Since you’re reading this blog, you’ve already found Critique Circle. I’ve been a member for three and a half years, and love it. But this post isn’t about why CC is a great place for writers (though I do recommend it!)
In this age of improved technology, many writers naturally turn to the internet to find critique groups. The first time I showed my work-in-progress to anybody was in fact on CC but I’ve also been a member of a local, live writers’ group for about a year and a half. That’s where I get the sort of interaction you just can’t manage online.
We meet once a week. Not everybody comes to every meeting although many of us do. Recently I went through a two-month total lack of motivation precipitated by a series of life events. I skipped some meetings of my local group and was minimally active on CC. My local group keeps in touch through Yahoo! Groups and a couple members asked me when I was coming back. Well, I thought, if somebody wants to see me, I should go. My heart wasn’t fully in it at first but you know, I had a great time. We laughed our butts off and managed to critique all the works. One of the members, with whom I had previously discussed my difficulty with certain aspects of grammar, gave me a grammar book: this was completely unexpected.
That spontaneous interaction reminded me how alive I feel at meetings. It’s the whole package: we critique each other’s work, we bounce ideas off each other, we give pointers on using word processing programs or the internet right there on someone’s laptop, we share writing woes, we try out new coffee drinks, all live and instantaneous.
About the same time, I mentioned to my beta reader what a funk I was in and she said some wonderful, uplifting things. I realized that even though I need to be alone to write my novel, I don’t want to live unconnected. The pressure of weekly face-to-face meetings means I have to at least read and critique other people’s work, and occasionally submit my own. That keeps me well-grounded in the world of writing.
I also love the feeling of being connected to an old writers’ tradition. Writers have been getting together for regular meetings for probably as long as written language has existed. I think about J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and friends sitting together to discuss their works-in-progress. The modern coffeehouse makes a fine stand-in for an old English pub.
Much is made of the solitary life of the writer. I certainly find that solitude is necessary for me to get the words on the page –er, screen. But connecting, sharing, “face time”, is also necessary. I suppose you can get some of that through services like Skype, though I think that lacks a certain visceral quality you can only get from being able to look directly into someone’s eyes.
So I really encourage you to look around for a writers’ group in your area, if you aren’t already part of one. I find my live group complements the interaction I get on Critique Circle very nicely. On an internet site I can think over my critique and rearrange sentences to clarify my meaning before I press “send.” That’s great for deeper feedback. In a face-to-face meeting, I also get off-the-cuff reactions which are equally valuable since most readers decide to read your story or put it down based on their own off-the-cuff reactions. Plus, I think it’s easier to brainstorm live than having to wait for responses like you often do with online discussions.
Don’t have any live groups? Can’t find one that truly feels comfortable? Start one. I’m not generally a start-it kind of person but I can honestly say that if my current group ever gets to the point where I don’t get what I need, I will look into starting another.
If you are active in a local group, what is it you like best? What keeps you going back? What sorts of things might you like to change? If you’ve thought about joining one but decided not to, what made you decide that? Did you start with a live group and then join something online, or the other way? I love to find out how other writers do their thing.