NaNoWriMo is here, and I wonder how many people are planning to participate? I also thought about which tools I should discuss in November to help writers. Several ideas came to mind. Let's talk about writing groups today. Writing groups are an indispensable part of life in writing. I love being part of a writing group, but a huge pet peeve is inconsiderate group members.
An excellent writing group will help unleash your "wordies" and unlock your potential. It should also be of genuine encouragement and inspiration. I'm fortunate enough to be a member of two groups that offer me a place to flourish in my art. Both groups operate differently, but the primary source is their ability to help each other become the best writer. If you wonder why I am in two groups, the first focuses exclusively on the written word and experienced authors, and the other is genre-specific. We meet regularly to read, discuss and critique. However, the GS (genre-specific) runs sprints, and trust me; these meetings always fill me with new exciting ideas.
Joining or creating a group eliminates the loneliness of writing, which we often face. If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, consider joining a group or starting one. Below you will find a few ideas you should consider when joining or forming a group.
Give positive feedback - no one wants to hear "YOU SHOULD" you are not the writer/author - it is not your work of art. Remember, you are not a critic who gives reviews or an educator who facilitates a course. Instead, you are a member, provide positive feedback and be empathetic but truthful.
Avoid the "compliment sandwich," you know, the one - where you must sort through the ineffective "great" and fantastic" to get to the meat of the criticism. Most writers prefer truth over compliments.
Don't nitpick. After all, it's our work, and most artists are sensitive, LOL. I leave my compliments in the sidebars/notes and always use my stems to start a critique (e.g., Is there a way to simplify this section? Have you read this aloud to see where you can improve the flow?. You can find it below.
Above all, be prepared to give other members the same consideration as you have received. Read the piece thoroughly. Nobody cares about a lazy Laura or Larry. Be descriptive, not proscriptive - I can't tell you how many groups I've left because of this one problem.
An older gentleman once told me I was not George R.R. Martin and therefore needed only one POV (point of view). At no point did he explain where I shifted POV. He also attacked other members' writing. "Don't do this, do that... etc..." and if he noticed those ellipses I used, his head would burst. He never explained why? As a result, I'd leave the meeting more confused. If I had stayed in the group, his way of critiquing would have pushed me to give up what I love by creating enormous doubt in my writing ability.
If you never discover the principles behind specific rules, you will not feel secure in your craft. So if you offer a piece of advice - be descriptive - explain the whys and wherefores and describe your reaction to it. (remember the work is their baby) be gentle. Offering opinions on a writer's story is challenging. It will take practice because we have firm opinions about art as artists. We do not want to try to make someone's work a reflection of our work. Respect their art.
If their grammatical / spelling errors get under your skin, ignore the small things - suggest something like Grammarly or Outwrite and move on. Of course, I know the writing needs to be corrected, but my point is to focus on the characters, the plot, the setting (the big stuff), and if there is time, say hey, I have noticed--. Now, if you read the piece and couldn't get through it, it's just that dang difficult to read (I've read a few of those). That may well be the "big" stuff, and OK, discuss it. Please note errors on the copy. The writer will recognize it later when they review the comments.
Finally, the mother of all the shits - "SHUT UP!" Yea, I said, keep your big trap closed.
Be a fly on the wall. Listen, take everything in, take notes, don't you dare try to explain your work.
Why? You prejudice your readers, dilute the quality of your feedback, and create an argumentative state. Everyone may not like your story, but that will not prevent someone from giving true-to-the-heart feedback. What prevents honest feedback is opening your trap! At the end of the critique, please ask a question or two if you are unsure of a point. (ex. What's a POV? or Do you know of any valuable resources for...?)
I will end with this, which is not a rule, but something I write by - step away from the recently criticized work. Continue to work on the next chapter, another story, etc. Stepping away always helps me with a fresh perspective when I edit the piece. That stepping away works wonders every time!
If you elect to create a group, keep a few things in mind. First, discuss rules with the members - like time limits and how the circle should flow. Second, make sure to read the members' work ahead of time (this helps with time), allowing the criticism to be the center of the group's discussion. Third, some groups like to have live reads and critique simultaneously; this is time-consuming if you have a large group, but if it works for the group, Do you, baby! :)
Finally, with NaNoWriMo in mind - you may want to include some sprints too!