Monday, April 9, 2012

The Importance of Finding Your Writing Group

Bridle Path Press
Marni Graff, author of the Nora Tierney mysteries, is my guest this week.
Writing is such a solitary process that it might seem counter-productive to stress joining a writing group. It’s easy to buy into the myth of the lone writer in his garret, staring at that blank page. There’s also no question that being a writer means spending time alone with your thoughts and is an essential part of the creative process. Writers need time to do research or write drafts, to imagine characters or plot lines, and to revise and polish.
But when a writer becomes locked into his solitude, he loses the ability to connect, the very thing he wants to do with his readers. Other artistic groups don’t hesitate to use the sustaining power of group work: musicians jam, painters work in schools, dancers train side by side in studios.
I’m enthusiastic about joining some kind of writing group based on my own experience, and these groups exist in all kinds of forms, from those which meet physically once a week or month, to others who exist in only cyber-space and exchange pages via email. My own writing group meets yearly in June, after reading each other's novel drafts during May. Each author gets her entire work read and looked at by four other writers whose opinions we’ve come to value. I also run a local group that meets every four to six weeks and we read out loud pages from our works in progress. This is an excellent device for gaining experience reading in front of an audience, while it lets you hear the rhythm of your prose.
At Amazon
But back to those reasons for joining a group: Being a part of a writing community will allow you to amp up your inspiration with a built-in audience for your work. You’ll have the added incentive of a self-imposed deadline for bringing pages to your group when you know they’re waiting to read them. And your group will empower you to travel that long road between your concept for an initial idea and bringing that piece to completion.
One final word on feedback. It’s critical that your group know how to give feedback that is helpful to one another. A list of negatives isn’t helpful to anyone. “I don’t like violent scenes” won’t help the guy who’s writing an action thriller. But if your group can show him what is getting in the way of telling his story well, the idea of the violence you abhor becomes less important as the storytelling improves. Once you are part of a writing group who have learned how to give good feedback, you will use that group to improve your own craft. By editing the work of your fellow authors, you’ll be learning how to edit yourself. By listening to the story others tell and how they do it, you will learn how to effectively tell the story you want to tell.
Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series, set in the UK. The Blue Virgin is set in Oxford and introduces Nora, an American writer living in England. She becomes involved in a murder investigation to clear her best friend as a suspect, to the chagrin of DI Declan Barnes. The Green Remains follows Nora’s move to Cumbria where she’s awaiting the publication of her first children’s book and the birth of her first child. When Nora stumbles across the corpse at the edge of Lake Windermere, she realizes she recognizes the dead man. Then her friend and illustrator, Simon Ramsey, is implicated in the murder of the heir to Clarendon Hall, and Nora swings into sleuth mode.
Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. She writes a weekly mystery review at A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. She has also published poetry, and her creative nonfiction has most recently appeared in Southern Women’s Review. Her books can be bought at or at


Polly said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Marni. I have two excellent critique partners who have different strengths to my weaknesses. I learn from them and respect their opinions. I hope I offer something to make it a fair exchange. I don't know how anyone can write without feedback. Writers tend to live in a vacuum, so it's important to dig out once in a while and face the real world rather than the make-believe one in which we spend most of our time. Great post. Thanks for inviting Marni, Ellis.

Marni said...

Polly, I agree wholeheartedly. By the way, I've just started reading your Murder Deja Vu and it's hooked me right in!

Ellis Vidler said...

My critique partner has made an amazing difference to my writing. She spots all kinds of things I miss. So did my old group, which broke up. I consider a good critique group or partner essential. It's impossible for most to see their work objectively.
Thanks, Marni. Good post!

Sandy Cody said...

I agree. I was fortunate to find the perfect group when I first started writing seriously. We were all very different as writers but we clicked as a group. I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to travel all the way from those tentative first drafts to publication without their encouragement and help. They pointed out the weak spots and helped me explore ways to strengthen them.

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