Getting feedback on your writing – part two – writing groups

Where to go for writing feedback

So you’ve done what Auntie Rach has told you and you’re now pretty certain that it’s time to get some feedback. Let’s have a look at the different options available:

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Join a writing group – there are so many benefits to doing this, chief among them being that you’ll have someone to share your writing journey with, good and bad.

Depending on what’s best for you, you can either search for a local writing group where you meet up in person, or you can search online for one.

I’m a member of one in-person writing group and two online writing groups. All three have been invaluable on my writing journey, if only for the chance to commiserate and have a laugh with someone who gets what you’re going through (I was also part of a fantastic writing group in Vancouver that was chaired by my friend and historical fiction writer, Ruth Kozak).

You can find in-person writing groups by:

  • Enquiring at your local library or bookstore
  • Putting a notice up for fellow writers in your area on a cafe noticeboard (make sure you meet somewhere public!)
  • Asking friends if they know anyone who likes to write and wants to form a writing group
  • Checking Craigslist, Gumtree or Meetup for writing groups in your local area (I found mine through Meetup)

You can find other writers online via:

Some of the benefits of joining a writing group include:

Honest but positive critique. Writing groups want members to keep coming back, so they’re not likely to jump down your throat and be savage just for the fun of it (and if they do, hightail it out of there, because that shit ain’t cool).

A good writing group is a safe environment with a relaxed atmosphere, but also encourages helpful advice and guidance on how everyone’s writing can get better. If you’re not feeling ready for hard tacks, don’t be afraid to have a word with the group leader. They’ll be used to dealing with writers with varying ‘skin strengths’ and make sure everyone delivers their feedback accordingly.

(be wary when asking members of certain online forums for critique. Most members will give feedback in good spirit, but some salty souls may deal you some over-the-top savagery which can really take the wind out of your sails. Proceed with caution.)

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Inspiration: Writers groups (especially face-to-face ones) usually allow a bit of time for bouncing ideas off one another and floating rough ideas. There are often writing assignments and prompts that can jump-start a new story idea that you may not have otherwise considered.

Learning new techniques: You don’t have to just learn from the feedback you get on your writing. You can also pick up handy pointers from the feedback other writers get.

A chance to get your stuff published (if you feel comfortable): many writing groups will often team up and publish their short stories, poems and essays in the form of anthologies. This is a great way to get stuff that you’re proud of in front of readers, as the other writers in the anthology will be pushing  and promoting it. Also it’s neat as hell to see your stuff in print!

A chance to make some chuffin’ writer friends: Let’s face it, as writers we tend to let our social life fall by the wayside from time to time. Meeting other writers in person is not only a fantastic learning experience, but it’s a chance to make friends with people who can identify with your struggle and will root for you.

I meet up with my Leeds-based writing group every May bank holiday for drinks, rants and general mayhem, and it’s always good fun. 🙂

Someone who will LOSE THEIR SHIT WITH JOY when you have some good news: R4ar3

When Regular Show: Hydration was published, my Leeds writing group threw a surprise party for me, champagne at the ready (yes, I cried).

When my Leeds writer group ‘wife’ Gemma Fairlamb got her first full manuscript request, one of the first things she did was text me so we could commence with ALL THE FREAKING OUT and arrange celebration drinks IMMEDIATELY.

A few of my Facebook writer group friends have been picked up by agents, which was incredible to celebrate with them, knowing everything they’d gone through to get to this point. Camaraderie, folks. You can’t put a price on it!

Someone wants to read my writing – what should I do?

First off – yay! This is a GOOD thing! Chances are you’ve told this person a little bit about what you’re working on and it’s piqued their interest.

People who offer to read your unpublished writing fall into two categories:

Betareader – this is someone who will help you iron out much of the broadstrokes such as pacing, story beats and generally how entertained they were while reading. They’ll help you improve things such as grammar and spelling, as well as offer suggestions to improve the story.

They may also assist with fact-checking and #ownvoices sensitivity (how a minority character is portrayed within your story and potential issues with stereotypes and poor representation).

Critique partner (CP) – they do the same thing as a beta-reader, only they will be another writer and will likely send you their own writing for you to critique. This is much more of a long-term partnership, and it’s often best to work with a critique partner who writes in a similar genre or age group to you.

You can find a CP by getting to know people in your writing group, or by checking out the #CPmatch hashtag on Twitter.

To start off with, it might be best to send the betareader/CP Chapter One only. This way they can get a feel for your writing style and whether it gels well enough with them to provide you with a helpful critique.

If it’s not their thing, try not to be offended. Writing voice and style is subjective and everyone’s tastes are different. There WILL be someone who will enjoy your writing enough to see potential in it.

It’s also helpful to tell the betareader/CP if you want specific feedback (e.g. Can you tell me if the descriptions are…description-y enough? Am I using too many cliches? Any passive text I should look out for?). This saves them time as they can focus on those problem areas, which ultimately is much more helpful to you.

Finally, if you DO get negative feedback, do NOT bite the person’s head off!

Betareading takes a lot of time that could be spent on that person’s own work. You don’t want to become known as a touchy diva writer who can’t take a bit of constructive criticism.

If the feedback seems a bit unreasonable however (e.g. this is shit and you are shit don’t quit your dayjob, loser!) just send back a polite ‘thank you’ email and CUT THAT BITCH LOOSE WITH AUNTIE RACH’S BLESSING.

There are legions of good, insightful, kind-hearted writers and readers out there who WILL love your story and WILL want to help you succeed however they can.

Go forth and find your people!!

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

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