Wednesday, April 01, 2009

With Support

(X-Posted from the Tri Mu Blog.)

Last week I leaned on the group hard.

As a whole, I believe in writing a first draft in a void. I like getting the story all on paper fast, and then going back and seeing what I have later (and fixing the massive issues that are likely to be there.) But, recently I’ve been stuck in a never ending scene. When I started writing the scene, I loved it. Then somewhere I lost hold of the scene and it spiraled out of control. I knew where it had to go, but the characters weren’t doing what I wanted—or anything productive, for that matter—and I was getting bogged down. My instinct in such a situation is to briefly summarize what needs to happen in the scene and move on. Doing so surely would have been better for my wordcount, but this particular scene was the first major turning point, and while the core of my story is planned out, many points hinged on how I handled this scene. So, I did something I’ve never done before—I sent 1k of the raw first draft to my fellow Tri Mus to get their take on it. My hope was that they could look through the mess of writing to help me figure out where the scene was falling apart. After a flurry of discussion, they helped me pinpoint where (and to whom) changes needed to be made, and (though not suddenly—I only wish that were true) the scene began to work once again. Oh I still struggled with it, but the scene did not fight back quite so hard.

There are lots of opinions out there about writer/critique groups. Critique partnership is a very special kind of relationship. Many people prefer to work with near strangers as there is a certain amount of detachment needed to evaluate a work honestly. Some people have trouble working with strangers as they have no idea how their critique will be received or they receive critiques they do not know how to take/interpret. There is sometimes a fear of critique partners eradicating a writer’s voice. I have heard of groups being torn a part by cruel critiques which make the writer feel stupid and give up hope. Or, in the reverse, groups turning stagnant because of too much ego stroking and not enough honest criticism.

The Modern Myth Makers started as strangers with a common goal, and grew to be friends through our writing. I think that we are, first and foremost, a group of writers gathered to support each other. When one member is procrastinating, we encourage her to write (or maybe we just badger her.) Blocked or stuck? We sit around as a think tank, talking it out. Having one of those “I suck and nothing I write should ever be seen by anyone with half a brain” days? We offer reassurances and an ego stroke. Sometimes the support needed is for the group to point out the big glaring logic jumps in a WIP that we might have been ignoring, or to give each other the hard truth during critique, and we do that too. This weekend what I needed was to sit down and talk out what was in my head (verse what was on my page) with people who had ‘fresh eyes’ as I had been staring at the words far too long.

It’s not easy to find a writing group, and it isn’t what everyone needs (either at this point in their writing journey, or possibly ever,) but if you feel like you need fresh eyes to take your writing on to the next level, I highly suggest looking for a critique partner/group. Not every fit will be perfect. I tried a couple groups, some in person, some online, and partnered with a couple other writers before the Tri Mu was formed. For various reasons, none of the first groups/partnerships worked out for me (though I made some wonderful writer friends during that time.) If you’ve read our history, you know the Tri Mu formed after several of us met during NaNoWriMo. So, if you are interested in finding a critique group, or just forming a support group of writers, go out and look for writers in your area. Or look online. Don’t be afraid to set up ‘tester’ type relationships, and don’t feel bad about backing out if it doesn’t work for you (but also don’t feel bad if your test CP backs out.) Take a chance. A little extra support is nice.

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