You should be scared to hear this, but I’ve begun dabbling in the world of stop-motion animation. Even worse: low-quality, half-assed, on-my-iPhone stop-motion animation. What does this mean? This means that I wait for my toddler to take a nap and then I frantically begin playing with his stuffed animals in peculiar positions.
But wait. I should connect this to writing somehow. Otherwise Therese will regret ever letting me onto this fabulous site… Hmm… How about this: let’s use these stuffed animals to talk about writing groups…
I’ve been in plenty of writing groups over the years. I’ve also spent a lot of timing thinking about what makes a good group and what makes a not-so-good group. Here is my brief assessment:
Just to elaborate on what my goofy video tried to illustrate with caterpillars and teddy bears and crocodiles, I think it boils down to two things:
- understanding what you need at this point in your writing life
- your rapport with the others in this existing (or potential) group
When you understand what you need most, then you can structure the right sort of group. For instance, sometimes I need something as simple as a venue for me to read my neurotic prose aloud. Other times, I’m looking for a group that will look at entire novel drafts. You can’t always structure the perfect group, but I think you should at least approach a group knowing how in-line it is with your needs. Right now, my writing group is experimenting with an open-ended format where each writer has a time-slot that he or she can use however they want. This is great because it accounts for all kinds of needs, but it is risky because you need to ensure that there are ground rules that work for everyone. (For instance, you don’t want people submitting 20 pages of their work the night before the meeting.)
You also need to think carefully about the players involved in this group. The wrong person can sap the energy of the group, corrupt an otherwise productive discussion, or worst off all, leave you less motivated with your writing projects. It is key to find the right people that can support each other. But it is more than just support – ideally you want pointed and honest critiquers, writers who push you when you need a little pushing.
There also times when it is valuable not to be in a writing group at all. I know that there are months when I need to be away from all other outside voices. For instance, I prefer to work through much of the first draft material unencumbered by critiquers.
What do you think? Does this seem like more than just a vehicle for me to test out my crude animation techniques?
I’d love to hear your take on writing groups. Anyone want to share their experiences (good & bad!) with writing groups?