Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Groups’ Category

What are the Top 3 Lessons You Can Learn from Other Authors?

In Critique Groups, Critique Partners, Writing Advice, Writing Groups, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on May 31, 2021 at 11:00 am

Writers often work in solitude, but there are those times when community is great, just like for duckling families. Critique partners and group offer invaluable benefits for the mostly lone writer.

Writers work in solitude even if they do write-ins, because once they enter the story, the world falls away.

But they also likely need community—that can come from those write-ins where you meet for coffee or the like, chat a bit and start writing, as well as writing groups to critique each other’s work and writing conferences to learn about the craft.

I’ve been involved in all three and learned three important lessons from being around other writers.

First is Vision

I cannot work in a bubble.

I need others to point out where my writing gets muddy, my characters fall flat, my plot goes sideways or my pacing is s-l-o-w. I can revise and revise again, but there are things I miss because I’m too close to my work.

For that reason, I like working with a critique partner, where we trade work, or a writing group to get feedback on what’s not working in my manuscript. A partner or group can offer suggestions on how to fix the issues and ideas for making the story or characters even better—things I didn’t consider as I drafted my story.

I then like hiring an editor, either at the developmental or copy editing level, to get that professional line-by-line view of my work—editors are paid to pay attention to every nuance of a manuscript to help get it polished and ready for publication.

Second is Mission

I cannot work without motivation.

Writing is hard work, and it takes discipline. If I didn’t have a writing community to encourage me to keep going, I may take longer timeouts from disappointments. If I have to self-talk to pick myself back up, my thoughts might go circular, whereas a friend will tell me, “Don’t give up. I know you don’t want to. You’re a writer.”

For instance, wanting to be traditionally published means I face rejections from literary agents who immediately say no, or they ask for a partial or the full manuscript, then say no.

Being able to share that rejection conundrum and find that I’m not alone helps me keep going.

Third is Story

I cannot work without inspiration.

I find the successes of other writers who self-publish or get traditionally published a push for me to keep working toward my own successes: if they can do it, so can I.

With time, persistence and patience, writers can achieve their goals. If they don’t right away, they keep trying—failing is giving up, but stopping something and moving to something else is not failing.

Many times I’ve wanted to give up, but then, as a friend asked, how would you feel without writing? I can’t answer that question, because I’d feel empty.

Writing is what inspires me. It’s my mission statement. It’s my vision for being CEO of Writing, while Zoey, my miniature dachshund, is the CEO of Cuteness.

How Writing Groups Improve Writing (and make it fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Groups, Writing Motivation on July 22, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Birthday(WithSarah)2 04-2016

Shelley Widhalm’s write-in group gets together once a week to write, but also celebrates birthdays to add fun to the writing venture.

A big part of writing discipline is showing up. You already may have picked a favorite spot and best time of day for optimal energy.

Accountability can add to that discipline, while also making it fun, both from setting up a date and time to meet but also wanting to have some work to show at that meeting.

Writers gather in four typical ways: writing groups to critique each other’s work, write-ins to work on individual projects at a set time, writing planning or accountability groups to check on each member’s progress on writing plans and projects, and writing partners to share the experience of writing.

I’ve belonged to all four types and find that each has its benefits.

Right now, I’m part of a planning group that meets monthly, and we talk about our accomplishments, what we’re working on, what we plan to work on over the next month and any obstacles we face.

The few times I didn’t make much progress on my novel revision, I realized I wanted to return to the next meeting with something to report. I also saw that at each meeting, which began in late 2017, I had the same excuse: not enough time or energy for writing and too many time wasters keeping me from it.

Takeaways for writing accountability groups:

  • Have writing goals to give you something to move toward, but don’t make them unreasonable. Remember you can try again tomorrow.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments, even if they seem small to you. (I kept up with my daily poem challenge, worked on my novel revision and wrote a short story.)
  • Look at what you’re achieving versus what you’re not achieving, while having compassion for yourself.

I also am a member of a weekly write-in that I joined two years ago. Currently, we have three members, and we meet at a local coffee shop and work on our personal writing projects. We talk for a little bit about our work and writing lives and do a couple of social things, such as going out for each other’s birthdays, and then focus on writing.

I’ve also met one-on-one with other writers and like the experience of sharing a writing table and find the experience to be similar but in a smaller format.

Takeaways for write-in groups (or one-on-one meetings):

  • Work on your personal writing projects, not work, because then you did not set the boundary with work and gift yourself with that time.
  • Realize that showing up for writing for two hours a week (or whatever you choose) adds to an accumulation of words and material over several months. You make progress toward your goal.

I’ve also belonged to several writing critique groups, which have varied in format. We either exchange a section of our work ahead of time and bring our revision suggestions to the meeting or revise on the spot. We then discuss our suggestions, going around the table for each critique.

Takeaways for writing critique groups:

  • You can get a variety of perspectives on what you’ve written, since each writer will notice different things.
  • You get a better understanding of what works and doesn’t work, both at the sentence level and at the level of the overall story structure or in the storytelling.
  • With the help of other writers, you can identify weak areas in plot and character development that you may not notice, as well as problems with pacing, setting, logistics or dialog.
  • If you choose to read the work aloud, you can notice grammar mistakes and missing words that you might not notice with silent reading.
  • You improve editing skills by observing how other writers’ edited each other’s work and also by doing the editing, because practice leads to skill improvement.
  • You can brainstorm plot or other elements within your story to help improve your writing.
  • You can deepen your knowledge of writing and writing techniques, because each writer has a different understanding of and experiences with the same writing concepts.

With all of these groups, I’ve worked hard to keep to a writing schedule, wanting a project to work on and to demonstrate I’m making progress on that project. I want to be a writer after all, not wishing I were a writer. That means I have to show up and be accountable, both to myself and to my fellow writers—and, of course, to my projects!