As 2011 comes to a close, I feel it is time to review writing goals and make some plans for 2012. First on my list is to revive The Writing Loft. I want to reach out to a wider audience and encourage more commentary. Posting in 2011 fell off a bit while I spent time marketing my novel – Cocaineros Duel – throughout the New England area. While on the road I found some future venues for my novel’s hero, Frank Reardon.
So, what’s the best way to energize your writing for the New Year?
Get involved with a writing group! If you belong to one already, make a bigger commitment. All too often we allow ourselves to fall into the category of being a “lurker,” someone who sits back, offers a few comments on the works of others, and sips the free coffee. Writing groups can be great places to get feedback. But remember, just as with computers, junk in, junk out!
Offer up something to be critiqued, a new chapter of your book or a piece of flash fiction – 500 to 750 words that tell a short story. Offer something, anything to get your juices flowing. Even if the person next to you isn’t your target reader and hates your genre, that person still may have some good suggestions about structure, dialog or pacing.
Finding a good writing group can be challenging. Not everyone in the group has to share your genre. Start off by asking yourself if the other group members are the kind of people you would like to call friends. I’ve visited a few different groups for several sessions only to discover I simply didn’t mesh with the other people.
I remember one group that rotated meeting among the homes of members. The group would arrive and immediately give the host’s home the white glove treatment. There were snickers and quiet comments on the home decorating, quality of the refreshments being offered and, of course, comments about the poor member who couldn’t show up that day. That wasn’t a group for me. I left before my home came up in the rotation to be host. My advice: find a group that meets on neutral turf. Consider a library, social club or church hall . . . all good alternatives!
Writers should attend writing groups fully expecting to be critiqued. But members should recognize the difference between honest, constructive criticism and hurtful remarks. After all, the ultimate goal is to improve and polish the piece, not tear it down. A “friend” recognizes this concept.
What do you bring to read at a writing group? Should your contribution be something short or long? The answer to that question depends on the frequency with which the group meets, the size of the group and the length of time for the gathering. Generally, groups meet one to two hours a couple of times a month. Share the critique time.
Generally, I find it difficult to bring book chapters. It’s tough for members to maintain continuity with the numerous projects other members have in the works. But if the group is open-minded and they have enough context of the full work, book chapters can be an option. Just plan accordingly.
A short story is a good choice for discussion within a group. A piece 1,500 to 2,500 words is doable. It can demonstrate your skills within a set structure and later can be expanded, maybe even into a book.
Diary entries can be interesting, too. For example, I’ve written more than 100 vignettes about my days as a reporter and editor for newspapers. I often share them with my writing group.
All in all, you need to bring something to the table and let a fresh set of eyes have a look at it! And then, listen . . . and learn!