The Writer’s Desk: My Group is Better than Your Group

I don’t know about your face-to-face writing group, but mine is the coolest. Cooler than yours, I’m dead certain. First, we meet in a small café, which, admittedly, is trés ordinaire, but our café is in the Super Target on Highway 66 in Rowlett, Texas, a place you’ve never even been. We have our own mascot, a certain red soda machine that growls like crazy if our prose stinks, which it only does at first, before its critiqued. Because after it is workshopped, by jinkies, our writing sings and that machine purrs. My critique group applauds rejection letters and toots horns when publication happens for one of our own. We put bloopers on our website, just to keep us humble, and collect dues so we can give gag gifts at a catered Christmas party.

And the people! We have the meanie (me) who goes for the jugular when something in a story doesn’t communicate as it should, but mostly we are a direct, though kindly-spoken bunch. Best of all, each writer in the group seems to have some unique perspective that only he or she can give to the other writers clustered around the table. Kathy, our leader, will take you out if you use the passive voice, but she’ll smile while she does it and leave you feeling like you just got a big hug instead of a punch in the prose. Julie is about the only person I know who actually understands when to use a semi-colon. LeRoy is pretty much the opposite of what you’d think his name implies, which, to me is dorkdom. He’s all about action, adventure, and getting down to the crux of a story. If your work needs an infusion of tension, hunt out LeRoy because he’ll find the way to get it in there. I could go on, singing the praises of everyone in the group, but I won’t because I simply don’t have the space here and some of them know where I live. I do want to bet you, though, that we’ve got more kinds of writing going on in our group than you do in yours. Heck, we even have this woman who writes sexy Mormon literary stories. Go figure. If that isn’t niche, I don’t know what is!

But I mostly wanted to tell you about this really cool project that our writing group has been working on this year. I can brag about it because I have had absolutely nothing to do with it. Worn thin by rejections, the Rowlett Writers’ Group put its collective foot down, deciding that, heck fire, their little band of writers can write better than an awful lot of awful writers who are publishing. So the group committed to self-publish its own collection of short fiction, essays and poetry. Everyone who chose to be involved was involved at some level, be that in the writing, editing, lay-out or marketing plans. The anthology hasn’t rolled off the presses yet, and, well, the group won’t exactly be gathering around the NY Times once it does to see how well Quills and Crossroads has fared in the Bestseller wars. But so what? We were a community before our writing group took on this project. Now we’re a team.

I say “we” even though I sat on the sidelines, a thing I regret, as they put the anthology together. I excused myself because I was editing Darin Cozzen’s Light of the New Day and Other Stories (which you should all buy and read) for Zarahemla Press (who you should all support by buying and reading Light of the New Day and Other Stories, or any of its other titles). But I’m seriously jealous of their accomplishment and feel like an outsider because I’ve got no fingerprints in the anthology’s ink. I’m just so daggum proud of them and wanted to boast a little bit about how cool I think it is that this little pocket of writers decided to literally bind up their desire for publication. What the group has learned about the publishing business has been well-worth the headaches. So yeah, my group is more awesome than any other writing group I’ve ever heard about. Including yours.

I know, I know, you think your group is cool, too. Yeah, right. Tell me all about it. Really. Write in the comment box below. Now. (That means you, too, Scott, Usurper of Dates.)

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13 Responses to The Writer’s Desk: My Group is Better than Your Group

  1. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    UG! I still didn’t get the font right! Sorry folks.

  2. Melinda W. says:

    I found a writer’s group just as they all faded away from lack of time. Then I had a baby. I’ve never had a writer’s group, and I envy you. So yes, your group is better than my group.

    I do have one friend who is a fantastic reader, and will tell me honestly when I go over the top, or get too negative, or whatever else isn’t working. I appreciate readers who say they like everything because it’s nice for my ego, but a friend who will give you an honest critique about what doesn’t work is rare and valuable. If I ever get a book published, I will dedicate it to her.

    And that is cool they put together their own anthology. I printed up a YA novel I wrote and passed it out to my family, just to see it in print. I bet your anthology looks more professionally done.

  3. Th. says:

    .

    My group published The Fob Bible. (I think that about covers how awesome we are.) But we’ve also moved and spread and survived in three cities and online. (Current iteration fledging now in the Bay.) A good writers’ group is permanent like family: When you go there, they have to take you in.

    ps: you must introduce me to your sexy literary mormon; she sounds like my kind of people

  4. Scott Parkin says:

    Three comments–

    First, sorry for the length. I just have a lot to say.

    Second, I meant to post my interruption two days ago and just didn’t get it done; freelance project interrupted my plans and I interrupted later than I wanted.

    Third, I’m not sure what cool means in this context. One my primary sf/fantasy writing groups (Xenobia) was the driving force behind M. Shayne Bell’s anthology Washed by a Wave of Wind (published by Signature) that I was invited to participate in, but deferred. Several years later a pair of other members raised, edited, and paid authors for an anthology for their own publishing company (WolfHelm), that sadly died just before launch; I had a story in that one (Predatory Instinct) that was eventually picked up by on online sf magazine put out by Arlen Card (Orson Scott Card’s brother).

