In my last post, Writing Groups: Lessons Learned I wrote of some of the positive things I took away from my experiences with an online writing group for short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Producing better quality writing, benefiting from the experience of other writers as well as exposure to writing resources and tips, and finding a writing buddy were the highlights of that article. Still, writing groups do have their challenges and potential pitfalls, and in the hopes of better equipping someone who is wondering if writing groups are for them, I’d like to share on that today.
After completing my first book, The Eagles Gift, I had no idea what to do next. The writing site I was on was not well adapted to provide feedback on novels, and having few connections in the writing world at the time, I felt stuck. What next? Do I pay for an editor (How much would that cost? And was it worth paying for editing when I didn’t even know if the book was any good?) So, I hit the Net and researched various options until I came to a site hosted by one of the Big Six publishers which offered the chance to expose my writing to others, critique and comment on other writers’s work and vice versa, as well as the chance to move up in the ranks to, one day, possibly grasp hold of the Holy Grail: the chance to make the Top 5 at the end of every month and earn a review by one of their editors, and possibly, the offer of a contract.
“So what happened?” you’re probably asking. “Did you make it? What did you get out of the experience?” Whoa Nelly! lol Yes, I learned a lot, though not all of it was what I expected:
1) I learned that one of the most important things about being a writer is knowing who I am and what I want when it comes to my books. In other words, sometimes I have to be comfortable (and willing) to stand firm to protect my work. When I joined that site, I had the what I want part down since I knew my story and exactly how I wanted it to read. But I didn’t know who I was as a writer. In fact, though my writing was good, I felt so small and insignificant because…well, because I had no ‘formal training’, had not gone to school to learn how to write, hadn’t blown thousands of dollars on conferences and all that, etc., etc. I just had me and this fledgling writing ability and a confidence just as fragile. So when the feedback came, fast, furious and at times very critical, I was quickly overwhelmed, frustrated and discouraged. It was hard to know whose voice to heed and whose to chuck. The often critical reviews, though helpful, haunted me and I questioned everything I did and wrote afterwards for a long time. Not to mention that often, the feedback would be contradictory, leading to increased confusion. Needless to say, it got to the point where I abandoned the book (temporarily). It’s complete and available to read for free on the site, only it’s not finished. So to save my evaporating sanity, I chose to move on to write The Purple Morrow.
So, what tips can I share to help prevent this sort of thing from happening to anyone else? If you are new to writing like I was, 1) Be prepared. Go into the site with as clear sense of who you are as possible. Research the site in order to know beforehand what you can learn and what you want to learn from it. And expect to face things (and people) which will confuse you or shake your confidence. 2) Don’t accept any feedback without analyzing its relevance 3) If you need to, discuss the feedback and your feelings (confusion, doubt, etc.) with people you trust 4) ALWAYS remember that you, not anyone else, have the final say on whatever work you produce. These are tough lessons but extremely valuable ones, IMO.
2) I learned how to ‘play the game’. Writers produce books for different reasons. I wrote because I wanted to produce a book people would enjoy (maybe love) reading. Others hope to become the next Best-Selling Author or Award Winner. I quickly learned that, like most everything in this world, writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s creative but it’s also a business. You can’t be on the internet for five seconds without being reminded of that fact, be it Twitter, FB, G+, etc.
On that site, I saw what I considered to be average to mediocre books rising up the ranks and hitting the top 5 while truly excellent quality books languished in No Man‘s Land. It became clear to me that a lot of the books in the first category were written by those who had a big following behind them: either they reviewed a lot of books, had lots of ‘friends’ or were active on the forums. It seemed that popularity and activity drove a large number of those books to the top. But as much as this phenomenon sucked, I realized, “Is this really that much different than the real world?” How often have we heard, “It’s all about who you know, not what you know?“ or about the importance of ‘connections, connections, connections’? It was frustrating to produce good work yet not see results as quickly as I would have liked. Also, it was easy to fall into the trap of concluding that the lack of results was a reflection of the quality of my work rather than on my level of activity on the site. (Thankfully, my writing buddy shook me hard enough until the truth suck in.) In any case, I decided to take what I had learned and apply it to my own situation, combining striving to write the best books I could with networking and platform building in the hopes of becoming better prepared for what is to come in the ‘real world’.
So, there you have it. Two sides of the coin, the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’ of writing sites, if you will. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, so please drop me a line.