Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Writer's Groups Help Writers Grow Their Craft

Writer's Groups and Writer's Workshops

Writer's groups and writer's workshops help writers hone their craft. Talent is one thing, and to one degree or another, I believe most would-be writers have some talent, or they wouldn't want to write. Skill, however, is another thing entirely. Telling a good story involves more than just blurting it out on a page.

Before you start with a writer's group, you should at least have a good understanding of the language in which you are writing. If you are writing in English, you need to have a solid knowledge of grammar. Like a carpenter needs to have knowledge of tools, wood, plans, and the skill to use them, a writer must know spelling, grammar, plotting (even pantsers need to think through a plot when problems arise), more. 

For instance, I know what a circular saw is. I even know how to use it. But I don't know how to use it to build a house, cabinets, or fine furniture. Knowledge does not equal skill. The proper use of carpentry tools is not part of my skillset. My dad, who was a carpenter, could build a house from the ground. He could lay the foundation, frame it out, put up walls, install windows and doors, roof it, and then finish out the inside with plumbing fixtures and hand-built cabinets. More than a carpenter, he was a craftsman with wood and building materials. Dad could read and write. He could tell some of the best yarns told in Texas, but he was not a writer. He did not understand grammar. Nor did he want to. 


Grammar is a tool a good writer must have in his or her toolset, and skillset. Before trying to sell anything, I highly recommend either taking a grammar course or purchasing a good grammar book and working through it. The best grammar book I have found, with solid explanation and examples, is Easy Grammar Plus. The book has been used extensively by homeschool parent to teach their children grammar. It has the lesson, the assignment, and the answers so you can check your work to make sure you are understanding what you learn. To be honest, this book explained prepositions to me. Prepositions are a topic I never understood in school, but now I know what they are, how to identify them, and how to use them in my own writing.

Craft of Writing Books

Books on the writing craft are excellent helps, too. 

While you can learn your writing craft without a writer's group, the group will help you learn faster.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, states that mastery of a field takes about ten thousand hours of practice. In a Reddit article, Gladwell later explained that what he meant was "natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest."  My contention is that if a person desires to be a writer, truly desires it, the 10,000-hour rule will help. What this means is that every time you sit down to write, you are adding to your 10,000 hours of practice. 

Learning grammar counts toward your 10,000 hours. Learning to plot or plan story arcs goes toward your 10,000 hours. Rear in chair, fingers on keyboard, typing words in a story or book counts toward your 10,000 hours. Using a pen and pencil to write counts. And listening to critiques and suggestions from a good writer's group counts, too.

Want to be a writer? Write. Write more. Write even more. To learn something, you have to do it. So do it. 

Writer's Groups

Writer's groups can be wonderful. 

If you find the wrong group, they can also be destroying. You need a group that does not tear down a writer's work simply because it is better than that of other writers. You need a group that does not think they are better than everyone else. Haughtiness and pride have no place in a good writer's group. Not even a group of multi-published, well-known authors. If you find a group that makes you feel unworthy, foolish, stupid, or miserable with their comments and critiques, run. You don't owe them anything. You do, however, owe yourself the best chance to succeed. And the group you found is not it. Rather than build you up and help you learn your craft, they will tear you down until you quit. Again, run.

The group you want to find will require members to be kind. It will require members to leave politics, religion, and any other topic that will cause issues, at home. Members will be interested in learning to hone their own craft and help you hone your own. Sound too good to be true? It isn't. I was luck that the first writer's group I was involved with had strict rules for behavior. Anyone who could not or would not abide the rules was asked not to return, and they were not allowed to read if they did return. I lost access to my first writer's group when I moved too far away to attend the meetings.

These days, however, there are some excellent writer's groups online. Check out Facebook. Type writer's groups in the search box. A long list of groups will display. Most will be private and you will have to ask to join. Find one you like. I am a member of several, but since your writing genre, etc., may be different than mine, I won't recommend any specific group. Just remember that there are all kinds of groups. Some are kind. Some are not. I do recommend lurking for a while after you are accepted into the group. Introduce yourself, but then don't engage until you have spent some time reading comments and posts in the group. If they are not a group to your liking, leave the group. Before posting anything, though, be sure to read the rules. All groups have them. And some groups will expel you for a first offense against them, and not let you back in. These groups are usually some of the better ones. 

After being accepted and lurking a while, start posting. Be kind. Be courteous. Stay on topic, and remember the group rules. Don't flame anyone. Don't get into an argument or even a strong discussion. If you have strong feelings against something the group seems to consider okay, again you can leave the group. 

Last thoughts on online writers groups: Leave personal topics at home. For the most part, or at least until they know you better, your group will not care that you have a new kitten or puppy, or that your child got all A's on a report card. There are other groups for these posts. There are a few groups that encourage sharing personal content, but others that will not be happy with it. 

What Can You Learn from Writer's Groups and Workshops?

Pacing, structure, character development, dialogue, and more. How to write in such a way that your story is more immediate. The importance of inserting details into the text early on, rather than having your protagonist suddenly pulling out a weapon the reader never knew he or she had. How to write dialog that sounds normal when read. When to use, and not to use, contractions such as aren't and isn't. How to stay in point of view and avoid head-jumping, and so much more it would take days to list it all.

Find a good writer's group or train yourself with grammar books and writing craft books. Practice, practice, practice. That's the main ingredient to your writing success. Before self-publishing your books and stories, before searching for an agent, before submitting to traditional publishers, you must have a well-written manuscript.

Questions? Please add your questions and comments below.

Now go forth and practice! 

Until later,

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