Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Workshops Vs. Writers Groups

Jay Lake has a post up about workshops here and some of the things they do or don't do. I agree with a good bit of what he has to say in terms of structure and how they function and that whether they are good or bad for you is situational. For example, I get a good deal out of the critiques of my work. Perhaps less now than ten years ago, but still quite a bit because my investment in my stories is structured a little bit differently from many folks.

On the other hand, I think he missed completely some of the things that I find most important about a writers group, the things that aren't critique at all. And this may be a distinction between an ongoing writing workshop and a writers group, which seem to me to be two different animals.

So, here are some things besides critique that a good group can do for you:

Brainstorming, both on stories and career.
Mutual promotion.
Share industry gossip.
Writerly support and cheerleading.
Cross introductions to agents, editors, and con folk.
Listening to complaints and brags.
And, most important of all, peer friendships.


Anonymous said...

The thing about having a writers group, to me, is that it is primarily a social and business group, where similarly-minded individuals who are working toward a common goal can meet and exchange ideas, information, and share in each other's company.

Critique is only one element of a well-functioning writers group. Being able to sit at a table of people who understand and share in your ongoing frustrations, or who have already been through what you're going through, and have gone on to bigger things in their own careers--or, conversely, being reminded of what you yourself went through by watching others pass through those stages--is very informative, educational experience.

And speaking as someone who is just entering the playing field, it's a gold mine of information to work with more experienced writers. I can learn who I want to talk to, who I might want to avoid, why, what the pitfalls or possibilities are, what agents might be available and like my stuff, get a recommendation that could land my manuscript on an editor's desk, etc. Ridiculously valuable.

Kelly Swails said...

I, for one, love having a virtual writer's group of sorts by being a "Wyrdsmiths" groupie. There's no fantasy/sci-fi group in my area--at least, I haven't found one yet--and being able to have some of the benifits on-line is a tremendous help for me. I also like having a blog network of sorts with folks I've met at cons over the years--it keeps me sane and reminds me that while I might write alone, as a writer I am not alone. That sounded a lot deeper in my head.

Kelly McCullough said...

Kelly X,

Yeah, the online community of writers is a fabulous thing. I'm glad we can help, being a writer all alone can feel very alienating.

tate hallaway said...

I agree. The issue of writerly friendships shouldn't be underrated. I think a lot is gained by having someone who truly understands what it means to be a writer -- one's non-writing spouse can only say "there, there" so many times.

Stephanie Zvan said...

I come at this from a slightly different perspective. I have to remind myself from time to time that not everyone knows scads of writers. For me the social and supportive aspects are nice in a writers group, but secondary.

It's all about the critique. Once I've lived with characters long enough to write the story, it takes forever to be able to read the story afresh. I can't count the number of times my reaction to a piece of criticism has been, "Isn't that already in there?" I just don't know anymore.

It's also valuable to see the different perspectives on any element of a story. If one person hates something, I may shrug. If two people agree, I know I need to look at it. If two particular people agree, something needs fixing. (If everyone loves something, you'll be the first to know.)

But as much as critiques of my work help me, I think critiquing other peoples' stories is better. I learn tons tracing where something broke down. I learn even more seeing stories that work in part, because then I have both sorts of examples at once. It's huge.

And having deadlines for turning stuff in doesn't hurt me either.