I’ll admit this was one of the first ideas I wanted to write about on my blog. I even spent an hour putting my thoughts together. But, I couldn’t seem to get it right, the ideas weren’t flowing despite having the structure completely figured out. Sometimes plotting works, other times it doesn’t.
I ended up setting it aside and rolling with other ideas. If you find yourself hard stuck on your story, step away, read a book, or try a writing prompt. Or, maybe jump to another scene in your story where the ideas seem to be flowing. It’s been three months for me, and I’m finally ready to come back to this idea.
First off, when I talk about writing groups in this post, I’m referring to a small, tight knit group of people, 3-6 people, that you work with to develop yourself as a writer, not the 20,000 people writing groups on Facebook. I know there are more than 5 benefits to having such a group, but that’s all I’m going to highlight today. If you haven’t had the same awesome experience that I did, you probably didn’t have the right group.
The Big 5
Tell me if you have had this experience. “I have this super awesome, amazing, fantastic, exciting story and I just want to write it!!” (6 months later…) “I really need to write this story!” (However much time later, story still not written). To quote Beauty and the Beast, that’s a “tale as old as time.” (and my story to be honest)
I was in the same boat, so was my sister, and my buddy Garrett. Then we formed our writing group, and something magical happened.
Having other people who love writing as much as you, or more than you, is absolutely huge! When you’re having a rough patch and not feeling the writing group, you can ride the highs that your fellow writers are having to pump up your own internal motivation.
Last year my writing was at a standstill. I hadn’t opened my manuscript for months. This year, Garrett and Meghan both set some pretty ambitious goals. Not only did they set them, they made plans to accomplish them, and they are slaying it. Garrett, as a teacher, has a lot of time this summer and has been cranking out 3 hour sessions 5 days a week, writing nearly 1,000 words an hour. He’s already 40% towards his goal.
Seeing him make HUGE strides with his story is motivating! Every day he’s giving us updates on his writing sessions. All that progress got me pumped up to get back to my own story. Without him, my writing might still be on the backburner.
A pat on the back and an “atta boy” can feel good in the moment, and sometimes when we ask people for feedback, that’s what we really want to hear. It feels nice when someone tells you good job, especially when you’ve worked so hard on something. (It’s called confirmation bias) But, at the end of the day, that doesn’t make you better.
“Good is the enemy of great.”James Collins
Critique in any form can be difficult to hear. When it’s given without invitation it can be devastating. My writing group is a safe place. They can tear my work to shreds and I’m not offended. Well not always. I know that they want me to become better at my craft, and the only way to do that is by recognizing what parts of my story, or writing are terrible.
A word of caution. Your writing group is not there to make your writing sound like theirs. The purpose of their critique is to identify areas that aren’t working. Sentences that are poorly written, dialogue that is confusing, scenes that lack detail or contain too much detail, characters that are flat, and to help find the plot holes. Do not hijack or let a fellow writer hijack your story.
Another little side comment. You don’t have to listen! I’ve received some feedback that I decided to ignore. Everyone has an opinion, but that doesn’t mean theirs is right. But don’t ignore critique too often, or you might stop receiving it.
Positive Reinforcement goes hand in hand with critique. A writing group should help you identify weaknesses in your writing as a way to help you improve. But you can’t improve your writing if you never know what IS working.
Positive reinforcement isn’t, “that was good” or, “I really liked your story.” Don’t be vague with positivity. Point out specific areas that are strong. Did a scene come alive for you? Could you relate to the characters in the story? I love writing prompts because they let you focus on one specific concept and get immediate feedback.
Positive reinforcement tells a writer what they are doing great, so they can do more of it.
“Accept both compliments and criticism. It takes both sun and rain for a flower to grow.”
“Long term consistency beats short term intensity”Bruce Lee
Writing a book is not an afternoon endeavor. It takes planning, writing, editing, editing, editing, editing, and you get the picture. It might take months, or years before it’s finished. Unless you’re Brandon Sanderson, who thought it would be fun to write 5 new books in one year.
When I first started the writing group, we had weekly video chat meetings. They were roughly 1 hour long. We would go over a writing development topic, review our writing prompt submissions from the week before, then dive into giving feedback on one person’s novel.
All week long we would talk about our stories, send out reminders to one another, and prepare for writing group. Week in and week out. All three of us were able to make extensive progress on our stories. This ties in a little with motivation. When you’re in a writing slump, having others to help carry you through those writing droughts will make all the difference.
Last but not least, a writing group is there to inspire. Even the act of sharing a problem you are facing out loud can be enough to spark the idea that you need to write the next 3,000 words. Have a spartan smackdown session. Brainstorm ideas, characters, parts of your world, plot twist, anything and everything.
Your ability to create new ideas is limited by your knowledge and experiences. When it comes down to it, you have limits. But your fellow writers have different limits and when you bounce ideas off each other, you can move past your limiting threshold and boy is that exciting when it happens. I’ve had moments where one simple thought has triggered dozens of new ideas for me. The neat thing is, most of those ideas are completely unrelated to the problem I’m trying to solve, or the idea that was shared with me.
Inspire and be inspired by your fellow writers.
Find those individuals that share your passion, that want to learn and grow. Find those who will build you up, through critique and positive reinforcement. Find those who will motivate and inspire you. Bring them together and create your own writing group.
I’m working on putting together an example of our weekly agenda for a reference. Look for it next week. If you haven’t already, consider subscribing to my weekly emails so you don’t miss resources and ideas to help you become a better writer.
“Find a weirdo just like you and never let them go.”