Fabulous Friday Guest Blogger – Deborah Jay

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First, I’d like to thank Marcia for all the work she’s done, creating this blog and inviting us all to participate – and what a great group of authors this is turning out to be!

Seeing as Marcia has given us free rein on topic, I thought I would write about the greatest writing asset I have outside of my own imagination and learned skills: the fabulous writers group I belong to.

And I mean an honest-to-God, in-the-flesh writers group – less common these days perhaps than virtual ones, but a great way for writers to meet face to face and discuss issues in the here-and-now.

As writers, we tend to tap away on our keyboards in our ivory towers (or an over-crowded home office, in my case), and get most of our feedback after we’ve written our ‘masterpiece’. Working with a ‘live’ group is more than some writers can cope with (we’ve had the odd person join, come to one meeting, and never be seen again, and I promise you, we’re not that scary!), but if you can,

  1. Find a group near enough to you to join
  2. Find the right group, with others who really want to improve and with at least some experienced members

I feel they can be a magnificent resource. I joined my group (he-hem) thirty years ago. Back then, there was no such thing as indie publishing (not quite true – it was called ‘vanity publishing’, and all you succeeded in doing was spending money), so we were all seeking traditional publishing deals. Several members of the group already had professional sales of short stories (SF and fantasy has always had a market for shorts), and at that time I was the only one working on a full length novel.

That didn’t matter – the skills overlap, and I learned so much about characterisation, plotting, fiction writing skills (I was already writing commissioned features for several horse magazines by this point, so I had a fair grasp of non-fiction), and so much more.

Another fantastic skill I learned, was how to critique positively – and that is the most important thing you require of your fellow group members: the ability to critique, not criticise.

Of course, we’ve had a few harsher members, but we slap ‘em down so fast they fall into line pretty quickly!

We meet once a month, and crit 2 pieces of work: short stories or novel chunks. The benefit to me is that if my plot goes off at a tangent, or I write myself into a dead end, they will tell me before I waste too much time and effort, and we will usually then segue into a brain-storming session on how to fix it.

We also cover a wide range of professions, so we have great expertise to draw upon in many areas. The core members are still the same people (four of us) and the other four or five have changed many times, but as a group we’ve been darned successful over the years. Two former members have multiple books traditionally published, two went on to set up their own publishing companies, and all of us sell work for real money.

Of course, it isn’t always like that. Writers groups often get bad press, and I can fully understand this, as the wrong group can be deadly to an author’s confidence, and may throttle their freedom of expression.

What you don’t need is one (or two) dominant know-it-alls who want to run the group for their own aggrandizement. I’ve seen this in action, and it was a horrific experience.

I was invited by a group that a friend belonged to, to give a talk (for which I was paid—yay!) on the ins and outs of being a published author. Although my fiction is self-published, I have traditionally published non-fiction books (on training dressage horses), so I have firsthand knowledge of how a publishing deal works for the author (a topic for another day, perhaps?).

As a guest, I was forced to sit through the entire regular meeting first, before doing my presentation at the end. I was stunned, and not in a good way. The chairman had a stranglehold on proceedings, ordering people around and cutting them off like a slave master. Any good individual ideas were nixed, because he hadn’t come up with them. I left that meeting so relieved that I’d found my perfect group at first attempt. My friend parted company with them shortly after.

Do any of you have experience with writers groups, good or bad? Or do you prefer the facelessness of modern internet groups? Do tell…

DeborahJay
Deborah Jay

Deborah Jay writes fast-paced fantasy adventures featuring quirky characters and multi-layered plots.

Living mostly on the UK South coast, she also shares a farmhouse in the majestic, mystery-filled Scottish Highlands where she retreats to write when she can find time. Her taste for the good things in life is kept in check by the expense of keeping too many dressage horses, and her complete inability to cook.

Her debut novel, epic fantasy The Princes’ Man, first in a trilogy and winner of a UK Arts Board award, was an Amazon Top 100 Hot New Release.

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12 thoughts on “Fabulous Friday Guest Blogger – Deborah Jay

  1. Thank you so much for contributing this guest post, Deborah. I confess to being one who isn’t comfortable with a regular group meeting situation. I don’t do well with recurring scheduled events. (Call it fear of commitment. 😀 ) Your post has made me rethink a bit. It just might be worth looking into again. SO glad you shared your experiences with us, and yes, please…consider doing so again, when you can. Would love to know more about your experiences with publishing deals, too. Or anything else you’d like to share with us.

    Thanks for taking part in Fabulous Friday Guest Bloggers!

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    • My pleasure, thanks for the invite 😀
      I really do think, if you can find a good group, they are worth the effort. We sometimes have longer gaps between meetings, depending on personal schedules, and we volunteer work when we have it; it isn’t that we have a rota, so there isn’t that kind of pressure.
      On the other hand, some of the group use it to set themselves deadlines, which is also a great way to self-motivate.

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  2. Throughout my writing career, I joined several writers’ groups. Some were productive; some were not. When I started teaching at a community college, I formed a writers’ group that met on campus. Here’s what I learned: A good writers’ group offers constructive criticism and encouragement in a supportive environment. If the vibe is bad, leave and find another group.

    Your experiences mirror mine, Deborah. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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    • Precisely! It’s all about finding the right group of people, and not sticking with a group that doesn’t work for you. And if you can’t find one, then like you, Linda, consider starting one of your own.
      Thanks for sharing your experience too.

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  3. Great info here as always Deb. I love the way you emphasize the fact that anyone getting out of line with harshness is reckoned with. I think many writers get intimidated to join these groups for all the reasons you mentioned. I have promised myself to join a live group in the new year. I just moved back into the city earlier this year which will give me that opportunity. When I used to live in ‘the burbs’ there were no groups remotely close to me. 🙂

    Like

    • Yep, it’s all about positive critiquing, and mutual support. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t point out weaknesses in writing, or problems with plotting etc., they just need to do it in a constructive manner and help fix it – a bit like the indie scene, really: authors helping authors at all levels.
      Hope you can find one in your new place, Deb, and if not, then start your own!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Deborah for the good post. My experience was a bit different. When I retired and started to write I stumbled along like most new writers do. I came to the conclusion that I needed to rub shoulders and learn with other writers. I was stopped in my tracks because I couldn’t find such a group, so I started one myself! I wrote up a proposal for the Senior center I went to and soon enough we had a group! I researched the net for ideas and tips on starting a group. So we sat together in the first couple of meetings and wrote up a mission statement and rules for the road. We hand these out to each new person that comes to our meetings. Over the years the core group has changed on and off, but I wouldn’t give up all that I have learned from the group! It has spurred me to write more and better! It’s given me a boost to continue when I thought I had ‘hit the wall’. One of the best parts is that a face-to-face writing group makes you accountable for writing because you don’t want to disappoint those faces! My advice to you all is if you can’t find a group – start one yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful to meet you today, Marie, and great to see you here tonight. I hope you find lots of things that interest you while browsing, and would love to have you follow the blog.

      Deb is in England, and might not see this until tomorrow, but I’m sure she’ll be appreciative of your comments. I know I am. If you guys weren’t so far away from Sanford, I’d consider asking you to accept me as a member. Between you and Deborah, I’m learning what a difference an “in person” group could make. I will confess, I enjoy my online groups and get tons of support from them, as well, but I can clearly see the benefits of sitting down with fellow writers, and offering each other encouragement and constructive critiques.

      Thanks so much for sharing with us!

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