November 15, 2018

Writing Groups Support Authors

The Literary Writers Network in Chicago, is one of many writing groups that support authors.  I joined shortly after starting my book, “Little Women of Baghlan, even though it was over an hour’s drive each way to attend the meetings, I quickly realized how fortunate I had been to find a group that was dedicated to the craft of writing, and equally dedicated to an honest critique of our individual work. I remember feeling that we all welcomed, indeed craved, a candid, straightforward review of our efforts. It was always about the writing, not about any of us as individuals.

But the meetings were NOT unrelenting drudgery, the members grim and serious. Even when a writer had his or her work on the ‘chopping block,’ the suggestions were given in a collegial, helpful manner. We were all in it together, helping each other become better writers.

Often I was shocked to discover that my writing, which had seemed so clear in my own head, so clever, so obvious and insightful, was perceived by my fellow writers as muddy, hard to follow, and poorly written. The ‘rules’ were that I could not interrupt the discussion to clarify. I could not stop everyone and explain what I meant to say. I could only go back and revise, until my words stood on their own, with no further explanation needed.

Over time, we developed a shorthand for writing comments on our colleagues’ work. POV meant that the author had slipped from one point of view to another—apparently something I did frequently. AWK was shorthand for awkward construction; the prose grammatically correct, but . . . awkward. Ungainly. Cumbersome. And then, there was the evening that I had my work returned with a red circle around a paragraph, and the acronym WTF in the margins. I re-read the paragraph in question. Umm hmm. What the . . . was I thinking, anyway?

Recently I was a guest at the Kankakee Writers Club, a small group that meets at the Public Library in Kankakee IL. Although the members did not critique each other’s’ work, as do many writing groups, they do share resources and ideas. Acting president Emma Kemp had prepared a “self-education resource list,” a bibliography of writing resources, and a web reference guide, among other materials.

There is a wealth of information about writing groups on the internet. One resource is Jane Friedman’s blog advising writers to be discerning when choosing to become part of a group. You can find her blog post at: https://www.janefriedman.com/dangers-of-writing-groups/

As I shared my own experience of writing “Little Women of Baghlan,” that evening, I was transported back to the days when I was immersed in Jo’s story and the background research for the years 1968-70. Since I am one of those obnoxious early morning personalities, I was at the computer at 5 AM on most days, barely aware of the sky becoming light, and the first birds chirping outside my office window. I miss those days—the focus of creating a story, of harnessing the power of words. I miss the pleasure of language, of listening for the musicality of the rhythm and cadence in every sentence, and yes, I miss my writing group.

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