Thus far, I’ve managed to avoid writer’s groups. This is quite deliberate. Not that I think I won’t gain by having my work critiqued, and certainly not because I believe I already know everything (anything) there is about writing. Not by a long shot.
My dread stems from personal interactions with a certain clique in grade school that left me bruised and leery of groups in general. It’s a shameful tale, best left on the therapy couch. Really. Even I know, on an intellectual level, that it’s not healthy when 5th graders hold sway over one’s actions even after a half century.
Nonetheless, although I avoid mob criticism, I do want to develop as a writer. I may not want some potential rival telling me my story sucked because it wasn’t written the way they would have, but I don’t want to go through life believing that I’m communicating with effect when really I’m just writing obscure drivel.
So, instead of writer’s groups, I read. I read books from good writers who write about writing. It’s not the same as having someone tell you to your face that your prose is flat or your characters amorphous, but it can help – I believe it has helped me.
Should any would-be writer ask me for advice on what book(s) will aid in their process of writing the great American novel, two immediately come to mind: one that stimulated my brain and one that bolstered my soul (and slapped my fragile ego into line): Gotham Writer’s Workshop – Writing Fiction (by multiple authors) and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, respectively.
Gotham Writer’s Workshop – Writing Fiction is a guide for the craftsman (it even says so, more or less, in its subtitle). It discusses plot and character, point of view and voice, drafting and editing (and more editing). Among its pages one finds food for thought and practical advice and great examples that will open your eyes. Want to avoid the pitfalls of the hated adverbs? The Workshop helps. Want your dialogue to sound as if it is fresh off the street and ready to slap some sense into your characters? Read the Workshop.
With the Workshop you can hone your craft. With Bird by Bird you can live your art. Want to know what it feels like to wait for a critique from an editor or agent or friend? Dying to find out how to flesh out your characters so that their merest wound will bleed onto the page? How would you like to know about all the same things the Workshop tells you, with feeling? Anne Lamont and her lovely Bird are there – with humor and insight that is invaluable to any writer (plus, she’s an SF Giants fan – what more could I ask?).
So, until the 5th graders retire from my mind, I’ll read.