A writers’ group or professional organisation can help develop confidence
Writing can be an isolating endeavour. It’s rarely collaborative – at least in the early stages, when you’re drawing out ideas into coherent stories. Time dissolves as you struggle over phrases, finding the right words. Characters sometimes behave, sometimes they don’t; and manuscripts can be put to one side, at least for a while, until you figure out what to do with that collection of letters on the page. But when you’re in the midst of it – when the story flows, the characters work and the setting is engaging to create – you can disappear into the pages. Nothing outside the room matters, time is irrelevant. Food, drink and sleep are no longer required. You’re alone but not lonely, as you live in the world you create.
One step I’ve found invaluable in writing is meeting with other writers, and the atmosphere at writing groups, professional organisations and workshops has been supportive, warm and encouraging. Most published writers take the view that whatever is good for one writer is good for the industry as a whole; and aspiring and emerging authors should be nurtured. Established writers are mostly happy to talk about their experiences, and to help guide the newbies.
I’m also part of a writing group that meets monthly. I live in a regional area where there were no groups for writers of children’s and YA books, so travelled three hours return to a group in a major city. The group’s facilitator suggested I contact a statewide writers’ organisation, and one free magazine ad later we had enough interest to form a group in my region. The numbers vary, but there’s a core group of committed writers who look out for opportunities for one another, encourage each other, chat about experiences, and talk about our work. And if you’re stuck with a story or plot point and feel like you’re going nowhere it helps to know you’re not the only one.
Lately I’ve been extremely lucky to have three separate pieces of work critiqued – one through the writing group, and two as part of my university studies; including one by a writing group colleague studying the same subject. I took part in several critiques at the previous writing group, and one of my study units this semester involved a high level of giving and receiving feedback.
The online feedback experience of my course was completely different to face-to-face feedback. It’s harder to convey tone online; there was no opportunity to ask the author clarifying questions; and non-constructive feedback along the lines of “I don’t like this” without explaining why was not as helpful as “I didn’t believe the character would do this because...” or “the transitions to the flashbacks were unclear”. Feedback that is constructive and respectful is extremely helpful. In my experience, most people have taken part with this attitude, and the writer has come away happy with a better understanding of his or her work.
Critiques help writers gain confidence in their work by praising strong elements; and also by finding plot holes; helping to determine if readers pick up intended ambiguities or find unintended ones; picking up factual errors; bringing more complexity to characters; removing unneeded characters; and a range of other problems that can be hard to miss when you’re enveloped in the writing process or have redrafted several times – and which you don’t want a potential publisher to find.
With a few exceptions, the process has been positive, constructive and uplifting, and it’s great to hear to reactions of those reading the story with fresh eyes.
How to find a writing group:
Check with your state-based or national organisation for writers
Ask at local libraries or bookstores
Search the internet – there are some groups that operate online; ideal if you’re geographically isolated
If you can’t find one, start one!