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.
I never thought I would say this, but it really helps to belong. All of my life I’ve done things on my own, with little to no help from anyone. All of my choices in education and the funding thereof, has been of my choosing and from my pocket. Most major life decisions have also been solely mine–at least until I got married, but even then I still make most of the decisions and just clear it with my wife prior to execution. That has always been the way I am.
Part of “not being a team player” is what draws me to writing. The art and craft is a very isolated experience for the bulk of everything. When working on a story the only one to keep me company, the only one I have to work with are the very characters I create. The process of spilling them out takes hours upon hours of just me and my keyboard.
Once, I reached out to a local writer’s group, but they were all poets and mostly stay at home moms with nothing better to do with their time. Not to discredit their art, but their purpose was different from mine. I want to do this for a living and not as a way to kill time like needlepoint or puzzles. Hell, if I don’t do this sometimes it feels like I start to go crazy. I need to write.
The past 15 years I’ve virtually lived under a rock, honing my skills and teaching myself how to do what I love to do. Once or twice I searched for workshops or literary groups, in order to find a new avenue of learning or to touch base on where I was at. Needless to say, I still did it alone.
Two years ago, I discovered Genre conventions and the writing workshops that some of them provide. As is my course, I sought a few out in order to learn a little more, to get a status on my efforts. This allowed me to be introduced to Michigan authors, others who aspire as I do. These people are very serious about their craft. I was amazed.
Christine Purcell and Stewart Sternburg are very passionate (Stewart a bit animated too) about their art. They are also very willing to help anyone else who is passionate about their art. They recently invited me to join their writer’s group. Normally, I would be hesitant. As I said earlier, my past experiences have not been that positive. But this is definitely the exception. Having been through a writer’s workshop with these two individuals, I knew a little about what to expect. This helped me feel positive about reaching out from under my rock joining something.
So far, I’m very glad I did. Not only am I learning how to better edit my writing by editing other’s work and seeing how other’s edit, but I’m also learning from the mistakes all of us make and the other writers point out. Last night, Stewart gave a similar speech about characterization to the one he made at ConClave. Charles Zaglanis of Elder Signs Press made some very good points about word choice and characterization. Christine brought to the meeting some very interesting tidbits about changes in the industry. The newer members, whose names I’ve yet to learn, also offered very good input.
As part of this group, I will continue to learn and hone my craft in greater strides than by myself. It will also keep me to task working on my craft, as I need to get the critiques done in a timely manner and I also wish to have something of my own to contribute to the melee. It has been a long time since I’ve felt this positive about my dream. In of itself, that is enough reason to continue my membership in the group. As someone who battles depression every day, anything that I can add to my life which brings me joy and hope is a good thing.
So writers, you should search out a good writer’s group or form a group that is both positive and critical in a constructive manner, so that you may grow your craft, feel camaraderie from your fellow artisans, and grow in your art.