Should you join a writing group?

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I’ve been a member of my current writing group for 4 1/2 years now. I say current because I tried another couple of groups that didn’t work out. I’ve almost pulled out of this group too, but now I believe that sticking with it is one of the best things I’ve done for my writing.

Which group is right for you?

There are many kinds of writing groups and you’ll need to consider which one suits you best. Are you looking for a group:

  • that critiques, providing constructive feedback for existing work
  • that takes you through writing exercises aimed at improving your craft
  • that cheers you on, offering mutual encouragement
  • is in-person, online or offers both options
  • where you share a space with other writers and work on your own pieces simultaneously
  • that’s casual or requires consistent attendance?

I’ve joined the first kind of group through my local writers’ centre because I wanted to improve my manuscript. Members are serious about getting published—and some of us have been. We meet weekly with each person reading out 2k words for which we receive feedback. Many of us find the act of reading out loud a good starting point because we often hear our own mistakes first. People seem to have their strengths and together we make a formidable team even though our genres are diverse, including historical fiction, chick lit, crime and science fiction. One person tends to comment on structure, another grammar and voice, another character development or story line and so on.

What are the benefits of joining a writing group?

  1. Critique and/or support – When you find a good group you get free critiquing or support that would otherwise cost 3 cents per word and upwards. It’s not quite like having your own editor, but it’s the next best thing. In some ways it’s better because of the diversity of opinion you receive.
  2. Motivation – Some members in my group find the weekly commitment of 2k words a strong motivator, saying they might otherwise struggle to commit writing time.
  3. Support – A couple of times I’ve reached out to members when I’ve hit lows. They’ve reminded me that my story is strong, important and worth the effort. Recently they told me enough finessing, it’s time to finish my manuscript and put it out there. In short, they’ve bolstered me and given me perspective when I’ve most needed it.
  4. Being with fellow writers – As much as your friends or family might think it’s great (or not) that you write, no one can understand your writing glories and struggles like fellow writers. Writing is an otherwise solitary act so it’s great to share.
  5. Brainstorming – Sometimes members get stuck and we brainstorm ideas. The ending of my book wasn’t quite right, but now it’s formidable thanks to one member’s suggestion. Others have changed point of view or added in magical realism elements to overcome challenges. More heads can be better than one.

What are any negatives of joining a writing group?

  1. Lack of safety – In one group I joined, a member turned vicious if she didn’t like your work. Unfortunately, others copied her negative tone. I was once lampooned an entire season for having a prologue. This kind of experience is destructive. Avoid. Writing is exposition of your deepest self. The critiquing environment must be safe and encourage constructive, dissuading destructive participation. There are always positives.
  2. Poor organisation and leadership – There must be agreed and enforced rules for writing groups to be effective and rewarding. For example, for long prose groups, a quorum who attend regularly is critical. Other questions to ask are does your organiser take into account others’ views on potential new members? Are they a good time manager keeping members within their allotment? And are they willing to reign people in if they step out of bounds or remove members who don’t fit in?
  3. Wrong genre – Are you a short story writer but you’re in a long story group? Do you need a group of fellow biographers but you’re in a fiction group? Do you write science fiction but you’re in a romance group and they don’t get concepts such as world building? Make sure you know what you need and search for the appropriate group or you’ll risk feeling alienated and disheartened.
  4. Group mentality – Even in the best of groups, people can get carried away. I recall my group telling me they didn’t care about my main character. Whoa! I got the point, which was valid and important, but I didn’t need to have it repeated for half an hour. You may need to firmly but gently steer your fellow writers back towards their more diplomatic, positive selves.

How to find the right group for you

There are many options, including:

  • Online groups where you trade feedback. These can be genre specific
  • Writer’s centres in your area or state that offer many kinds of groups
  • MeetUp
  • Start your own group, perhaps finding members through your local library, your existing network, at writers’ festivals or even Gumtree.

Trust your judgement. If a group doesn’t feel right, then it’s not for you.

Above all, be open, but also listen to yourself.

