by Heather Moore
This week I’m reading The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M. Bickham. I love his advice, and I love the frank way he delivers it. But today, I read the chapter called “Don’t Take It to the Club Meeting,” and ever since it’s been bothering me.
Bickham essentially warns fledging writers to stay away from writing clubs where one reads his/her work aloud, then listens to advice by the other attendees. Bickham says not to waste your time at a club meeting because “they won’t be honest; they usually don’t know what they’re doing anyway.”
I won’t discount that in some clubs, or in some club attendees, this may be the case. But I’ve also met many unpublished writers who have never let anyone read their work. Not even their mother (although that may be a good thing).
For the writer who is too timid to let their friends or family read their work, a non-personal writing club may be the answer—until relationships with professional writers can be established or funds can be spent on professional editing.
Bickham also advises working with a professional writer coach. This can be very costly, and unless you have a great friendship with another author, it will be difficult to get professional feedback on what you’ve written without paying for it. (Another reason our Monday Mania blog is so valuable.)
When I go to my critique group, I sit around a table with six or seven other people—all from different backgrounds, all in various stages of publishing. I walk away from each session with a better understanding of the direction I need to take in my writing. One person’s strength is description, another’s conflict, a third, motivation. This adds up to a rather complete edit, and by the time I go through the critique process with my group, I feel I’ve received the best of the best.
If my critique group hadn’t taken a chance on me, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Out of the seven original members, only four were published. Now all of us are--multiple times over.
In the same chapter, Bickham also discredits writing contests that offer judge’s feedback. “The comments and advice from judges can vary as widely—and wildly—as the comments from the club meeting floor after a reading.” Of course, this is true, and I’ve seen it myself. But until I started submitting short stories to local writing contests, I had no idea if my writing even matched up to anyone else’s. The judge’s feedback was invaluable to me at the time. Sure, it’s subjective. Just as any agent or editor will be when you’re submitting. Just as a professional writing coach or editor is subjective.
But how are you to start at the beginning if there is no beginning place to start? I believe that the average fiction writer didn’t major in English Literature in college, he didn’t have a fantastic mentor, and he may not have access to professional writers now. He has to start from scratch.
I started from scratch. I googled writers groups, found the League of Utah Writers, and started attending their meetings. I signed up for a couple of night classes on publishing and creative writing. I entered a few local writing contests. Eventually I found a critique group, I attended writer’s conferences, entered more contests, read books on writing . . . I learned the craft from the ground up.
Attending a writers club may not be for everyone, but I believe it will benefit you. If you don't grow from it, find another one. And when it ceases helping you, move on. Entering writing contests may not impress a big-time editor or agent, but it will give you an idea if your writing stacks up . . . if your plot is interesting . . . if you are developing those characters . . . if you are growing your craft.
And that's the most important thing you can do, published or not, is find avenues to improve your writing.