Last night was another wonderful Writer’s Group. We critiqued some well written stories and laughed at each other. Sadly, I missed the comment that turned Stephen’s face red and had his breath crippled with laughter. Still, watching Stewart’s reaction to the whole thing was worth it.
The camaraderie that comes with a Writer’s Group is essential to a craft that wiles away in the silence of isolation. It is also a needed tool for one to see the forest in the trees when it comes to the stories they are too close to for self-editing. The real benefit though is how it helps one better see those small things that add up to so much. I don’t catch everything the other authors can do to improve their story. Hearing the other writers in the group point out the mistakes or possible alternative routes in stories really opens my eyes to possibilities in my own.
Another aspect which we as a group are just beginning to breach upon, is the prospect of group assignments. Now I’m sure the genesis of such an idea comes partly from having a teacher amongst our ranks, but it is still interesting. For our next meeting all who choose to participate are going to write a 500-700 word story outside of their comfort zone–in a genre or style that is not their own. A few weeks back it was suggested to me in particular and also as a good idea for others to practice writing scenes by composing a three page scene without narrative. These are wonderful exercises and something I would fare to guess many writers never try. It’s as if once we are out of school we feel there are no more practices, no more lessons, and no more learning except directly on the job. Well, in art as in many other things, if you do not continue to grow then you die.
I’m sure we all share that fantasy about the great published author who never writes anything bad and hardly needs to edit what they do. Everything the published author creates is wonderful and a best seller. Well, from my limited experience with meeting New York Times bestselling authors, I’ve discovered they still write crap, they still have to practice the basics, and they are still learning. That is what the exercises will do, they will help us aspiring writers to practice the basics.
More and more, it just makes me happy I finally came out of my rock and joined a group.
As I continue my foray into the social side of writing, I am pleasantly surprised. You see, years ago I attempted to join a local writer’s group, but it was comprised of non-professional hobbiest writers. None came from any writing background or possessed any qualified training. Being that my only training was in the aspects of Technical writing during highschool, it didn’t bother me at the time. Needless to say, I derived no benefit from the group.
Now, the group I am with contains published authors, some of who actually studied writing in college, and two editors. Most members of the group provide very good impute when critiquing someone’s story. I for one have a uproarious time conversing with my peers. We send jabs back and forth, compliment and insult one another’s work, and learn from each other our chosen craft.
During our last meeting, I learned that I am a far better editor of other’s work than of my own. This is a somewhat common thing. To overcome this, I now need to read through my work as I do other people’s. You see, currently I edit as I go when I do a re-read, making changes as I work my way through a piece; while in contrast, I make notes and mark weak areas in someone else’s story so they can go back and decide on the proper change. That is obviously what I need to do for myself, read the whole piece, making notes as I go, and then after I’ve considered the theme and weak points go through and make changes.
Writer’s group win!
One thing I’ve noticed as I continue to work more and more on my craft, is the different things that jump out at me. When I first started writing, I only noticed some of the hooks and tropes that other writers used. Rarely did I find the humor in the venting of an editor; rather I learned from the mistakes they vented about.
Now, I still learn from editors and agents venting, but I also laugh and laugh at the things they say. Sometimes, I see myself in those mistakes and know that I too am guilty. Other times, it just amazes me at how daft, clueless, or egomaniacal writers can be. For example, I don’t care for Ann Rice’s style and choose not to read her. But not in a million years would I tell her editor that I “write ten times better than that overrated hack” and they should print me instead. Nor, would I preach from my soup box about the great conspiracy the large printing houses have against new writers as a way of endearing myself to a small house.
Once, I did address a letter to an agency as if I were sending it to a publishing house and even went as far to say that I looked forward to their acceptance to ‘publish’ my novel. The crass rejection letter I received was well deserved. Several rules were broken that showed my lack of professionalism. One, was the form letter I used to inquire with this agent–form letters should never be used when trying to impress someone. Second, I executed the act so halfheartedly, that I managed to send my publisher form letter to an agent rather than my agent form letter. Third, I didn’t bother to make sure I was even following their specific guidelines and proved I ignored such important detail by using a somewhat obvious form letter.
Some might say, that with the great mass of letters we need to mail and with the great number of form letters we are going to receive in response, that it is just fine to give the agent/editor back what little consideration they give us writers. These things I know to be falsehoods. The agent/editors I’ve been fortunate enough to meet face-to-face prove to me time and time again that they give full consideration to every letter they receive. They want unknown writers to succeed. Every successful writer they find or discover helps them earn money; while every lazy or unprofessional author that blames everyone else for their lack of preparation or professionalism only waists the agent/editor’s time.
I know there is a lot of disappointment out there and I definitely have my share of rejection letters. There is no room for making excuses when it comes to advancing toward one’s dream and honing one’s art. It does lighten the load when someone on the other side, one who must do all the rejecting, shares their frustrations and aggravations with us. It reminds us that we are all human and we are also all in this together. Yes, you might be tired of getting the form letter that says you’re not good enough yet, but agent/editors are also tired of getting romance queries when they ask for horror or told that the writer is the next Stephen King yet they can see half the words in the letter are misspelled.
I guess, what I am trying to say is that the deeper I dive into this world that is my craft, the more I see things differently. The more I see things differently, the more I understand that rejection letters are not rejection, but encouragement to get better and show them what the next Stephen King or Ann Rice can really do.