Hat-tip the Big Green Bookshop Writing Group
Company. Writing is often lonely, and non-writers don’t always understand. Attending a group gives the sense of shared endeavor , a place to vent your frustrations, and a place to share little triumphs that non-writers may not get. It should be enjoyable!
Welcome. People are interested in you and what you are reading and writing. They explain the rules, introduce themselves by name and try to remember yours. They make it clear that socialising afterwards is open to all.
Generosity of spirit. Good groups are open to new people, new ideas, and new approaches. Your personal goals are respected. They applaud your successes and mourn your disappointments. They encourage you back on the horse. In time, individuals offer to read your novel in draft, they sometimes drop you a line suggesting a helpful blogpost.
A safe space. They accept who you are and where you come from, and within any publicly stated terms of reference, support you in terms of what you want to read. They have clear rules on what is appropriate to share when. If you are wanting to read sexual violence, torture, etc, ask the facilitator first beforehand. I can close my eyes in the cinema, and mute the sound on TV. I can put down a book which goes darkly violent. In a reading, you can’t moderate the material.
Some group discipline. There is clear facilitating AND the group understands the boundaries. Quieter voices are heard, discussion is focused but not military, friendly but not meandering.
It’s kind about how things are said, but honest about what is said.
Critical skills. A good group encourages you to read and listen to other people’s stuff and develop your own critical abilities. It is often easier to see and understand strengths and weaknesses in other people’s work, before realising the relevance to yourself. It should encourage you to learn from reading published work.
Both valid and invalid criticism! Hearing criticism of your work is hard to take. Being a writer will mean criticism before, during and after the publication process. (If you didn’t like reading to a group, oh boy, wait until you get edited!) I strongly believe you need not to defend the work line by line, you need to learn the art of taking in the comments, processing them, and deciding if they are valid/helpful. Anyone who cannot take in criticism and learn what to do with it, won’t progress as a writer. You need elephant ears but a rhino hide.
Focused feedback. Criticism should be primarily about the craft of the work – factual accuracy should be flagged briefly for the author to check outside the meeting. Don’t suggest making the main character a vampire or writing it in iambic pentameter, unless the author clearly signalled they wanted radical suggestions.
Accountability. A good group encourages you to keep writing, it will understand those periods when you are blocked or unhappy, but it will kindly push you in the right way. Not every writer improves with practice, but no writer can improve without it.
A quest for competence. The group share news about where you can hear industry professionals speak, they try to get that writer or that agent to come to a meeting. They share what courses and books did for them. They understand you can read too much advice and not do enough writing.
A mix of knowledge. For Our Child of the Stars, I got to try out early chapters on men and women, on British people and Americans, on parents and non-parents, on people who have been in love with science fiction forever, and people who avoid it.
The thirteen point is perhaps a good method. That’s a contentious matter for another post.