Monday, July 21, 2014

Writing 101: Guilds, Groups and Other People

As an author, you need support. You need honest feedback. You may even need help figuring out certain writing techniques and double-checking your ideas. It's attractive to start joining guilds and groups, and plenty of writers advocate that. But when you mix with other people, you're always going to wind up with a mixed bag. Joining groups and getting involved has a good side...but plenty of writers will tell you about that. I'm going to flip the coin, and talk about the dark side of sharing your writing with other people before you've finished with it.

Team Players

I have often mentioned my childhood fantasy of being a writer. I would be sitting in a quiet room -- maybe in an attic, somewhere, or some book-lined room -- all alone just typing away. That, to me, is truly living the dream. Why? Because writing is solitary. You do it alone. To me, the idea of joining up with other writers has always seemed...damned counter-productive, to put it mildly.

But even I can see the merits in it. Writer groups can be helpful if you've got questions or want to test your ideas. Joining a group can help you find beta readers and review buddies and, I guess, lifelong friends. 

When it all goes perfectly, of course. But when you're on the Internet and you're dealing with other writers and they're creative types who may be just hovering on the brink of a total exhaustive breakdown because they've been typing for three days straight...well, things can get ugly pretty quickly. And this isn't even the worst of the reasons why you may want to stay away from guilds, groups and other people when it comes to your writing ideas, questions and heartache. 

  • Creativity: If you start bouncing your ideas off random people online to see what they think, you're stifling your own creativity. Why would you do that? You owe it to yourself to see how your own ideas work out, and try writing them down, before you seek the approval of others. If I told you I'm writing a story about a midget who goes on a long hike you might say it sounds boring, but Lord of the Rings is based on this very premise. 
  • Dues: Thinking of joining a writing guild or group? Read all the fine print. Some groups, and guilds in particular, may require you to pay dues or perform some other task to maintain your membership. It's not always a great idea to pick up a bunch of commitments. Remember, you need time to write and your money is probably pretty precious.
  • Devotion: Speaking of time, when are you going to use it to write? Popular writing groups and forums stay pretty darn active, and you can drive yourself crazy trying to keep up and maintain a normal life, too. I know, because I've done it.
  • And Then There's Google: If you've got writing questions, you can always find the answer on your own with no one's help. As an author of books, you need to know how to research -- and you need to know how to research anything. Start by answering your own questions. If you've got to get help from others when it comes to writing, Heaven help you when you need to know about the migratory habits of birds during fall in Vermont. Don't tell me you won't need to know that -- you'd be surprised what crops up when you're crafting a novel. 

Guilds, groups and other people certainly have their uses. But sharing early ideas with them, asking a bunch of questions of them and wasting your time in arguments with them are not among those uses. It can be a huge distraction and keep you from doing what you need to do. Learn how to use them well, avoid all the junk, and maybe you can get something out of your efforts.

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