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Why I Left My Writing Group Just When It was Getting Good

I've been in writing groups off and on since early 2005. Before that, I was writing and taking classes on writing and reading books on writing and reading friends' writing and letting friends read my writing--but I'd never considered joining something more organized. Writing groups were people who met in bookstores, wore turtlenecks, and dramatically read their works before taking little bows and accepting polite golf claps.

Then I wound up in a writing group when I returned to school in pursuit of a second degree (which has since fallen by the wayside). And I discovered that writing groups didn't have to be the narrative equivalent of a poetry reading. They could be a training ground for learning how to write.

When a Writing Group Works

I wound up in a group of writers who were serious about being published. Their determination rubbed off on me. I learned how to critique. I learned what to look for in a manuscript. Though I had been writing "seriously" since I was twelve or thirteen, it was in that class, and in that writing group, that the light began to turn on in my head. I could do this! I could be a writer! I might even get published someday!

It's been seven years since that first writing group. People in my various writing groups have gone on to full-time writing careers--award winners, New York Times best sellers, international successes. Learning from each of these friends has given me a top-notch education in the craft of writing. Maybe most-important of all, I've learned how to take a critique, to really listen to what a group member has to say and see how it might make my story better--if it fits in with the vision of what I want my story to be. (Which is another lesson, filed under "How to Keep Your Writing Group from Hijacking Your Story.")

Writing groups have been invaluable to me, and as I've submitted my latest novel to my current writing group, I've received thoughtful and helpful insight into polishing up the book into the best piece of writing I've ever done.

So why did I tell them I can't attend anymore?

The Important Things

It had nothing to do with the individual members. These are my friends. They're talented writers and insightful readers. I'm going to miss chatting with them, and I'll miss their valuable input.

But I had to simplify my life. I work a day job. I serve in my church. I do freelance artwork, which at this moment includes trying to finish up 4 maps, 4 book covers, several t-shirt designs, interior book design and typesetting for an upcoming novel, and trying to fit in the 100+ hours remaining on creating artwork and comics for Jacob's Journal of Doom, whose Deadline of Doom is Beginning to Loom.

Not to mention that I like seeing my family. Kids grow up so fast. I'm cutting down on the freelance so I can spend more time with them and spend more time with my wife. I don't want them to grow up with the memory of their dad always working in the office. And when the time comes for the kids to forge their own way in the world, I don't want to suddenly realize that I don't know my wife all that well any more.

So, writing group. It's not you. It's me. And don't worry, I won't be seeing any other writing groups for a while either.


Novel Revision Tips

I've been finishing up the latest revision of the current novel and have been thinking about some of the things that have helped me the most. As for revising a novel, I'm not as sage as some writers. Not yet anyway, but I want to write these things down so I can remember the process.

1. Thoughtfully consider the critiques of your readers. When they have strong feelings, there's a good chance something's wrong with that part of the book. Readers are like patients, they'll tell you where it hurts, but ultimately, you figure out what the pain means and how to fix it.

2. Nothing about your earlier drafts is sacred. Be willing to cut and rewrite for the sake of making the story better. It may hurt to see those words go, but if it makes the book better, then losing those words is worth it. Besides, you're a writer. You're not going to run out of words.

3. Start large. Get the story right first. Get the scenes in the right places. Make sure everything is in the right order, and then move from the macro to the micro. Worrying too much too soon about the grammar in a sentence or a particular word choice is meaningless if next thing you know you're axing the whole scene.

4. If it ain't working, rethink it and rewrite it. Too often I'm tempted to frankenstein already-written material to fit the needs of a scene. The result is clunky, disjointed, and will probably need fixes again later. I've found that taking a breather, re-thinking the crux of the scene and how to get there, and then rewriting it from scratch does wonders.

The best tool I've found for getting the structure right in my revision is the book Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Start a few chapters in to get to the meat of the book. The tools and the aha! moments of this book have made it one of the best tools on structure that I've discovered. Try also Dan Wells' videos on story structure that are on YouTube.