Thursday, 18 June 2009

Writers' Groups - a word of caution

I don't share Edie's cynicism about Writers' Groups; I probably wouldn't still be writing if it hadn't been for the camaraderie and encouragement I received early on from online Writers' Groups, and for that I'm eternally grateful. Writing is a lonely business unless you happen to live in a writer's commune or have the good fortune to come from a family of writers. I don't. So any contact and friendship is valuable.

And you can learn a lot from them, not just about the craft of writing although there's that of course. To be honest I haven't found critiques to be terribly helpful on the whole. Critiquing other people's work is more useful - it teaches you to look critically at your own work which is what you ultimately need to be able to do. Crits of your work do prepare you for the scathing criticism you'll be subjected to if you ever submit your work for scrutiny, helping you to develop a thick skin which is definitely necessary.

They are useful places to exchange tips and information about the publishing business. It's a good way to find out about new agencies and who's recruiting. They are good places to ask for advice from people who've already travelled your path and have some experience to share.

BUT - here we get to the snag - it's always important to remember that not every poster on a website knows what they are talking about. Think about it. You don't really know these people except by what they say about themselves, and sadly there are many deluded fantasists out there. However well meaning they are, their clumsy and badly thought out advice can be worse than nothing.

And then there are the few whose motives are a little more sinister; another thing to bear in mind is there is a lot of frustration and jealousy in the writing community. Some people cannot bear to see someone else getting the success or even attention they crave and will do all they can to put a fly in the ointment.

So, how do you know who to trust?

Well, honesty is usually easy to spot because it chimes as "common sense". You may not always like this advice at first, if it isn't what you want to hear, but the truth of it will usually sink in after a day or two.
Check out their credentials if possible. Do they have a book published by a reputable company? Do they hold the respect of the people around them? Or are they always getting into flame wars and causing arguments on the site?
Always take advice with a degree of caution, wherever it comes from, and use your own discretion about following it. Even industry insiders can be so jaded and embittered their advice is tainted and not worth much, so learn to follow your instinct first and foremost.

Remember - no one can tell you what is best for you - only you can do that.


Clare said...

Wise words, Sandra.
Your blog would sit well on the registration page for new members of any writing site.
How depressing it is to watch newcomers in thrall to people they think are "experts" just because they've been on the site for longer or sound as if they know what they are talking about.
Unfortunately the deluded, egotistical and downright dishonest seem to have disproportionately loud voices!
That said, I have made some great friends through these sites, learned heaps, been directed to some great blogs ( :) ) and even tracked someone's garden fence as it blew out into the wide blue yonder....
COMMON SENSE, closely followed by A SENSE OF HUMOUR are vital companions on the journey through writing sites. (Oh yes, and don't forget to leave the ego at home!)

Sandra Patterson said...

Thanks Clare, well put. (When are you going to start your own blog? It's long overdue!)
Writers Groups are certainly a mixed bag and I forgot to mention the part EGO plays in driving some members. Thanks for the idea - I'll post about that next time.

Clare said...

Me, blog? If I added that to my list of procrastinations I would never get any writing done!
Without a doubt I've learned more about writing and publishing through reading blogs - including this one, thanks! - than I have learned from writing sites. That said, writing sites have been good for directing me to the blogs in the first instance. (But both can become a distraction and an excuse for not writing so I'm off now!)