Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Groups’

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!

Benefits of writers groups

In Shelley Widhalm, Writers groups, Writing, Writing Processes on July 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

I seem to love this topic, but because I want to talk about the writer’s group that I joined three months ago, the Mountain View Authors, I have to be a bit repetitive.

For awhile, I was considering dropping out of the group, because it meets on Mondays (which is my Sunday because it is a day off), and it requires a great deal of work. There are six members in the group, and we rotate sharing our work every other week, submitting 15 pages of our manuscript or a short story or two that the other members have to read by a Sunday midnight deadline.

It felt like I was receiving homework.

But after a few weeks, I saw that getting feedback that had a deadline of a few days—instead of on-the-spot where members make suggestions the day of the meeting—gave me something to work with that was more in-depth.

The members make comments on two levels. They edit grammar issues and point out awkward sentences, but they also look at character, plot and scene development, setting descriptions, and the purpose or theme of the work.

I work through the comments, about 30 to 50 in the “insert comment” function, improving my manuscript from several sources, and layers, of feedback. The members offer different perspectives and levels of experience and understanding of the craft, pointing out different, and sometimes, the same areas of my work that need tweaking, fixing or redoing.

We talk about the comments during the meeting and, in some cases, start debating aspects of the work, such as whether characters respond in believable ways to their circumstances and if we find the story world to be consistent, accurate and compelling. I can see the areas of my work where the members are interested in my characters and story, and where they lost interest (indicated by pages of no comments, good or bad) and where they want to see and learn more about this world I created.

As a result, I am becoming a stronger writer after each meeting through seeing my work through the eyes of other writers, but also by analyzing what they write. When we talk about each other’s comments, I pick up hints about being a better writer, adding to my writer’s identity pieces of what make the other writers who they are when they face the blank page and begin to imagine and create and devise and live out new possibilities.

The Advantages of Writing Groups

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 4, 2013 at 11:00 am

Joining both a book club and a writer’s group cross pollinates the writing process.

This I have found from my membership in two writer’s groups – Rocky Mountain Christian Fiction Writers and Our Weekly Writers’ Workshops meets … Under the Cuckoo Clock – and a book club that holds monthly meetings at Barnes & Noble in Fort Collins.

The Weekly Writers’ Workshop, which I joined in 2008 to get back into writing, starts each meeting with a writing prompt, followed by a group edit of the work we bring in.

From being a part of this group, I learned new concepts, such as the definition for character arc and what is a word echo (the repetition of a word or phrase within the same paragraph or on the same page).

I improved my editing skills by observing how other writers’ edited each other’s work and also by doing the editing, because practice leads to skill improvement.

And I kept to a writing schedule, wanting something to submit each week for our accountability reports.

At the RMCFW group, which meets monthly, we read a chapter or two from a writing book and then the next month bring in a response to a writing assignment related to the book or a few pages from our current project.

Because of the assignments, I’ve written stories that I would not have thought of without the prompt. I’ve seen how other writers interpret the chapters, expanding what I notice and recall from each chapter. And I’ve remembered the material, because learning new facts and ideas is easier through repetition.

By being part of these two groups, I’ve also realized:

• Words and phrases said out loud read differently than they appear on the page, helping identify where things are stated awkwardly or fail to read smoothly.
• Hearing writing read aloud helps catch grammar mistakes and missing words or grammatical marks.
• Other writers can help point out any weak areas in plot and character development that you may not notice, as well as problems with pacing. For example, my writers’ groups have helped me tighten dialogue by deleting unnecessary pieces of conversation that don’t move the plot forward.

By joining a writers’ group, you can get help with brainstorming plot or other elements and hear a variety of perspectives on what you’ve written. Each writer notices different things, doubling or tripling your editing effort.

A writers’ group serves as a writing community, providing you with people who care about your successes and commiserate with you when you run into obstacles with the writing and getting-published processes.

Next week, I’ll look at how book clubs can improve reading but also writing.

Writing Group Rules

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing group on November 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

Joining a writing group is like frosting.

A chocolate cake is just fine plain. Add rainbow confetti topping with the multicolored chocolate chips for that flavorful burst of zing.

That’s what writing groups do for your writing – give it the zing that takes your skills and abilities to the next level.

I joined the Weekly Writers’ Workshop meets Under the Cuckoo Clock more than two years ago. The group of a half-dozen writers meets weekly to do a writing prompt and critique each other’s work.

Through the feedback I’ve received, I better understand how to successfully (or not so successfully) employ the elements of writing, like plot, character, dialogue and setting. I have a visible example of what works and doesn’t work, both at the sentence level and at the level of the overall story structure.

The essential idea of a writing group is to give the writers in the group feedback on their work.

To be most effective, the members should point out both what they like and where the work could be improved with suggestions for revision. The members should keep a balance between positive and negative comments, so that the criticism is constructive.

Writers groups also help to:

  • Point out where the pacing is too slow or too rushed.
  • Indicate areas that need to be cut, expanded or further developed. Is there anything that is glossed over or lacks focus?
  • Give line edits of grammatical errors, awkward phrasings or anything that seems confusing or does not make sense.
  • See the  overall story picture, including the development of character, the weaving of plot threads, the description of setting and the implementation of the other writing elements. Does the plot have tension? Is the dialogue interesting, or is it flat, making you want to skip the quote marks? Do the characters speak in the same voice, or is there variety?
  • Mark the places that seem boring or exciting, as well as any expressions that stand out or seem bothersome.
  • Identify anything missing in the telling of the overall story.

The members can only respond to what’s on the page and should ignore their own reading preferences. They should remember that a writers group is a give-and-take relationship. They should be kind and encouraging and keep all discussion within the meeting room.