Because I’ve moved to a new town and have joined a group in formation, we discussed what the attendees would like to see in the writer’s club.
The discussion reminded me of types of groups:
Critique – feedback on your own and other’s writing
Discussion – can be on a specific topic or writing in general
Lecture/Talk – usually craft focused or inspirational
Write In – a time to work on your own writing
Workshop – craft or marketing focused with some hands-on activity
Both face-to-face groups and online groups can provide any of these services. All can be useful, but it depends what you are looking for.
For me a variety of these groups have worked over the years. I love the chance to learn through lectures and workshops. It’s so great when some piece of craft advice clicks. Or when the “so that how that’s done” aha moment happens. I’ve mostly done in person sessions, especially conferences, but more and more webinars are available from the comfort of your own home. In addition, these events often inspire me, whether it is simply to press on, or with a specific piece of information that makes me avid to jump back into my own work. No matter how many I’ve done these, I discover new tidbits each time I participate.
I’ve found write ins to be very practical. I’ve participated in them in coffee shops, libraries, retreats, etc. Each person focuses on their own project. Just the fact that others are working around me helps me keep my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard. I like a weekly schedule. Headphones are helpful in a public place where conversations around me can be distracting. Mostly I’ve formed these with likeminded writers, but sometimes organizations will schedule them too.
Discussion can be fun, especially if it is focused. I’ve been in groups where we shared favorite books by genre, or good first lines, or marketing tips, etc. Having a theme makes the discussion more practical. I’ve found an unfocused group can end up being a gripe session, or can wander completely off writing.
But for me probably the most important group is a critique group. I’ve learned so much by what others have said about my work (the good and bad) and what I’ve seen in their writing, too. We encourage each other to press on. We inspire one another. Our meetings provide a deadline to have pages ready. Not only have we helped improve our writing by consistent meetings, but we’ve become close friends and family because of the time spent together.
How do you find a writer’s group? Check with your local library. Search online for writer’s groups in your area. Research national and international writing organizations. If you’re on Facebook, you can find groups there, too. Join writer list serves which often announce events or groups forming.
Here are some helpful resources, especially if a group doesn’t have established guidelines:
“General Critique Guidelines” by the Writer’s Loft
“10 Tips on How To Find or Form the Critique Group of Your Dreams” by Riki Cleveland
The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine
“How To Find A Writing Group, Because Every Aspiring Author Needs A Support Group”
by Sadie Trombetta
“Writing Groups 101: How to Find Your Perfect Match” by Kristen Pope
“The 4 Hidden Dangers of Writing Groups” by Jennie Nash
“The beauty hidden inside a tiny seed can never be discovered until it is planted, until the rains fall and the sun shines down upon it. The process takes time and patience, just as it does when God works in our hearts. When we wait on the Lord, weather the storms, and bask in His light, He takes our lives . . . and turns them into something beautiful.” Julie A. Campbell
Likewise, the beauty of story can never be discovered until we allow the germ of an idea to take root in our minds. When we plant an idea, water it, expose it to sunlight, weed it, prune and shape it, we’re preparing a story for harvest.
The process of growing a story takes time, patience and hard work. Very rarely does a story arrive in our minds in full bloom. And even when it does, the translation to paper usually seems to lose something. Just as some plants thrive best when surrounded by plants of other varieties, story ideas often need the stimulus of other ideas before they can grow.
Here are some questions, we need to ask ourselves, when we have a new idea:
Have I talked to God about my writing lately?
Am I willing to weather the storms of writing?
Is the soil of my mind prepared?
Do I know what I want to grow from this idea?
And finally, is it time to write this now? Is this what He wants me working on?
Sometimes an idea can lay dormant for months and years before it sprouts. Some have to grow many years before they can bloom. Just as we can’t expect immediate results when we plant an apple tree, not all ideas are ready to be written.
Whatever we write, whether it be secular or Christian, should bring glory to God. We should ask the Lord to help us to turn each new idea over to Him, to let Him guide us and lead us, to make each piece of writing into something beautiful.
