I’ve tried to keep an open mind about how writers write ever since I met a guy who swore he only ever wrote anything good while he was naked, but last weekend when I was in Barnes and Noble writing and I heard two women my age talking about how stupid they think writers’ groups are and how they each would rather wait to show anyone their work until they send it to publishers, I knew I finally found something I felt comfortable saying all writers need.
WE NEED EACH OTHER.
I never knew what a writing group was a year ago. I thought it might have been a handful of people sitting in Starbucks talking about writing more than they wrote or people who wanted to know if a character with a weight complex and daddy issues was really me disguised as a middle aged Turkish dog groomer (it’s not by the way).
Like the uninformed women in the bookstore Cafe I never wanted to be involved in one, or knew how to find one, but that was before a writing group appeared in my life without any effort. It was so easy in fact that I didn’t even know that’s what it was until I’d started sending stories out to them and waiting eagerly for their responses.
I thought you had to meet in person to be in a writing group, and since there are arbitrary rules for everything else that has to do with writing I searched online for a definition. I found about twenty before I decided I didn’t care and that I was comfortable having five people or so who read my writing and send me theirs.
My group is made up of people I met on twitter who liked some of the books I liked, and some of the books I didn’t, they recommended new writers that added several new favorites to my bookshelves. They’re moms and dads and single. They have opposing opinions on politics, or no political opinion at all. They’re from all over the world and their favorite place in a library is often different from mine. When we met we talked, read each other’s blogs and eventually I shared my stories with them, marking one of the first times I’d ever let someone read what I’d written. The act of pushing the blue send button that launched my words before other eyes was almost as helpful as the advice I received in the form of questions, but the questions changed how I wrote in a way I couldn’t have done on my own when I never imagined my stories being read.
There’s something about discussing the characters and their motives with someone other than myself that helps me flesh out what they want and decide how they’re going to get it or not get it. They become real when I talk about them, when I wonder why Bobby would risk living in the apartment above his ex lover and her husband and son. When I talk about them, or write about them apart from the story, they stand up from the page and walk around my living room or ride with me to the grocery store.
“Why did I kill her husband?” Bobby might ask me after an email exchange with a friend. Then I’ll wonder and daydream and write.
All of that comes from having people tell you what they think, people who are gentle when they need to offer criticisms but people who you trust not to bullshit you when something sounds wrong. Not only does their honesty help with the stories but it helps in the long term, to learn how to deal with imperfections before publishers turn you down and literary magazines send your manuscripts back with impersonal “we wish you the best” notes.
The nervous swirl of butterflies that fill my stomach immediately after I press the send button is still the same as it was in the beginning and will probably always remain aflutter, but now I can give them a voice and call out to those trusted souls just a few click of the keys away who will likely sooth my over anxiousness by telling me to calm down and shut up and reminding me that I’ll be fine.
So if you don’t have a group of people like that, get one. You need them, I swear. And if you can’t find them, get on Twitter and find me.