"The first rule of Write Club is Nobody talks about Write Club..."*
(*...less talking, more writing!)
Writing is a schizophrenic occupation.
To obtain context--to know what you're talking about--you have to get out and experience life. It's more than research, it's gaining an understanding of people, relationships, cause-and-effect, all of the nuances of the experiential. This is what editors mean when they say: "Write what you know." (Applying the maxim too specifically would mean science fiction and fantasy stories would be practically nonexistent.)
Then, in order to produce the story, the writer must withdraw, shut him or herself away, and labor over their prose in solitude. See what I mean? Schizophrenic...
It's a process not well understood by the non-writer. Spouses, family members, friends--they don't understand the devastating effects of writer's block, the idea that staring out the window for an hour is actually you working on building a scene or an entire world, the disruption of sleep patterns as a plot point or character motivation coalesces in the middle of the fitful night's sleep only to disappear by morning, or why it can take three days to get a single page "right."
Writers Groups provide many things for the solitary writer (and all writers are solitary to certain extent: it is the nature of The Beast).
1) A Writers Group provides information to its members: markets changes, various resources, professional contacts, research opportunities, style sheets, editing tips, and so on. Writers come together to pool their knowledge and their resources to help one another be better writers.
2) As the primary work of writing is a solitary process, writers need to reconnect with an audience as their work reaches a critical stage. Writers Groups provide critical reading and feedback for their members. Mom or the spousal unit or your best friend might represent your audience demographic but they won't read your prose the way a professional editor would. A writer needs "first readers" who will help edit, polish, and even help problem solve a work-in-progress.
3) As there are emotional and psychological components to the writer's periods of working isolation, Writers Groups provide a support system of members who understand the nature of the "interior life," the unique demands of the writing profession, and the social isolation of the solitary process.
I was very fortunate to have taken my first professional steps via a superb writers group. Composed of members of the Kansas City Science Fiction & Fantasy Society (KACSFFS), it produced such writers as Robin Wayne Bailey, Bradley Denton, Rob Chilson, editor & publisher Ken Keller, and numerous others. Member Emeritus Robert Heinlein sent Christmas Cards to the group until his death in 1988. Attendees ranged from the experienced and talented to the newcomers taking their first toddling steps into a larger, more complex world. If you were ready, they challenged you; if you weren't, they nurtured you and encouraged you through the fragile becoming stage of the amateur artist.
Over the years since my departure from the Kansas City area, I have run across a variety of Writers Groups and chatted with members of others. Not all groups are created equal. I've heard of groups where the critiquing in destructive instead of constructive. I've attended groups where everyone liked everything that everyone else wrote: in a misguided attempt to be non-judgmental, they eliminated any opportunity to identify their mistakes and learn from them.
Obviously, in the realm of art, standards can be subjective and criticism is often perceptual. Different editors and different publishers serve different audiences. Different writers write differently. One man's meat is another man's tofu. We can't always be sure of the advice we are given, even when offered by professionals with the best of intentions. In the end, our stories are our own, and we have to figure out which voices to listen to when they don't all agree.
But I get nervous when there's a little too much agreement. I back up slowly when someone claims that there's only one way to do something. A good Writers Group will offer you a diversity of perspective, nurture its members without coddling them, and challenge everyone without stifling anyone.
Here are my current groups...
Kansas Writers Association
(KWA) meets monthly in Wichita and provides a wide assortment of programs
and presentations for a variety of markets and writing styles. In
addition to workshops and competitions, they sponsor "The Scene of the
Crime" and publish a blog and a monthly newsletter.
Kansas Authors Club (KAC)
covers the entire state of Kansas with Chapters located in 7 different
districts. Offering an annual yearbook and writing contests at the
state level, workshops, contests, and meetings at the district level,
there are many opportunities for groups at the local levels, as well.
|The Write Stuff - While the KWA and the KAC offer excellent resources and programs for a wide variety of writers, science fiction and fantasy writers often find that the unique aspects of their genre and markets require a little more specialization. The Wichita and Hutchinson areas actually have a number of F & SF fans (fen) and more than a couple of writers. We generally meet on the 2nd Saturday of each month for food, reading and critiquing, alternating between Hutchinson and Wichita--though we have a member from McPhearson, as well. We don't limit ourselves to F & SF--some of us are also writing horror, humor, mysteries, and mainstream thrillers but the main emphasis is on Fantasy & Science Fiction.||The Bull~pen is a loose confederation of online "first-readers" who provide feedback and critiquing of my early and middle drafts. In earlier incarnations this was accomplished via emailed documents and discussion via individual emails and my newsgroup. Now that my new site allows for a password-protected private area, manuscript selection, feedback, and reader conversations are better organized and contained.|
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