Now for this very reason
…in your writing…
…apply all diligence
…supply moral excellence
Diligence – steady application to one’s occupation or studies, persistent effort
Excellence – state of going beyond a standard, performing at a higher level
Knowledge – familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study
Self-control – control of one’s emotions, desires, or actions by one’s own will
Perseverance – the holding to a course of action, belief, or purpose without giving way; steadfastness
Godliness – resembling or of the nature of God
Brotherly kindness – being generous, warmhearted, charitable, helpful, showing sympathy or understanding, considerate
Christian love – intense concern for another person
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful …”
…in using your writing for our Lord Jesus Christ.
SET SOME GOALS
THE ACTUAL WRITING
REVISE AND GET FEEDBACK
“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” – Arthur Polotnik
Critiquing and being critiqued can be a stressful activity under the best of circumstances. But sometimes situations arise that are difficult or downright awkward. The following address three of those times.
What do you do when a member of a critique group brings a manuscript you cannot critique? e.g. Is diametrically opposed to your beliefs or you find it offensive.
What do you do when someone doesn’t want to critique your manuscript?
What do you do when you receive an unfair critique?
In any of these cases, a writing mentor, or group leader may have additional suggestions for you. No need to mention names or info that would pointedly indicate the person you are struggling with—we don’t want to turn this into a gossip session—just ask for advice from someone with more critique group experience.
"All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose" . . . and . . . for the fiction writer. Or at least they can, if you're willing. I’m not being flippant here. Let me show you what I mean.
Your child has just come home from school and confessed she cheated in class and got caught. After you deal with her situation, start thinking about a story for a church take home paper dealing with this or a similar issue. I did and the resulting short story sold to a girl's magazine.
Your pastor asks you to step outside your comfort zone in a ministry area at church. Your friend asks for prayer for her participation in a ministry that fills her with fear. Use both your discomfort and her fear, plus how God came through when you each trusted Him, for a character struggling through a similar problem.
Remember how shy you were? How someone might overcome shyness in a specific situation can become part of a story. Remember feeling so average that you had nothing special to offer? Later, you probably realized how God gifted you in areas that weren't so obvious. I wrote a short story showing a teenager coming to the same realization which has sold twice.
God teaches you a lesson. A story about someone in a similar situation could help others learn the lesson in a less painful manner. A friend shares how she is caught in sin and asks for help in keeping her accountable. Imagining how that could be on the inside got me writing a story that might help others in the same sin, and the story sold to a magazine for young adults.
Remember being really angry at someone? And peer pressure and how you caved in and did what you knew was wrong? I've had at least two short stories come out of this. One, my character did what I wished I'd done. The other, my character learned that caving into peer pressure isn't a good idea. The former story has been in print three times.
What ministry areas have you gotten involved in? Feeding homeless, greeting, missions, worship team, youth, nursery, prison ministry, teaching special education children, Vacation Bible School, and prayer are all ministries I've participated in at one time or another and have all made it into fiction stories in one form or another. I've used the setting, I've used problems I've seen, I've used my feelings and feelings of others, I've gotten ideas for a character's personality and more for numerous stories.
What experiences have you had? What are your hobbies? How about your family? Your friends? Acquaintances? Things happen: moving, losing a loved one, job changes, failure, temptation, frustration, success, etc. We all have highs and lows. You may not be able to solve a problem in real life, but you might be able to solve it in fiction or show how someone else survived. In my novel I used my fear of heights, my love of baking, a snowmobiling experience, things I’d learned about my sister’s small town to create my own small town, my family’s move, and more.
How about all those times we think, "I wish I'd said . . ." in response to someone else. It could be we failed to share God's word or his values. It could be we responded impatiently or with hasty words. Or perhaps we even wish we'd kept our mouth shut. The magic of fiction is that my characters can do what I wish I'd done.
This doesn't mean fiction characters are perfect and never make mistakes. We want them to be believable. They might even have some of my flaws as well as flaws of their own. I help round them out by using my own experiences, both good and bad.
Isn't it great that "All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose"? Even for the fiction writer?
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.