New Quest: Finding a Writer’s Group

Good grief, I got to get out of this role-playing mode. It’s beginning to affect everything I write.

So after a lot of hemming and hawing, I am finally starting my writer’s group search. I got a couple of leads, one from my daytime job and one from my farming job. I’ve also been checking out various websites and postings on Craigslist.

Also, I’ve been reading up on details on how exactly to find a writer’s group. For instance, a blog post at The Fix talks about what makes writing groups work. Holly Lisle got an article about on her site (actually, she has a lot of good stuff on there). And I’ve been considering my own experience of being in a writer’s group.

When I started writing again back in 2004, there were a couple of groups that I shuffled between. Both met at the libraries near me, and mainly had roughly 15 to 20 people. We dutifully brought our work which we passed out to each other, and we spent a good half-hour reading silently their work. Then we came together to critique. Most of the time, I was the only fantasy/sci-fi writer (there was another guy who wrote sci-fi, but considering he had put “himself” in the story, it became blatantly obvious that he was really living on a different plane of existence than us). Everyone else wrote poetry or literary stuff or non-fiction essays. Everyone thought that their stuff was the best–and that the publishing companies would weep if they could bother to read their stuff; but no one actually made any effort to publish (I later learned that one person was indeed published–at fanfiction.net). After a couple of weeks, I stopped going. I wanted to do serious work, not just go to the group and pat myself on the back for finishing another story that would sit on my hard drive.

Then after some searching around, I heard about a group that met at a local Barnes and Noble. When I went in, the first thing I noticed was that they met in the coffeeshop area, which nicely evoked images of chain-smoking, nails-bitten-to-the-quick artistes who argued about POV styles over lattes. That charmed me. (Well, there really wasn’t any chain-smoking, considering that you couldn’t smoke in any building now in Illinois, but that’s besides the point.) The group was smaller, though at times it did stretch to about 12 or so. Sitting closer together, rather than in a humungous square at the library, made it feel more intimate. More friendly.

I think that’s what really drew me to this group. The people were actually friendly with each other and wanted genuine criticism on their work, not just a pat on the back. They wanted to know what worked. And though not everyone wrote in the same genre, there was a sense of respect of each other’s work. In fact, it helped me learn how to critique other genres, and use them to sharpen my own skills.

It was a nice group for where I was at the time. Now that I have several published stories under my belt, however, I think it’s time to find a group that’s more genre-specific. A group where I can discuss how to write speculative fiction, perhaps do some reading of fantasy/sci-fi books and discussing their styles. I want to find a group where I can hone my craft at.

All I got to do is just…find it.

One Story to Rule Them All. One Story to Bind Them. (Or how a writer’s brain works with other stories)

Every once in a while, my hubbie gets a hankering for some orc. Not cooked, of course. The movie kind of orc. So I dig out our extended version of Lord of the Rings and let him glut his fill.

This time around, however, I found myself maddeningly distracted. Wasn’t by Sean Astin’s perpetual scowl or Viggo Mortensen’s perpetual scowl or Orlando Bloom’s perpetual…uh…hmm….okay, Sean Bean’s perpetual scowl.

Nope. I was distracted by the story.

What made the story tick? What moved the story along? How did the characters get from point A to point B? How do the choices Frodo makes influence the story? As we moved from the Shire to Rivendell to Rohan to Gondor…I couldn’t stop myself from analyzing. In a weird way, it was similar to what I did with Xanadu on the Agony Booth…except Peter Jackson put special effects to actual good use…

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a writer. Aren’t I supposed to notice such things already? Ahh…but that’s just the thing. When I first started writing, when I read books or watched movies, I never really thought about such things. I just read, or watched, and pretty much enjoyed (or, if the story sucked, not enjoyed).

But ever since I started writing seriously, ever since I started editing and revising my own work, I found myself reading a fantasy book and thinking How did the author make this work? What makes this story publishable? I started keeping notes, sometimes comparing the book to my own novel-in-progress. I guess it’s not surprising that I’m beginning to view movies in the same way. After all, a movie is just a short story. (Though not in the case of the LOTR…but that’s besides the point.)

All this analyzing, though, has me a little worried. Won’t I get burned out? Can’t I just enjoyed a story and not care about character development, plotline, protagonist and antagonist? What if I get sick of all this analyzing and just stop reading and watching movies altogether?

I don’t think that will happen. At least, not in the near future. For one thing, there are ways to entertain myself that don’t rely on books and movies. I can listen to music. I can play pretend with Daniel. I can knit. Play video games. I think a little balance is in order to keep me from glutting on too much story.

But I think there are also times when I can read a book and just enjoy it for what it is without trying to figure out what makes it tick. I just finished reading White Oleander by Janet Fitch with the clear intention of not trying to analyze it. Went pretty well, I think. I’ll have to put up the review of it soon.

I think also genre plays a big role in it as well. With LOTR being fantasy, of course it will get my analytic juices flowing, since the story has elements that I can use in my own work. The other day, I watched Vertigo, and not once did I wonder about how the character development influenced the storyline (though at the time, I was mashing roasted garlic into potatoes for Thanksgiving). It was a nice change of pace from all the fantasy stuff I was reading and writing.

I wonder if that’s the reason why writing experts suggest reading outside of your genre. Not so much that you don’t get burned out, but it helps your brain to rest, to enjoy story without getting burnt out on it. Any other writers out there who want to chip in your two cents? Be curious to know if you’re at the same point I am, or offer any other advice.

As for me, it’s late. We still need to finish the second half of The Return of the King. It’s gonna be a loooooong night.