 

Finding [Making] Time to Write

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I’ve recently started a small business. I’m also managing the planning process for a house renovation and am undertaking a technical two-year course sandwiched into nine months. To top it off, I’ve set myself a 3-month deadline to finish the final edit of my novel, Gunfire Lullabies, because ENOUGH NOW (time to move on)! In short, I’m extremely busy.

Guess what’s fallen by the wayside these last two months? Was it study or the renovation? No. Was it my novel? Yes! Yet not writing much was causing me stress to the point I was getting physical symptoms. Studies show that when people and animals lose control of their lives, this is the most stressful situation they can be in. I was caught in a vicious cycle of stress making me less productive, which resulted in even less time for my writing.

What to do about this? Make a plan, I thought, even though I’m not good at sticking to them. But writing is extremely important to me so I decided I’d commit. Here are my tips on how to make time to write:

  1. Prioritise – Are you trying to achieve too much? List your key annual goals and number them from most to least important. If writing is high on your list, move other tasks down the list. If it isn’t as important as you thought, accept that. Perhaps now isn’t the right time. This way you take the stress out of trying to do it all. I’ve decided to go slower on the social media side of my business, setting a strict time allowance for each session and limiting it to every second day. It’s working!
  2. Commit time – For me it’s critical that I write for my sanity, creativity, happiness, self-worth, health, wellbeing, identity and more. So I’ve committed to writing for at least one hour, six days per week before I work, study, do chores and so on. I also schedule my writing time, and just like any other appointment, I don’t let myself down any more than I would my best friend or doctor. Interestingly, I find that I pack much more into my writing time than I once did. By following through on my commitment to myself, I also feel I’m telling the world I’m serious about writing. What can you commit to? How serious are you?
  3. Be realistic – But don’t make unrealistic plans. If two hours per day is untenable, but regardless you’re determined to do it, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Plan instead to write for an hour or thirty minutes. Smaller, regular writing sessions are better than no writing sessions! Could you get up an hour earlier four weekday mornings, spend half an hour of your lunch time writing, write before bedtime, write on the train to work or devote every Saturday morning to writing? Be creative and find what works for you without adding more stress into your life. And stick to it! Remember, this is about regaining control and writing more.
  4. Unplug – When you make time to write, ensure you don’t fritter it away by ‘just checking that important email’ or ‘taking this phone call’. I’ve gone hardline and turn everything off while I write. Mobile phones have Do Not Disturb options and there are apps for computers that turn off email and so on. Maximise your productivity during your writing time by focusing. It feels great when you achieve this.
  5. Clear your mind – Turn off the TV and go for a walk in a park, do yoga or pranayama, meditate (there are some great free apps), exercise or use an app like these to calm the mind. When we’re in a state of stress, we don’t breathe properly, meaning our brain is deprived of oxygen and can’t function optimally. When we’re calm, the opposite is true. It may sound counterintuitive, but by finding the time to achieve calm you’ll gain greater control and be more productive during your precious writing time (as well as in all other areas of your life).

All the best. You CAN do it (if you want to badly enough).

 

Rejection

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You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.
Ray Bradbury

Rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.
Bo Bennett  

Perhaps you’ve sought these out, what you once thought of as author platitudes, but after receiving another rejection letter or email, discovered they have the ability to bring you comfort. They’re no longer feel-good trite, but ropes you can grab onto to pull yourself out of the deep hole of self-doubt, anger, pity, frustration and disappointment you’ve descended into.

Why is rejection so hard?

Rejection is difficult because it feels personal—that our our whole self is being rejected rather than the piece or manuscript we’ve submitted. It’s not just our writing, but our heart and soul and dreams and talents and abilities that have been rejected. It hurts.

But this isn’t the case. Really, it’s our writing that’s been rejected, and specifically just that piece.

I usually let myself sulk (aka grieve) for up to 24 hours before I get back to business, pushing aside the emotions and taking a good, hard, clinical look at my work to assess whether I can fix it or need to move on to the next piece.

