I am fortunate to be a member of a small online writer’s group. We’re a bunch of unpublished but working on it romance writers who got together on the I Hearts Presents blog after last year’s competitions (rejected, every single one of us!) to form a group to support each other, commiserate over our rejections, celebrate our successes, and read and critique each others work, so we could learn and grow and help each other reach our goal of publication.
We’d all discovered that no matter how supportive friends and family are, most of them just don’t get it. They don’t understand why a rejection letter would have us in hysterics, and a revision letter for a friend would have us dancing around the room. They don’t have a clue what we are talking about when we muse aloud about a character’s past and how that might impact the black moment, and when we start talking about our hero and heroine like they are real people. There are some things no-one, apart from other writers, really understand.
So we got talking on I Hearts after the last contest, and someone suggested forming a Google group so we could keep on talking.
We’re not really called the Sisterhood, but we’ve become such good friends over the last 14 months, we call each other sisters. We support each other like sisters, not just in good times but in bad times; not just with our writing ups and downs but with all the crap the real world can throw at us too. We’ve been through pregnancy, sick kids and pets, unemployed husbands, money worries, aging parents, day jobs from hell, illnesses and bereavements, plus the utter awfulness sometimes of keeping on doing what we have to day after day after day when it feels like nothing we do can make the dream come any closer.
We chat and encourage and laugh and cry and make bad jokes and rude jokes. Sometimes we even talk about writing.
We bounce our ideas off each other before we even start to write. Would this be believeable if she did that, and is this enough reason for him to behave like that? Character interviews are great fun, and the answers to questions put to the character by the group (everything from favourite music to favourite sexual position) turn up some revealing information.
We post our writing, and get feedback from people who will not just say a meaningless “That’s wonderful,” like friends and family, but will actually tell us what doesn’t work, what needs to be stronger, and how we might make it so. We get to learn how to look critically at a piece of writing, how to recognise what is good and what needs fixing, and how to communicate that. This has taught me more than anything. When I get an insight into how a friend can improve her work, that’s a gift I can apply to my writing too.
We share our rejection letters, cry together over them, and sometimes some of us get to realise what they thought were rejection letters were actually revision letters. We’ve journeyed with Maisey through the revision process, seeing her shape and reshape her story to bring out all the potential her editor saw was there. We all got to dance and sing when she got her Call.
I am joyfully proud to be part of this group, proud that one of our group has just sold to Presents and another is now the Modern Heat winner for the Harlequin Writing competition. Maisey’s book, His Virgin Acquisition, to be released in August 2010, is amazing. Gill’s winning chapter, which will be posted soon on I Hearts is brilliant, a worthy winner.
I’m not saying the group made these things happen. Maisey and Gill are fabulous writers. They would have achieved success no matter what. But maybe the support and encouragement helped it happen sooner. Helped people keep going when things were tough and discouraging and it could have been tempting to give in. I know it’s helped me immensely. I hope and pray I’ll see good news for all the group members in the coming year, because each of these women is talented and deserving of success. I love every one of them.
What makes the sisterhood sacred and lifts it above the mundane is that we do truly love, encourage, and support each other. We mourn each others losses, we celebrate each others victories. We see the truth in each other, sometimes when the person themselves can’t see it.
The group is sacred because they keep me honest. When I am kidding myself about something, they tell me. When I think something I’ve written is good and it’s not, they tell me. When I think something I’ve written is bad, and it’s not, they tell me. When I’m having one of those days, weeks, months and all I want to do is to stop writing, shut down the blog, delete all my writing files, disappear off the forums, they stop me. No point doing it, they know where I am. They’ll track me down and make me write.
Groups like ours don’t work for everyone. Some writers prefer to have a single critique partner. Some prefer a larger group. Some know they work best alone. Everyone is different.
But for writers who feel in need of more support as they work to improve their writing, the option of setting up a similar group or finding a writing buddy is open to anyone. This links to a post I wrote last year about finding a writing group or buddy. There are more suggestions in the comments there.
Some key things to bear in mind-
- Treat it like dating, with a trial period of “getting to know you” first. Make sure everyone has the same expectations- how much social chat is there going to be, how much writing talk? How many times are you going to meet? How often will you give each other work to read, and how soon should a critique be given? How will you deal with things if it doesn’t work out?
- Make sure that your CP understands and is sympathetic to the line you are targeting. Ideally a writer targeting the same line, at least someone who has read it widely and recently, and who enjoys it. You don’t want to someone constantly wanting you to take out the sex, put in more sex: change your hero to be more Alpha or less Alpha; cut the vampire out of your paranormal because everyone knows vampires don’t really exist, put a vampire into your Sweet Romance because vamps are hot right now; or whatever suits their particular bias.
- Be clear on what you want from a critique and that you both understand that. You don’t want a CP just picking you up on a spelling mistake when you want to know if the hero’s motivation works; you might not want her telling you the hero’s motivation doesn’t work if all you wanted was a last minute typo check. Last minute typo checks are good, but not the best use of a CP, in my opinion!
- Understand that not everyone knows how to give good critique. Ms Nice Girl will just give bland feedback, because she doesn’t want to cause offense, everything is “Fine” or “Nice” or “I enjoyed it”. Ms Nasty has watched Simon Cowell too much and thinks critique means ripping everything to shreds, with no positives at all. Good critique is balanced. It recognises what strengths are there, and builds from them. If there are things that in the reader’s opinion could be strengthened it says so, with some suggestions for improvement. Not “write it like this” suggestions, changing the wording, but things like “would it work better if he did that there?” Or just stating how it was for you and leaving it for the writer to bounce her own answers off you- “I wasn’t clear why he did that there.” Sometimes Ms Nice and Ms Nasty can be coaxed to give better critique by asking them open ended questions. “What were three things you liked about my hero? And what were three things I could have changed?”
- Know that sometimes people don’t know how to recieve critique. Sometimes even a considered balanced critique isn’t what someone wants to hear. Ms Nice often wants to hear just the same in return. This makes it difficult to get any benefit from her as a CP, or to help her improve her writing in return.
- Even the best critique in the world might not be right for your writing. Sometimes a CP will make a suggestion and you instinctively know that’s not right, your character wouldn’t do that, whatever. That’s good! You don’t have to take the CPs advice. and you just learned something about your character. A good CP will accept that you won’t always follow through on everything they suggest.
- Be ready for the reality that not everyone in a group or partnership will develop at the same rate or find their place at the same time. How will you deal with it if you get published when your critique partner is still struggling? How will you manage if your CP gets her Call and it feels like you are being left behind?
It’s not the answer for everyone, and nothing replaces writing as the best of all ways to learn. Groups or partnerships can also be time consuming, eating into our writing time. Only you can decide if this is what works for you. I know it does for me.
For anyone looking for a group, SK started something over at I Heart Presents. There’s now a thread there listing new critique groups, including a group that is open to any romance writer- Romance Angels Network