So back in August last year, I wrote briefly about being part of a writer's group and also about my hesitation towards such things. I'd been burned before.
But I went in with an open mind and no shortage of eagerness, in part because it was being conducted different to any group I'd been a part of before and also because it included many of my close friends. Indeed, the tremendously creative and ever enthusiastic Craig Robotham cooked up the whole idea.
Every month we set ourselves a challenge to write at least 500 words to a particular theme of challenge and then workshop it together, take notes, give notes, discuss and so on. I submitted for their approval a slice of Pilgrimage's prologue (this was not long before Pilgrimage was published) and received some wonderful feedback to help pick up my game on it.
Our first month was very productive, full of participation and conversation and we swapped ideas and worked together and everything was just dandy.
Then came the second month and, sadly, my prophetic visions began to be realised. Mostly, it seemed, people were unable or unwilling to commit. I don't say that in a judgmental way. We've all over committed ourselves at one time or another and for many or most in the group, writing wasn't a job, just a hobby. Whatever the reason, participation dropped sharply in the second and third month. A few new people joined in, revitalised numbers and contributed their best and then fell away. Less than six months after we began our great experiment, with only a few people contributing, we pulled the plug.
More than a year now, since we started, with everything unfolding more or less as I expected (in my tremendous cynicism) I'm disappointed but my view of writing groups has changed significantly since last August.
If you're not part of a writing group, you should be.
Or maybe groups aren't really your thing. You could be a grumpy recluse like me. That's fine. Then find a buddy or two, find a writing partner and make friends with them.
Either approach is fine, so long as you find somebody or somebodies and use them. Talk shop with them, trade ideas, collaborate, swap writing and give each other feedback. Make it detailed, make it honest, most importantly, make it helpful.
Remember how I said a little while back that books aren't written by one person? This is the sort of thing I'm talking about. You are not an island. You can't expect to be an island and a good writer. I have a number of good test readers for my work and an exceptionally talented editor to help me, too. But I also have writers in my peer group that I can go to. Writers have a different perspective to readers. They see the code, they know the secrets, they've learned the language. Even if you don't think they know more than you (and you shouldn't be so arrogant, really) odds are good they can remind you when you forget something important.
So if you haven't, find some writers near you or some writers online. Give them a chance, meet with them, talk with them, swap some work and some feedback. See if they're the right kind of people for you and stick with them.
That last bit is important, too. It's not enough that these people merely be writers, they have to be writers you respect, writers you will be willing to listen to and spend a lot of time talking to. If you find yourself having inexplicable bouts of rage when you see their faces, move on and find some different people. Don't let one bad experience jade you to the point where you are deprived of valuable learning experiences and opportunities to improve your craft.
Like the man said...
Just do it!
Also, go and look at Craig Robotham's work because it's awesome and he's awesome and you'll won't regret it.