It is important that a writer has a reading audience before he/she submits his/her work. In this regard, a writing group is a useful tool. I wouldn't join any old group. The old adage 'Can't read, can't write' holds truer than ever here. Hopefully the group has a few published or ‘verge-on-being-published’ writers involved.
A group should be capable of offering broad advice on structure and ideas; or specifics such as scrutinising the minutiae of a piece (line editing etc).
There are some inherit dangers of course:
- Readers preferences. Obviously it's so subjective: One's person's glistening lake is another's swamp.
- Poor advice. Go with your gut but my general rule is to change things if two or more readers you respect deliver the same constructive criticism.
- Differing opinions on your piece – once more go with your gut.
- Generally a good writer is a good editor but this is not always the case. Some strong writers may be biased towards their own specific style or their own reading preferences.
It is vital that members of a writing group are honest, open and thick skinned. A member should be able take and give criticism in order to better not only their own piece but also other pieces in their group too.
I recently had the fortune of having breakfast with Jonathon Strahan and Ellen Datlow (two leading anthologists) and it was interesting to hear that they usually line edit even highly lauded authors. This supports the case for as much feedback within the group as possible.
If you have a fragile ego you may be of detriment to the group. Be open to suggestions and advice. If you want a piece improved then you really require a ‘no-holds-barred’ approach. I would rather be criticised and improve a piece than be told how wonderful my piece is (naturally a tad of praise when deserved can work wonders too – I am not a complete masochist/sadist).
I’ll follow this blog up with another soon relating to my own writing group; using initials rather then full names to allow for a certain degree of anonymity.