    So if publishing anthologies dominated by (though not actually limited to) members of the writing group is cool, I’ll argue with you that yours is cooler than mine.

    If number of working professionals is the measure, then I have to respectfully submit that same group which claims a half-dozen actively working pro authors and another half-dozen professionally published authors (not making a significant income from it).

    If size matters, my former membership in an online critique group called Critters is cooler. They boasted hundreds of members, and had strong participation.

    If effectiveness matters–i.e., progressing people from precocious amateurs to proven pro quality (measured as a national market pro sale)–then I humbly submit a group I started many years ago called NLQ as cooler. We boasted better than 80% success at developing writers toward pro quality.

    If serious, focused, and business-oriented is the key, then I less humbly submit an invitation-only group I participated in for several years containing only professionally published authors and called Pilgrimage. We had submission reports, brag minute, market reports, and required written critiques. Clean, efficient, and effective.

    I’ve belonged to more than a dozen writing groups over the years. My big trollish comment is that if your writing identity is as a member of the group then you’re short-changing your own development. I see the group as an enabler and a support, not as the goal itself. Frankly, I get bored with any group after a couple of years when the critiques become so predictable that you can pre-critique a manuscript on behalf of the other members. That means they’ve already taught you what they know, and it’s time to get new voices.

    That doesn’t mean you have to jettison the old group, only that you should seek new blood. I’ve belonged to (and participated in) as many as five groups simultaneously. Oddly, that seems to be when I started to write less fiction in favor of writing more reviews and essays.

    I wonder if there’s a connection. Hmmm…

  5. Moriah Jovan says:

    I have a chat room. By the way, y’all are welcome to gather there (as there is an inspirational/religious sub-room). http://writechat.net

  6. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Scott, that’s a lot of cool groups! And I suspect that FOB Bible is more cohesive, less eclectice a project than their anthology. I’m just so proud of my people. I came into my group 3 years ago as a previously published writer and worried that I was sitting with a bunch who were not published, with the exception of a former journalist who hadn’t had her fiction published yet. Frankly, some of the writing I heard then was quite good, but some was quite awful. But over time, I’ve watched those who didn’t have a clue what they were doing really work hard and progress in ways I wouldn’t have thought they would. As for stagnation, I don’t feel that way with my group. We get a lot of new blood in and out, since its open to all. And those core members who stay have developed friendships that allow for more understanding of our personal weaknesses as a writer. Plus the variety of genre helps. Besides,I don’t have a reasonable option. Like Melinda, for years I struggled to find a group and happened on this one by accident. They guy who started it just put an announcement in the local paper and people began coming. We meet publicly (the library at first)so no one exposes their home to unknown walk-ins. It works great. So if you don’t have a group, consider starting one as your schedule allows. I did attempt a couple times to put together a select group of lit writers I met via the AML, but everyone either happily had a face-to-face group that served their needs or didn’t have the time to commit.

  7. Ed Snow says:

    I knew I was missing something in my life. I need a writing group. Actually, what I need is time for a writing group.

  8. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    What Ed said in his third sentence.

  9. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Its sure true that some Mormons get pulled out of the house too many evenings a week by obligations. But I go faithfully to my bi-monthly writing group, unless I am assigned a class to teach that night…or if the TX Rangers happen to be playing in some post-season series or other. (Go Rangers!) Or some other important thing like that. I admit I kinda had to put my foot down at home about attending my writing group. Oh, my hubbie didn’t mind me going so much as didn’t like how long I stayed out, seeing as he goes to bed very early because he leaves for work before 5 am. But I insisted. I go even if I have nothing new to have critiqued. I don’t like it when people miss just because they will get nothing out of it. So I go to give. Those days, I chalk it down to community service. When I sell it like that, my husband seems to "get it" better. I need a life too. And friends. So I choose to meet those needs in a writing group. Other stuff I’ve cut out. Who says you can’t serve and be served at the same time?

  10. Th. says:

    .

    I agree that a great thing about writing groups is that mutual growth, seeing it and celebrating it in others. A very Zion sort of thing. (<a href="http://thmazing.blogspot.com/2006/03/svithe-success-jealousy.html">link</a&gt ;)

  11. Scott Parkin says:

    The idea of a Zion writing group was a foundation principle for Pilgrimage. It was supposed to be a collection of the faithful working together to reach success through positive pressure.

    Good stuff. Highly recommended.

  12. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    A Zion thing to do. Yes. That’s such a Mormon way to say it. I’m currently the only Mormon "active" in my group, though we had a couple others when I first joined. They faded away. And I’ve tried recruiting some Mo friends who basically flaked. The beautiful thing, as I see it, is that a writing group naturally brings out Christlike behavior (or should, barring the odd personality), even if the groups are not specifically devoted to religious writing. Granted, I think everyone in my super cool group is one form of Christian or another, but none of them would think in the terms of a Zion group. The give and take of such a community lends itself nicely to furthering the purposes of the gospel–to love and lift one another.

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