Tonight’s ‘guest’ blog post, on the topic of writing groups, is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.
As Lauren Bailey (no relation) said in her guest blog on Tuesday, every author should have a second opinion. No-one should submit or self-publish their own writing without having someone else, ideally another writer, at the very least a reader, hear or read it. I prefer the latter, especially when equipped with a red pen (not sure why but red holds a certain power), and those who have listened to (or been the subjects of) my ‘red pen’ podcasts will know that I’m firm but fair.
Unless you live with someone who can give that kind of feedback, the chances are that you’ll have to go further afield. And where better to start, if you live in the UK, than the National Association of Writers’ Groups (NAWG). Click on ‘Writing Group Directory’, pick your area of the country and find the nearest meeting to you. Before you leave the site, you might like to read one or two of their bi-monthly ‘Link’ magazines (I’ve been in a few ). It’ll give you a feel for what goes on in the groups. If you live in the US there’s a great list here, for Canada there’s a page of allsorts and South Australia click here (Google wasn’t very helpful with Europe – I guess it’s too big).
So you’re ready for your first meeting. You have pens (always advisable to have more than one) and paper, and perhaps something to read out, if you’re feeling brave.
You’re nervous. You’re bound to be. You’ve either never written anything before and you’re convinced that you’ll be no good, or you’re ready to go with your first ever creation and are convinced… you get the idea. Just remember that we were all learner drivers once (those of us who drive anyway).
The group will be kind to you, you can listen to others’ writing, and don’t be put off by that. If it’s good, the chances are they’ll have been writing for years and you’ll be just as good (if not better) with practice. And that’s what writing boils down to; learning as you go along and actually writing something. You can’t edit a blank page.
I run a group and belong to two others (one of which I chair), the other I (sort of) jointly lead. The latter, Northampton Literature Group’s Writing Circle (NLG), meets once a month (the first Tuesday night), the others fortnightly… strangely all 7.30pm to 9.30pm although we invariably overrun.
The ideal format
You naturally want a writing group to teach you something, you want to write and you want to hear others’ writing.
The fortnightly Thursday night group (Northampton Writers Group (NWG)) is predominantly critique only. We write on the spot occasionally but we usually take it in turns to read out our latest projects, with some of us making notes (some, me, more than others). The fortnights alternate between a specific topic (poetry, 10-minute play, flash fiction etc) and free manuscript, these usually being short stories, autobiography, novel extract and poetry. The monthly group is a mix of writing and reading homework, usually 500 words on a specific theme, with the Chair of the Group, Alan Bryan, leading the first half and me the second.
My writing group is split into two with a fortnightly critique-only and fortnightly writing workshop where I set three or four 10-15 minute exercises. Critique in the workshop session is minimal and the pieces, like the NLG, are meant to be starters to continue at home, then brought to the critique groups if desired.
Running your own group
If there’s no group near you (or you don’t like the ones that are!) and you know a few people who write or would like to write, you could always start your own. You don’t have to hire a hall – you could either run it at your house or take it in turns. I charge per person £1 for refreshments so I don’t make a profit (especially in winter when I have the heating turned up!) but it’s not about that, is it. It’s about sharing your work with others, helping them when you have something constructive to say, congratulating (and being congratulated) when something’s published, commiserated if you get nowhere in a writing competition, having a moan about an editor’s rejection of your characters and being there for each other. But most of all, it gets you in your seat and gets you writing!
Thank you… er, me!
When not at her day job (a sore point – she’s been trying to escape since October!), Morgen Bailey runs a (this) ticking-over nicely (about 200+ visitors a day) blog which, like her, is consumed by the topic of writing. She shares her house in Northampton, England with an 11-year-old Jack Russell / Cairn cross who is used to her waving her arms about (as she tests how her characters do something) or clapping when she’s written a particularly wonderful line. Best with deadlines, she loves projects like NaNoWriMo and StoryADay (producing three novels / four and a bit collections of short stories between them) because she’s like a dog with a clichéd bone… give her a challenge and she’ll do her damnedest to get it done… sometimes with just minutes to spare. She’s sold to Woman’s Weekly, rejected by them and others, accepted by NAWG for their ‘Link’ magazine and other online establishments, and has two $1.49 eBooks (a 31-story anthology and a writer’s block workbook) and free eShorts available via Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo, but once the day job is dust she plans to edit her four and a bit novels, let her editor rip them apart, then head for Amazon KDP and a bread and water lifestyle that is (often) that of a writer… and she can think of nothing more thrilling. Oh, and she has a new forum at http://morgenbailey.freeforums.org.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with poet and literary fiction author Serge Lecomte – the three hundred and third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.