I’m a planner all the way and what helps me be a planner is my writing group. We’ve been in existence for over ten years, and we call ourselves the Rainwriters, because when we were first forming, it rained for every single meeting. There are seven of us, never any more.
I think I’m just an average writer, but with the help of this group, I become a little above average. My work reflects six minds, not just one. I know some people do not do well in groups, but I couldn’t live without the Rainwriters.
First of all, I feel that I have to turn in something at every meeting. That pressure puts my butt in the chair and makes me start typing. I go over and over my submissions to the group, but they inevitably find things I missed. Like motivations that don’t work, like descriptions that are given little attention, like too many characters in the opening and so on.
Of course, I don’t take every suggestion. But when three out of the six commenting on my paper say that something doesn’t work – then it doesn’t work.
Another advantage of our group is the variety of opinions. One man never misses a wrong spelling or the mistaken use of a word. Another man sees the big picture, but doesn’t do any line editing. A woman calls attention to my lack of using the five senses in describing a scene.
Some people do well meeting with a friend in a coffee shop, others get feedback from a few trusted friends. But I think everyone needs feedback. Try as we might, we can’t see it all.
“Some people come to writers’ meetings for cheap entertainment.” You’ve heard that expression, I’m sure and sadly it’s true. So we are very careful about who comes into our group. Even though several people have asked to join, we decide on new members, not by their place on the waiting list, but by who’s good for the group. And then we have a ‘three meeting’ trial period, in which we evaluate the newcomer and they evaluate us.
Some go to writers’ groups and find they are just social groups, with very little attention given to writing. We are on the other end of that spectrum. While we are friendly to all the members of the Rainwriters, our meetings are business meetings. They start on time and end on time – two hours, no more.
Our procedure is this:
We hand out printed copies of our manuscripts at the previous meeting or leave them in dropbox for the others in the group to get. If we leave them in dropbox, we have to send a message that our next manuscript is there.
We don’t read at the meetings, unless someone has something that has to be edited right away. We do our editing in the quiet of our rooms at home. At the meeting one of us assumes the chairperson role and we start through the manuscripts. Figure it out –
120 minutes = our meeting, 2 hours
3 minutes – each writer is allowed to comment on another writer’s work
18 minutes – the total time each writer has to comment on others’ work
126 minutes – If all 7 of us used our full three minutes, that’s how long our meeting would be.
We start with one manuscript and go around the room. One member brings a little timer that sounds a bell after three minutes. When a person’s story is being discussed, that person is not supposed to argue back. The proper etiquette is to thank the other members and take or ignore the advice.
You might call this a free editing process, which it is. I don’t remember the actual quote but Jean Auel talking about writing a half million words before she joined a writers’ group. After that, her writing blossomed.
Do you belong to a writers’ group? Does it help you? How do you get feedback on your writing?
Ed Griffin teaches creative writing in the community and in a federal prison. He is passionate about prison reform, the subject of his other blog, Prison Uncensored. http://prisonuncensored.wordpress.com/
Find Ed online at
Personal Blog http://edgriffin.net/
Writer’s Write Daily Blog http://writerswritedaily.wordpress.com/
Prison Uncensored Blog http://prisonuncensored.wordpress.com/