This week sees me returning to a topic I’ve raised before in blogs—writing groups.
Are you a member, or have you ever been a member, of one? What did you feel you got out of it? If you stopped going, why?
When I first moved up to the Lakes I looked for a local writing group and one was just forming. Great, I thought, but when I rang to make further enquiries alarm bells sounded from the fact the organiser spent the entire phone call telling me about her own writing background and didn’t ask a single question about what I might be working on. Still, I went to the first meeting and realised that she wanted to use it as a platform for her own ideas on teaching us to write, rather than simply letting us bring our own work for feedback from the rest of the group. I know a certain amount of structure is good—a topic for next time, if people are stuck for what to write about—but it wasn’t what I was looking for, and I regret that I didn’t last long there.
The trouble is, at the moment I’m leading a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle and have never lived in a big city where there are lots of writing groups to choose from. And I’ve never been a member of one where anyone else was writing crime. So, I’m starting to wonder about joining an on-line group.
But I don’t know how that works.
The big problem is the written word. If someone says, to your face, “That piece of dialogue really doesn’t work for me. It’s clunky. It sounds like the writer needing to get information across to the reader, rather than two people talking.” Then you pick up on far more than the words. Body language, tone, emphasis, facial expression, all help to soften down the criticism into something you can process and accept. Dashed off in an email, it sounds like a damning condemnation.
Somebody once said there are six ways people can read a letter. Some people write things that are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, and find themselves being taken much too seriously and causing great upset or offence. I know adding smiley faces to emails is supposed to be a bit naff, but I do it all the time now to show I’m only making a jokey comment that is not supposed to be taken literally. Having had someone ring up and yell at me down the phone for a throwaway remark I once put in an email, I’m now very careful about these things. It doesn’t always work, of course, and I know I often put my foot in it.
So, that in itself makes me wary of joining an on-line writing group. The whole purpose of on-line is that you don’t meet, so how do I know if the general personality of the people whose opinions I’m soliciting will fit in with my own ideas? You make decisions about people within minutes of meeting them, but how long does it take for those same opinions to form when all you have are emails or comments? Do people reveal themselves more fully in their writing than face-to-face, or do they hide behind the words?
And quite often I used to take along to my writing group the bits I wasn’t sure about. If you write something that you instinctively know is good, you’re happy with it. It’s the bits you have sneaky doubts about where you want a second—or even third or fourth—opinion. Do I really want to release unfinished, possibly dodgy bits of work onto the Internet? Who knows where it might end up, and what damage it might do?
So, I’m looking for advice and information, people. Can you recommend a good on-line crime/thriller writing group? If you’ve had any bad experiences of on-line or face-to-face writing groups, care to share? And just how do the damn things work, exactly?
This week’s Word of the Week is postiche, an adjective meaning superfluously and inappropriately added to a finished work; counterfeit or false. Also a noun meaning an inappropriate hairpiece or wig.