense or a scene doesn’t carry the story forward. They help me clarify my intent. That support makes me a better writer, a better communicator.

It is a pleasure to share my writing with a group of trusted friends and have them share their stories with me. Thank you Jackie and Sally. We learn from each other. In Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets we three coauthors describe our journey as a group, learning to be better writers while expanding our friendship. We encourage writers to create small groups and discover the support within that close dynamic.