It might also worth asking why we feel our entire self has been rejected. Dig deep. Could there some underlying self-esteem gap that needs attention? If you truly want to write, you’ll continue to write despite your confidence or what others think. You’ll do it because you have to. See this piece on Defining (Writing) Success—perhaps you need to redefine what it is for you?

A side note: There are editors and agents out there who feel they have the right to stick the knife in your back and turn and turn it around. You’ll recognise it if you come across it. Ignore this kind of destructive feedback—which is about them and not your work—taking on the constructive comments only. Publishing is, to a considerable extent, a subjective industry. Agents and publishers have power over you right now, but they aren’t gods.

How to deal with rejection: Accept Learn Progress

  • Accept—If people weren’t willing to fail, new territory would not be traversed and creativity would cease to exist. Accept that rejection is an intrinsic part of learning and progressing. Some people wear it like a badge, and I can understand why, although you don’t want that to become your identity either. Also, remind yourself that to be rejected you created something whole. How many people can claim that?
  • LearnSeek feedback, whether you attend a writing group, call the agent or editor who rejected your work to get some feedback (yes, sometimes they will talk to you), do a free course, read a good how-to-write book, get a MS assessment done, or hire an editor or mentor. In other words, once you’ve licked your wounds, open yourself up again. You deserve it.
  • Progress—Put what you’ve learned into practice. And I mean practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter if it takes you three manuscripts or fifty poems or twenty short stories or ten years to get to where you want to be with your writing. Just do it.

Most important of all is NEVER GIVE UP. Don’t let the doubters—be they internal or external—win.

Why creatives need down time

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It took me a long time to work out that down time isn’t wasting time, rather it’s an essential practice to creativity. I had such a protestant work ethic in me it felt lazy taking time out from writing. But I eventually realised that having a break by walking or doodling or reading or cooking refreshed me. When I returned to writing my problems were solved, my words flowed into art and I made other breakthroughs.

Science confirms that taking a break by napping, meditating or walking in nature increases productivity, replenishes attention, solidifies memories and encourages creativity.

Professor Lajos Székely talks about the creative pause ‘…when the thinker interrupts conscious preoccupation with an unsolved problem, and ends when the solution to the problem unexpectedly appears in consciousness’. And I love this quote from Ferris Jabr saying ‘Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during down time’.

When you consider the apparently 18 things that highly creative people do differently, it confirms that down time is indeed fundamental to creativity.

Highly creative people daydream, observe everything, work the hours that work for them, take time for solitude, turn adversity into advantage, seek out new experiences, fail up (rather than taking it personally they use it constructively), ask the big questions, watch people, take risks, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, follow their true passions, get out of their own heads, lose track of time, surround themselves with beauty, connect the dots (finding vision), constantly shake things up and make time for mindfulness.

But down time can’t be spent just any way. In the digital era we’ve become addicted to the distractions of google, email, social media, TV and so on. Being distracted is easy because it stops us from thinking or feeling anything challenging. Yet sometimes this is exactly the place where growth and problem-solving occurs. If you hate being bored like I do, the reality is that it gives space for the mind to wander, which is where creativity can happen.

Here are some ideas about how to build down time into your life to expand your creativity:

  1. Create sacred space that’s technology free. If you go for a walk, don’t take your phone. Allow your mind to wander, feel the breeze on your face, smell nature, listen to the sounds around you, look at the people’s faces. Use it to connect with what’s around you.
  2. Schedule down time where you allow your thoughts to roam free. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way advocates going on a regular artist date with yourself, where for say two hours a week you commit time to ‘nurturing your creative consciousness’. She says it’s like spending quality time with or pampering your artist self. Take them to an art gallery or the zoo, wherever they tell you they need to go.
  3. Meditate. The practice of observing yourself and allowing thoughts to come through you without attachment or engagement allows things to come up in a safe way. Meditation promotes focus, calmness, clarity and insight.
  4. Listen to and trust yourself. If you feel you need a break, don’t chastise yourself for being lazy. Listen to yourself and trust that your mind knows when it needs down time. Creativity happens in mysterious ways.